After winning the last race and being able to savour it during the two-week summer break, the team is ready for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski outlines the plan of action for taking on the legendary Spa-Francorchamps.
What's the mood in the team heading into Belgium?
Marcin Budkowski: We head to Spa on the back of winning the last Grand Prix before the summer break, which, clearly, was not something we were expecting! It wasn't a win based on full, outright performance as some external circumstances contributed, but the opportunity came to us and we were there to grab it – in style - as we led 67 of the 70 laps of the race. Even though a few weeks have passed since the Hungarian Grand Prix, there is still a good buzz within the team as we are heading to Belgium. It was also fantastic to see Esteban bounce back after a few difficult races and score his first Grand Prix win. It's a very important milestone for the Team and a huge morale boost for everybody in Enstone and Viry. Now we know how good victory tastes, we will work even harder to achieve our goals and become a regular contender in the future.
What are the expectations for Spa?
MB: We remain realistic for Spa as we know it's a circuit that is less suited to our package. Even if we stopped the A521 development a while ago, we will still bring specific low downforce wings for Spa and Monza, which are high speed circuits. Spa is one of those places where the weather can bring some unpredictability and the weather forecast for this weekend seems to confirm this. This could create good opportunities to shine for our drivers, as Esteban has shown his ability in the wet in the past, and Fernando's racecraft and experience is an asset in tricky conditions. We aim to be in a position where we can capitalise on any opportunity.
How intense will the second half of the season be for the team?
MB: The summer shutdown allowed team members to rest and disconnect, which was well deserved after an intense first half of the season but also necessary to cope with the second half, which looks even busier. With a triple header across Belgium-Netherlands-Italy to start with, the factory has been busy either side of the break to get everything prepared. There is still some uncertainty on the calendar with race cancellations and Covid restrictions, so we have to remain flexible and ready for any race sequence.
Esteban Ocon heads into this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix as the latest winner in Formula 1 after a stellar and composed drive last time out in Hungary. The focus is on Belgium and taking on Spa-Francorchamps, a circuit where he made his Formula 1 debut and claimed his best qualifying result to date.
Has the winning feeling sunk in?
Esteban Ocon: I was not expecting to be entering this race after the summer break as the latest Formula 1 race winner! It's still an incredibly special feeling and it was very well timed as I've spent the last couple of weeks relaxing with family and friends letting it sink in... I can tell you, it definitely feels real now! Now the time is to focus on restarting the season and that begins in Belgium. We enjoyed the moment in Hungary and, of course, repeating that feeling would be fantastic, but we will remain realistic and do our best for a strong result. The weather might be interesting so, if it's dry or wet, we will be ready to take any opportunity.
What makes Spa so special for you?
EO: Spa is a very special place for me. I have some nice memories there like making my Formula 1 debut back in 2016, then qualifying in third place in 2018 in tricky conditions and even last year when, as a team, we finished fourth and fifth. Of course, it's where we lost Anthoine and we will always race with him in our thoughts. It's just a fantastic circuit, full of history and some amazing corners, especially in a modern Formula 1 car, like Raidillon, Pouhon and Blanchimont. The aim is to continue making more memories at this amazing track.
What did you get up to over the summer break?
EO: The break was really nice, and it was quite important to take a step back and take everything in. It's been a busy and intense season so far and, on the whole, we're quite happy with how it's unfolded. I took some time away, which was great and then I was back on a race circuit last weekend, driving an Alpine A110 GT4 on a parade at the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was a great experience to drive the track alongside other Alpines and Fernando in the Formula 1 car and it makes me want to get behind the wheel and into race mode again. We're ready for the challenge of this next triple header.
Fernando Alonso resumes his first year back in Formula 1 at one of the calendar's most enjoyable racetracks at Spa-Francorchamps. The two-time Formula 1 World Drivers' Champion will look to pick-up where he left off following a season best fourth place finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Well the dust has truly settled after that memorable Hungarian Grand Prix for the team; how do you reflect on the weekend?
Fernando Alonso: It was a fantastic result for the team and for Esteban claiming his first win in Formula 1. We looked quite good all weekend and it was nice to see both cars in Q3 on Saturday. Then, when you mix rain and the Hungaroring usually you get some exciting results, and this is what happened on race day. We stayed calm throughout the entire race and executed a fantastic game plan. I was quite happy with fourth too and my best result of the season. As a team we've now had a taste of this success and we're targeting more of these memories in the future.
You've had a short break since then, what did you get up to during the summer shutdown?
FA: I took some time to recharge my batteries as it's been a long first half of the season. I've done some cycling and spent time with family and friends. It wasn't long before I went back out onto the racetrack though, and I had some fun at my karting track back home. I'm happy to have had the short break but I feel we built some good momentum towards the shutdown and now we must carry this through to the second half of the season. I always enjoy the first race back after the break, and there are still lots of points up for grabs with the midfield as tight as ever.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is a fan and driver favourite, what makes it so special for Formula 1?
FA: It's a great circuit and a pleasure to race on in a Formula 1 car. Taking Eau Rouge flat in these modern cars will be amazing. It's quite a traditional circuit in a way and always provides a good race for the fans. The weather can sometimes be unpredictable, so we have to capitalise on any opportunity like how we did in Budapest. We have a busy triple header coming up with two traditional tracks in Spa and Monza, with a new one for Formula 1 in Zandvoort. Our aim is to score as many points as possible and build on the momentum and team spirit that we have shown from Hungary.