Brought to you by TJ13 editor in Chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs
The drivers’ FIA press conference was its usual fairly dull affair and we the fans have to wait for the Friday edition where team managers appear to be more candid and speak their minds.
What was fascinating was the stage management of the event.
The elephant in the room was Nico Hulkenberg. The winner of last week’s Le Mans race and appropriately he was sat centre stage on the front row.
Despite this being a Formula One press conference, it would have been bizarre not to make reference to Hulkenberg’s historic achievement and so the appointed MC kicked proceedings off by asking Nico, “How was it?
With the brevity of a man well prep’d, Nico Hulkenberg replied, “Yeah, it was quite amazing obviously. A very intense and long week. I flew from Montreal to Paris and then straight to Le Mans. But yeah, to come there, first attempt, and to win it with my team and my team-mates has just been incredible. You know, very emotional moments and a great experience that I don’t want to miss obviously, so very proud about what we’ve achieved there”.
And that was that.
Swiftly and seamlessly the SKY Sport’s Italia lady moved on and queried of Hulkenberg: “In Canada we saw a performance lift for Force India, scoring points again and also for yourself. There’s a B-spec car coming relatively soon. So how optimistic are you, looking at the future?”
On message Nico replied, though the surprising brevity over the topic of his monumental win at Le Mans. Hulkenberg left this listener bemused and his reply became an irrelevant drone to the effect of, “blab la bla”.
The subject was then swiftly marshalled towards Red Bull racing’s hapless performance in Canada, and Daniel Ricciardo delivered a pre-prepared apologetic for his outbursts in North America which questioned his team’s capabilities.
“Yeah, we understood quite a lot post-Canada. I think a lot of it as well was… I probably came in there quite in a way emotional from what happened there a year earlier and probably just hoping for too much.
“So that already probably set the target too high from the start and it sort of spiralled into a poor weekend, for obviously some other reasons as well. We come here now with let’s say a fresh approach on it all. I have a new chassis. I think we’ve got any variables that were maybe there in Canada and ready to have a good weekend.”
Ricciardo lurched between uber seriousness and hopeless grins/giggles as struggled to conclude, “We know the track doesn’t realty suit everything for our performance right now but hopefully have a good weekend here in front of the home fans”.
On the issue of Red Bull changing engines and starting their home race at the back of the grid, the Aussie was candid. “It’s likely. We’re definitely looking into it.
“I think we’ll have a decision probably by this evening as to what we’ll do this weekend. It’s likely we’ll take a penalty here. If it’s not here it’s in the next few.
“We have to see as well what chance we have coming up in Silverstone and Budapest. Wouldn’t be a surprise if we see it here but probably a few hours away from a decision.”
Nico Rosberg was then asked about his momentum from Monaco and whether Lewis’ recent claims that the 2015 Mercedes car was much better than its predecessor were true.
Rosberg was non-plussed on either issue trotting out the expected mantra. “I’m feeling good, feeling good. It’s great to be here; I won here last year, so arriving here very optimistically, we have a great car, so it should be a great weekend”.
And comparing the W05 and the W06 cars he said, “Pretty much the same. It’s very similar, you know, because not much has changed in the regulations, so it’s just ongoing development, so it’s very similar.”
Then Carlos Sainz and Sebastian Vettel were questioned about matters which failed to register on the interest level of 1-10 – before finally the MC poked Alonso. The Spaniard was strangely partially obscured and sat centre back row.
MC: “Hola Fernando there at the back. You were involved in one of these very exciting fights on track [in Canada]. For you personally, as a racing driver, was this one of the highlights of the season so far – these battles, not giving up, fighting as much as you could?”
Fernando Alonso: “Probably that’s a little bit too much, you know to be one of the highlights. I think it was nice to battle a little bit but it was for half a lap, what I could do, so I prefer to do a little bit longer than that.
I am enjoying the starts, the first laps. In Barcelona I think I was P8 in corner three. In Canada I also was ninth or eighth in corner six and then slowly you are losing positions on the straight with our lack of speed, so that’s a little bit a not ideal situation but at least the starts and the first lap I’m enjoying it.”
The big moment had now arrived. The stage-managed questions from the MC were over, and now it was time for the tenacious journalists present to interrogate the drivers.
But what happened next was akin to watching a press conference from the White House or Downing Street.
Q: (Peter Farkas – Auto Motor) “A question for all the drivers. We have been hearing a lot about lift and coast since Canada and Mercedes issues a press release in the last couple of days trying to explain what lift and coast was and they stated that from a driving point of view it was not easy to do lift and coast because you have to find a different braking point because of the different speed that you were arriving at the corner.
Could you please, as a driver, shed some light on how difficult it is to lift and coast and to find your braking point and also a question specifically to Nico Hulkenberg: Nico, how much lift and coast you have to do at Le Mans?”
Get in! We’re now ready for the big Le Mans v F1 comparison, and surely here it comes.
NH: “I think to do lift and coast in Formula One is quite easy – you just lift off and coast down. The difficulty is to do it efficiently and to lose as little lap time as possible. Like you say, when you do it your braking point varies, so it’s quite difficult for us to judge, you know, where the actual braking point has moved.
To get close to that target, I think that’s the art, that’s what makes it difficult. In WEC we also have quite a bit of lift and coast. They have different fuel regulations, they’re even tighter than here in Formula One, so fuel management is quote crucial there.”
WHAT? No flat out racing in the WEC??? So… so… err… Formula One isn’t so bad after all.
Next up to answer questions on ‘lift and coast’ is the Spanish Samurai, who is not known for mincing his words when unhappy.
FA: “Well, as Nico said, there’s not much secret – you lift, you coast to the corner, you brake. We are professional drivers, so we should know where is the point of braking, depends on the speed we arrive.
There are other implications on fuel saving – the state of charge, the battery you may have at that point of the race, how much deployment you have on the straights in terms of the K deployment, so yeah, we drive maybe eight or ten different cars in a weekend.
We drive low fuel, high fuel, maximum deployment, no deployment, fuel saving, new tyres, old tyres, so there are a variable of four or five seconds in the car during different stages of the free practice, qualifying or the race, so that’s the biggest difficulty, but we are professional drivers, we are ready to do that.”
Ok, so lift and coast is actually not that easy a thing to do. And according to Fernando – the greatest driver of his generation – driving today’s Formula One cars is in fact pretty hard – because the drivers in fact have to drive TEN different cars during an F1 weekend.
Wow? Bernie must be loving this.
Vettel refused to play, “Nothing to add.”
Rosberg was up next. Now this is a guy whose Daddy drove F1 cars in an era when to do so required a real man.
NR: “Well, lift and coast is the most efficient way to save fuel, they did it even in the 80s. I remember my dad racing with Alain Prost at McLaren and they had to save fuel because everybody was running out of fuel at the end of the race, so nothing has changed there.
Just that it’s become more professional now and more accurate and more detailed. That doesn’t mean… still even if we’re doing that, we’re driving at the absolute limit of the car – it’s just a different kind of driving style, y’know?
And even that driving style is very challenging, and you’re still pushing like crazy, you’re just driving a different way. That’s it.”
So did the Keke Rosberg who stripped to the waist in Detroit, sweating like a pig and smoking a West cigarette, perform a ‘lift and coast’?
Well that’s that then. We’ve all missed the point of what is going on before our eyes. Lift and coast is a pretty tough thing to do in F1 but its origins are rooted in the history of the sport – and that’s about as hard core F1 as you can get people.
Hang on. Let’s just check this out with the new guy. Carlos Sainz who was racing Formula Renault World Seiries last year; what does he think of this lift and coast since his promotion to Formula One?
CS: “Yeah, for me something quite new. I have not been used to that… never in my life. And personally, it’s not a thing I really like, especially because I have to do it from very early in the race, probably after the first lap you have already the engineers telling you to lift and coast.
I remember Australia was very big, Canada was again very big. You have to adapt and you have to be quick – but probably the amount that I was doing in the last… these two races was probably a bit too much for my opinion. But it’s something that I have to do, something that I have to learn and I will adapt.”
Eureka! The Borg have not assimilated them all – there is one who is still true and free.
Bravo – Chilli Sainz.
One last heroic attempt was made by Dieter Rencken to circumnavigate the obvious embargo on F1 v WEC questions.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) “Question to you Nico. You’re the only driver here Nico – in fact the only driver in Formula One – who’s been able to drive with two completely different tyre brands over consecutive weekends, different in terms of philosophy, construction etcetera.
Can you, from a driver perspective, give us the difference between the Pirellis you use here and the Michelins you use in Le Mans please?”
NH: Yeah, it’s obviously a different tyre but it’s also a completely different car – so it’s a bit like comparing apples and pears. I think here we have more tyre degradation, which makes racing exciting and stuff, and in Le Mans the tyres obviously have to last a lot longer. The race is 24 hours and not just 300km, so it’s a completely different game – but otherwise it’s difficult to just take the tyre, isolate it from the rest of the car and the differences and compare that.
Apples and Pears huh?
Bernie and Jean – Darby and Joan – Darth and Luke – Eric and Ernie – Laurel and Hardy….. the list is endless.