Daniel Ricciardo has his gloves off as he prepares for the next triple-header of the 2020 Formula 1 season. First-up, Spa-Francorchamps where the Australian is targeting a return to the points.
What is there to say about the legendary Spa-Francorchamps?
Daniel Ricciardo: Spa is so iconic. I think everyone knows why it's a great place to race and one of the jewels in the Formula 1 crown. Nowadays, I actually get more of a thrill from racing there rather than in qualifying. We've done so many laps there in the high-downforce cars that a bit of that single-lap rush has gone. Eau Rouge is full throttle and in race trim with a big tank of fuel in someone's slipstream, it becomes a real corner where you're sliding on four wheels, which is pretty epic. There's also Pouhon and Blanchimont, which are not that easy in race conditions. It's a place where you can overtake, you can defend and it's high-speed racing. It's so intense and I really like it.
What is your record like there?
DR: It's been a good track for me in Formula 1: I've had podiums, a win, so it's been a successful one in the past. Last year we were having a strong weekend, but then took some damage in Turn 1. The year before I also had damage at Turn 1. Really, if you can get out of Turn 1, you're doing alright! It's one of those first corner hairpins where it's a recipe for chaos. This year it might be cleaner as we're not coming off a break, we're warmed up so hopefully it will be more straightforward.
How are you feeling with the triple-headers?
DR: It's strange actually as you're the most race fit you've been because you're in the car so much. In the car I feel as strong as I ever have. It's the days off when you feel it. In between races, you feel flatter and more fatigued and there's not a whole lot of training going on. It's really resting and recovering. We're driving so regularly our body is maintaining a lot of that race fitness.
Spa-Francorchamps has provided Esteban Ocon with some of his favourite Formula 1 memories. From making his debut there in 2016, to qualifying in the top three in 2018, it's been a special one for the Frenchman, who aims for a strong run this weekend.
What makes Spa-Francorchamps so challenging?
Esteban Ocon: It's a demanding circuit for performance and the three sectors are all very special. I think we can perform well in Spa. Anything can happen in the race, so it'll be an interesting weekend and we'll aim to do our best.
It's been a special place for you in the past, Formula 1 debut in 2016, top three in qualifying in 2018, what do you remember about those moments?
EO: I made my debut in Formula 1 there, so Spa is full of nice memories. I would say it's a unique track in the way you can develop as a driver. I remember being there in my first year in single-seaters and everything felt so big with those legendary corners. Then, the more you go through the junior categories you feel the difference year after year until you reach Formula 1. It felt like a good track to make my Formula 1 debut! Of course, qualifying third on the grid is one of my best memories in Formula 1 so far. It was at a crucial time when I needed to prove I deserved to be in Formula 1. To stand in the top three with Lewis [Hamilton] and Sebastian [Vettel] was something special.
How do you evaluate the past three races?
EO: It was good to come away from the races with points scored, even though we missed out in Spain. The car felt good in Silverstone and we definitely made a step from Hungary. I think we have a bit of work to do, but I know we'll get there. I have new parts on my car, which should help performance. I'm looking forward to that and I feel fresh after a week off and ready to race.
It's been a busy start to the season for the Renault E-Tech 20 power units as Engine Technical Director Remi Taffin previews the next trio of races, starting in Belgium this weekend.
What are the main challenges of Spa-Francorchamps?
Remi Taffin: Spa is a challenge because it's a long track and it has a lot of wide-open throttle time. It certainly pushes the engine to the limit but, as always, it's something we validate on the dyno. Probably the most challenging thing about Spa will be the weather! It's very unpredictable. This year, it looks like it will be wet and quite cold. If it's wet or dry, we'll ensure the engine is working as expected and, in every corner at Spa, it correlates to what our drivers want. We're heading to three power sensitive circuits during this triple header. Esteban will have new engine parts added to his car from Spa. It's the same specification than his first engine, just brand new, as per the regulations on freezing engine spec development through to next season.
What are the main assessments from the first six races?
RT: After six races, the engine is behaving as expected. The level of drivability and performance is there and it's about getting the most out from it. The midfield is close and it's a matter of milliseconds to get into Q3. We can't let any milliseconds go aside and that's the work of our race team. The work done at the factory has been good so far with good reliability and performance. The race team is there to extract the final percentage from our package each race weekend, which is really important these days.
It's rewarding for the efforts we've put in last year and this year. We're back to the performance level we needed to achieve last year, and we've made sure to correct the gremlins we had at the first part of last season. The hard work is paying off this year. For the race team, especially, it's been very intense with the triple-headers. The turnaround has been challenging but they are doing exceptionally well.
Will there be some challenges with the latest technical directive on engine modes?
RT: On paper it won't be too difficult. We will adjust the ratio between qualifying and the race. The rules, so far, said we could run modes differently between qualifying and the race and, as always, we try to optimise the rules. Now the FIA has given us a new directive to be applied from Monza onwards, so we'll try to adapt, reoptimizing and validating the area where we need. It's the same work, just a different output. We'll have less power in qualifying, and more power in the race, so it's a new trade-off. We understand the concern of the FIA and we will work alongside them to achieve their request.