Allora! We're at La Pista Magica for the final race of the 2016 European season. Time flies when we're having fun! At Manor Racing, we just love the old classics and the Autodromo Nazionale Monza has witnessed some of the finest Grands Prix of all time; there's history oozing from every corner of this spectacular 5.793km circuit. We're ready to race at the Temple of Speed, so let's hear from the commanders of our two 'rocket ships', Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, together with our trackside commander in chief, Dave Ryan.
Pascal, it was heartbreaking to see you go out so early in a race that held so much promise for you. Can you carry all that potential through to this weekend in Monza?
Pascal Wehrlein: "Yes, I hope so. You never know how well a car is going to be suited to a track until you actually drive for the first time on Friday, but this is a high-speed track and the theory is that we can do well again here. That's my goal, anyway."
It seems like only yesterday since we arrived in Barcelona for the start of the European season, and now, here we are, about to bid it "Arrivederci", before the start of the long haul phase. 13 races into your debut, 8 remaining, where are you at in terms of the targets you set for yourself?
PW: "I'm pretty happy with what I've achieved so far in my first 13 races. 13! Ah yes, that explains Spa! Just joking; I'm not really superstitious. The upside of that weekend was starting the race from the midfield, so that's our biggest target achieved right there! And, we could have been even higher, as we saw with P9 in Q1. It was a 'team' target to close the gap to the midfield, but my own target, as a driver, to get us there. So I'm pretty happy with that. I'm also excited by the possibilities for the rest of the season if we can continue like this. Ours are small but very important steps. We're ahead of Sauber and really pushing Renault, so my next target is to keep things that way and make the gap to the midfield even smaller. Of course, I'd like to see us get another point or two very soon. That would be nice."
Esteban, only three days since we last saw you in Spa, so not long between your first two races. Time enough to reflect on your debut though. What thoughts have been going through your head this week?
Esteban Ocon: "It was a pretty full-on week in Spa, so a lot of the preparation passed by very quickly. Things were a lot calmer on Sunday though and I have to say I enjoyed every bit of race day. That's when I really thought "Yes, this is it - I'm here", and obviously I was very happy. Lining up on the grid was the realisation of a 15 year journey for me, since I was four and having some fun in a go-kart. But then the lights went out and there wasn't time for emotions again until I took the chequered flag. The bit in between took a lot of concentration! But over the past few days, I've relived some of the moments in the race again, and the weekend generally, just thinking about what I learned and how I can do things better and better. It's a nice feeling to know those opportunities are ahead of me."
What about Monza? What a circuit! Excited?
EO: "Of course! What driver wouldn't be? It's such an amazing circuit, with so much history. I raced here in GP3 last year, so that's good preparation, although the feeling with an F1 car is quite different and going out for the first time will be pretty special. What was so great about the race in Spa was that I had so many situations to deal with; it was an eventful race! I feel like I can roll all of that experience and learning into a much stronger weekend. I love the fast circuits, and I hope I can do well here."
Dave, another quick turnaround for the team this week, hotfooting it from Spa to Monza. All set?
Dave Ryan: "Pretty much. We've had a fair bit of practice with back-to-backs this season and if we nailed the Canada-Baku one, then this is a bit easier. We have a few new bits and pieces to suit the characteristics of this circuit and we've addressed the issues that hampered us last week, so I'm hopeful that we can pick up where we left off last weekend and make a strong start on track on Friday, to give us the best shot at the rest of the weekend. This is a fantastic circuit and I'd like to see us do really well here. Our drivers are doing an exceptional job, and although Esteban is only one race into his F1 career, it's clear that, at the level at which they're operating, both will be pivotal to the fight to maintain our position in the Championship."
Check out our Thursday gallery from Monza, here.