Uralkali Haas F1 Team's 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship campaign will continue at Circuit Paul Ricard, location for the French Grand Prix and the seventh round of the season.
France has been a cornerstone in the motor-racing industry, playing host to the first recognized race in 1894, while 12 years later the term Grand Prix - the Grand Prize - was used for the first time in the country. These were initially spectacles that took place on public roads around France, a trend which continued through the early years of the Formula 1 World Championship, most notably at Rouen, Reims and Clermont-Ferrand.
In 1973 the French Grand Prix moved full-time to permanent circuits, alternating between Dijon-Prenois and Circuit Paul Ricard, before Magny-Cours established itself as the new home in 1991. Financial and political issues benched the French Grand Prix for nine years, surpassing even the hiatus imposed by the world wars. But, after several unsuccessful attempts at reviving the event, in 2018 it finally returned at a renovated and reprofiled Circuit Paul Ricard, with Uralkali Haas F1 Team marking the occasion by scorching to a top six finish.
The venue, located between the vineyards and the lavender fields of postcard-perfect Provence, is renowned as a world-class motorsport facility. Originally renovated as a test track it has unique innovations, such as trackside sprinklers, and an expansive multi-layered run-off, with the garish red and blue stripes designed to slow cars at the expense of tire wear. There are over 150 possible layouts and Formula 1 utilizes the 5.842km Grand Prix layout, which includes the chicane along the Mistral Straight, and the fearsomely fast Signes corner, taken flat out in Formula 1 machinery. Event organizers, who were forced to cancel the 2020 round due to the pandemic, are expected to welcome 15,000 fans daily this weekend.
Uralkali Haas F1 Team drivers Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher have previously competed at the track. Mazepin scored a podium at Circuit Paul Ricard in the GP3 Series in 2018 while both he and Schumacher raced at the venue in the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2019.
The team scored its best result of the season last time out in Azerbaijan with a P13 (Schumacher) and P14 (Mazepin) finish at the checkered. While it's acknowledged attrition assisted the results, is it the ability to capitalize on such opportunities that enables the team to keep focused this season knowing the limitations of the VF-21?
Guenther Steiner: "For sure, we know the limitations, but as we've always said - we always try to get the best out of every situation, whatever that is. Sometimes you just have to be patient and keep doing a good job. You do have to keep your focus, and sometimes at the end there is something. The whole team was happy with 13th and 14th as at the moment that's the best we can get out of it on a good day. There's always opportunity, you just need to be there with it arises, and that's only achieved by working hard."
You spent time at the team's new design office in Maranello, Italy immediately following Azerbaijan. How active is your role in developing the team there and aligning the new personnel into the existing organizational structure? Are you buoyed by the efforts you're seeing already with regards to 2022?
GS: "The day-to-day running in our Maranello office is managed by Simone Resta. Obviously, we're always in contact, we're always speaking about things, not least as I know the past here and I want to give him as much of that knowledge, so he knows how best to go forward. In the short five months we've been up and running there he's been doing a good job. I'm obviously very happy to be looking forward to 2022. I see that we're making good progress. Hopefully the car will be competitive, and we'll have lots of fun again in 2022."
The French Grand Prix marks the start of the first triple-header in 2021 - albeit not originally scheduled this way. With a rookie driver pairing in the garage, is a clutch of races this early in the season a benefit or a challenge in terms of their development?
GS: "I think every challenge for them is good. They get exposed to the things that just happen in Formula 1. It's a triple-header, you cannot change it, you have to deal with it. Sometimes it's good because there's no time between the races for distractions. They're both young, they've got lots of energy, and racing's what they want to do. For me, this is not a bad thing for them. They just need to keep focused and we see just how much they can do that. I think it's good for them in the first part of their career, not just the season, to be exposed to this pressure. I'm sure they'll cope very well with it."
Circuit Paul Ricard will host around 15,000 fans each day during the French Grand Prix. How crucial, and welcomed, is the on-going effort to get live audiences back to circuits and create atmosphere around a grand prix weekend.
GS: "For me, the most important thing is to get past this pandemic, so that everyone can move freely again - that's what I look forward to. For sure, if we can get people to our races, that's great as people can then see that normality is around the corner. We need to work hard to get there. An event with spectators is much more inspiring for everybody taking part in F1. I look forward and hope that we'll see full race tracks again soon."
You scored your best result of the season last time out in Azerbaijan with a P14 finish at the checkered. While it's acknowledged attrition assisted the final position, is it the ability to capitalize on such opportunities that enables you to keep focused in the race knowing the limitations of the VF-21?
Nikita Mazepin: "I think in Formula 1 it's very important to use the opportunities that do come along whether that's other cars breaking down or crashing out. For a team it makes a huge difference and impacts the motivation of the team and everyone working. For us as drivers, it's very important to capitalize on those things and to make sure we deliver if the opportunity comes."
You've taken the checkered flag in all but one of your six Formula 1 starts to-date. Just how valuable is race mileage in comparison to practice mileage for your personal development as a rookie. What are the key things you extract from logging race miles?
NM: "The mileage recorded by racing in Formula 1 is very big. With in-season testing banned, my opportunity to test was only a day and a half in pre-season. Therefore, every single lap that you complete - especially on street circuits as they're not available for testing, it's very important. Obviously, completing every single race, but the first one, brings opportunity and it's been very important to me."
The French Grand Prix marks the start of your first triple-header weekend. What preparations, if any, do you have to make for the physical demands of such an intense burst of racing?
NM: "I really do like what I do. For me it's very important to be able to race a lot. I'm one of the few drivers I think that really does enjoy the triple-headers and the 23 races that come this year. It's a nice thing for me. I'm physically fit enough to be able to sustain more races. I'm waiting for the race weekends as they bring opportunities. Those opportunities also motivate the people around me, and for me that's also important."
You raced most recently at Circuit Paul Ricard in your rookie Formula 2 season in 2019. What are the characteristics of the circuit that stand out for you?
NM: "Paul Ricard is a very special track. It's the complete opposite from our last races in Monte Carlo and Baku. It has huge run-offs, therefore it's a track that's able to provide you with opportunities to test the limits. I had a good experience there in 2019. Hopefully with our car we'll be able to achieve more of those things."
You scored your best result of the season last time out in Azerbaijan with a P13 finish at the checkered. While it's acknowledged attrition assisted the final position, is it the ability to capitalize on such opportunities that enables you to keep focused in the race knowing the limitations of the VF-21?
Mick Schumacher: "As a team we did a good job to stay in the race, I think we managed it well and were able to stay in the fight. Looking at the stints, we did struggle here and there, but nonetheless we worked our way through, and we can be happy with the result - especially with the team moving up to ninth in the teams' standings."
You've now taken the checkered flag in all six of your Formula 1 starts to-date. Just how valuable is race mileage in comparison to practice mileage for your personal development as a rookie. What are the key things you extract from logging race miles?
MS: "Race mileage is key in every category; it's about getting the knowledge and the experiences you need. Obviously, practice is good, but nothing can simulate the way a race unfolds with race starts, you're always in close battles, you're under pressure. You want to do well so you're trying your best in every aspect. Obviously, sometimes that's when mistakes happen, and it's about learning to be in those situations that will enable you to get better. You have to put yourself into a mindset to be able to perform at 100 percent every time at the best that you can, and that's in practice, qualifying and races. Mileage is just super important and I'm happy we've been able to finish all our races so-far."
The French Grand Prix marks the start of your first triple-header weekend. What preparations, if any, do you have to make for the physical demands of such an intense burst of racing? Has your physical preparation changed in any way based on your experiences over the opening races of the season?
MS: "Yes, it's the first triple-header we're going to. It's going to be intense, but I think it'll be fun spending all this time together with the team and getting to race consistently. It'll be the busiest time in the car, but that's good because it's what I love - I'm happy about that. In terms of physical preparation, it doesn't change anything. All your physical preparation is basically done in the weeks and months before and after the season. I've done all my preparations; I feel like I'm in a good spot. I'm sure we'll be able to rock the triple-header and I'm looking forward to it."
You raced most recently at Circuit Paul Ricard in your rookie Formula 2 season in 2019. How much experience of the track do you have from any other series - racing or testing, and what are the characteristics of the circuit that stand out for you?
MS: "So yes, the last time I was at Paul Ricard was in F2, but I've also been there before in a Formula 3 test. It's always been very interesting. The track is very open, there's a lot of run-off to say the least. It's still very flowing, there are possibilities to try different lines and stuff without having big consequences. It's a track where everybody I think can find the right margins at every corner because they're able to go over the margins sometimes and experience that. It's going to be key to stay within the track limits and get the most out of the car - hopefully we'll be able to do so."