After returning to the points last time out, the team heads straight to São Paulo for the second race of the triple header. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski outlines the plan of action for this weekend.
Heading to Brazil and another high-altitude circuit, how does the team deal with the challenges of racing in this sort of environment?
Marcin Budkowski: We saw in Mexico that the high altitude was quite challenging for our package and it hasn't really worked in our favour compared to our competitors. Although our absolute performance wasn't good and we underperformed in qualifying, we did manage the race quite well and salvaged a couple of points. Brazil is at a lower altitude than Mexico so we expect it to be less of an influence on our competitiveness, and it's vital for us to have a strong weekend after we lost ground to our main competitors in the Constructors' Championship.
Interlagos is a legendary circuit in Formula 1. What makes it so special?
MB: The circuit has a good mix of straights and low speed corners and it's a bit of a classic in Formula 1. It's a short lap and it's pretty bumpy - but not quite as bumpy as Austin! The fans are so passionate and add to what is usually a fantastic atmosphere. The race in Brazil has often thrown up some spicy results in the past, so we need to be prepared for what might well be a bit of a chaotic weekend and capitalise on any opportunities that may arise.
What are the team's thoughts heading into Formula 1's third ever Sprint Race?
MB: Having a Sprint Race weekend format close to the end of the season, where most of the positions in the championship are still being fought for, certainly adds some uncertainty. We've performed quite well in the last two Sprint Races, so we're approaching this weekend with confidence and excitement. It's a circuit where you can overtake on, which makes it a good venue for this kind of format. Following this race, we can look back at what we learned in the three Sprint events and discuss with F1 and the FIA to see what can be improved for 2022.
The battle for fifth place is now closer than ever, what can help make the difference?
MB: It's looking like it's going to go down to the wire with Alpha Tauri after they scored big in Mexico. While we are on the same number of points, we currently lead Alpha Tauri by virtue of Esteban's win in Hungary. At this stage of the season, the performance of the car is generally pretty fixed across the grid, but we'll see different results according to the characteristics of each circuit and which car they suit better. Every detail will count, and we need perfect execution, reliability, and consistency throughout the remaining four races.
It's been three years since Esteban Ocon last raced in Brazil. After showing promising pace on Sunday in Mexico, the Frenchman is looking ahead to racing at Interlagos and taking on Formula 1's third Sprint Qualifying.
What do you like about racing at Interlagos?
Esteban Ocon: It's been a couple of years since I raced in Brazil and I've always enjoyed racing there. The atmosphere is incredibly special as Brazilian fans are very passionate for Formula 1 and you can feel the legacy of Ayrton Senna there. I love the passion and energy in Brazil, so it's definitely good that we're heading back there this weekend after missing out last year.
What are the main challenges of the circuit?
EO: Interlagos is a unique circuit and it's one of my favourites on the calendar as it's a real mix of corners throughout. The lap is short, quite fast and normally the weather in Brazil can throw some surprises, which we have to adapt to. We also have the Sprint Qualifying again this weekend and it's a decent circuit for overtaking, so we'll see what we can do this weekend. While I enjoy racing there, my results in Formula 1 haven't reflected that, so hopefully this weekend I can score my first points in Brazil and also return to the points after not scoring in the last two races.
Leaving Mexico, how are you feeling about the current performance?
EO: I actually left Mexico feeling quite positive even if we didn't score points. We were always up against it starting from the back of the grid and then we had some unavoidable lap one contact, so to work our way to thirteenth wasn't too bad in the end. Our race pace was definitely an improvement since recent races, and we'll continue to learn and improve. The on-track battles were fun and the target this weekend is to start fast on Friday, have a strong qualifying and then be in a position to score points come Sunday's race.
Fernando Alonso returns to Interlagos, the place where the Spaniard won his second World Championship in Formula 1. With a trail of good memories to reflect on in Brazil, Fernando is hoping to pick-up where he left off in Mexico as the season edges closer to its climax.
What are your closing remarks to the weekend in Mexico?
Fernando Alonso: In the end it was a good result for us to come away with two points. We had a very difficult Saturday and I didn't quite get my laps together in qualifying. But we executed a good race and I think ninth was the maximum we could achieve on Sunday. We showed some decent pace during the race, so we need to evaluate why it was a little bit different to Saturday. We lost a little bit of ground to Alpha Tauri in the battle for fifth, so we need to now focus on the last few races and score points consistently. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in Mexico, and it was good to see how happy the fans were and hearing them chant was amazing. It's a reminder of what we lost during the pandemic.
How much fun is racing in Interlagos?
FA: Interlagos is a great track. Its history in Formula 1 is rich and the fans there know Formula 1 very well. The lap is very short, but it has a good flow that makes it quite enjoyable. Physically it's a hard circuit to race on. It's bumpy, the altitude is high again and the weather can be extremely unpredictable. There is always some drama in Brazil and so we have to be prepared for that, but it makes the whole weekend exciting as anything can happen. We've had a fair share of dramatic races this year and we're expecting this to be no different.
It's fifteen years since you won your second world title in Brazil. How fondly do you look back on that time?
FA: Obviously, it brings back very good memories and it doesn't feel like it was fifteen years ago. We had a strong package that year, but as the season entered the latter stages the Ferraris were very quick and consistent. However, Michael (Schumacher) had a retirement in Suzuka, which was the round just before Brazil, and this meant we only needed one point to take the championship. He also had a grid penalty, so it made things a little easier. Even in this position you are conscious of the end result and have to make sure you do everything right. Despite the situation in the championship, as a racer you always push to the maximum. In the end we delivered a good race to finish second and it was enough for the title. We didn't want to risk anything! The feeling afterwards was amazing, and it was special to see our whole team celebrating after such a close fight for the championship.