Spa-Francorchamps. What does this name make you think?
Romain Grosjean: What a fabulous race circuit! Spa as we all know is one of the best tracks we go to, if not the best of them all. As a driver it is like a dream circuit with elevation change, quick corners, medium speed technical corners and some good straights for overtaking. It's a circuit with a soul. I always enjoy racing here, as do most of the drivers. What I find memorable about Spa is not only the track but also the beautiful surroundings in the Ardennes forest. From the cockpit you get a very real sense of being at a living, breathing track at Spa and the fans are really close to the action. You can almost smell the frites!
How much of a challenge is Spa-Francorchamps as a driver?
RG: It's a great track as there's so much to think about over a lap. That's true if you're on a qualifying lap trying to maximise your speed at every point, or in a race where you're either defending or attacking, and maybe both over the course of a lap. It's the type of place where the differences between cars can be highlighted and sometimes you see a car go really well here - let's hope that's our car this season!
What's the key to a good result at Spa?
RG: You need good grunt from the engine and a well set-up and forgiving car. We can definitely deliver on both those counts so it's going to be interesting to see how we fare against our rivals. You also need an element of luck sometimes as the weather in the Ardennes can present a challenge.
It's almost a cliché to talk about the possibility of rain on one part of the track when it's dry on another, but this can happen. If it happens during qualifying, it's a massive challenge to make the right call with timing for your lap. If it happens during the race, then the call of when to pit and change your tyres for wet weather ones or back to slicks has a massive impact as it's a long, long, long lap if you're at Spa on the wrong rubber.
What memories do you have of the track?
RG: I won in the GP2 Series in 2008 which was a fabulous feeling and I've certainly missed the Spa podium since then. I've always had good pace but my best result in F1 so far there is P8. I don't see why we can't improve on that this year.
How have you been spending the summer shutdown?
RG: Mainly relaxing with my family. It's great having the shutdown as it's a valuable time in the season to allow us all to recharge our batteries. We've got just two European races left then we're back to the long-haul and jet-lag so to get this time to relax mentally and physically is very beneficial. My son Sacha celebrated his second birthday and I've been able to have a great time with all of my family at the beach so I'm in very good condition heading to Spa.
Talk us through your Hungarian Grand Prix.
RG: The thing about the summer shutdown and the break we get is that when you come back, the last race seems so long ago, even if it was just a few weeks ago. Fortunately we did all our debriefs after the race otherwise I think I'd struggle! It was an interesting race and we worked so well as a team to score a strong result after a poor start and even a penalty. It was quite a memorable race!
Do you think Spa offers a good opportunity for you and the team?
RG: I think the circuit could well play to some of the strengths we have in the car and I'm certainly ready for more points. Me and the team will be doing everything we can to go well and get the strongest result possible, after all that's what we're here to do!
Pastor Maldonado reckons the Spa-Francorchamps circuit should give the opportunity for himself and Lotus F1 Team to shine.
Spa is a legendary motor racing location. What makes it so special for you the driver?
Pastor Maldonado: Where do you start with Spa? It is an amazing circuit and for sure one of the best on the planet. The sensations a driver experiences at corners like the Eau Rouge / Radillon combination, Pouhon and Blanchimont are not like you feel anywhere else in the world. It is unique in every way and to think you are competing on parts of the track that were used back in the first Grand Prix season in 1950 makes it very special indeed.
Is the challenge any different from other race tracks?
PM: Every track has its own challenges. For Spa, it's a long lap and this can present some set-up challenges. You want low drag for the straights but decent downforce for the corners. This is the same at any track, but with the longer lap at Spa the different requirements are highlighted. Sometimes the best set-up for the fastest lap is not necessarily the best in a race. It's easier to overtake on the straights, so a car fast here, but maybe relatively slower in the corners could be the preferred race set-up. This year we have a car we know to be very quick in a straight line, so this could help us. Then, of course, you never know if you're going to get rain at Spa, and when it comes, it can come very quickly. There's always something to keep you on your toes at Spa.
What are your favourite memories of Spa?
PM: Spa is the type of track where you get great memories whenever or whatever you are racing. But of course the ones that really stick in the mind are the victories and I am lucky that I have won here a few times. I first raced at Spa in 2004 in Formula Renault. In 2006 I won in World Series by Renault at Spa, taking pole, fastest lap and the victory. Then in 2008 I won in the GP2 Series for the first time. Then I took another win in my championship year in 2010 which was a sweet moment. In Formula 1 I qualified sixth in 2012. So all in all I have great memories of the track and feel that I have a special relationship with it going back many years.
What can we say about the Hungarian Grand Prix?
PM: It was a difficult race and certainly not the best result I've had. There was so much going on and it was a tough race for many drivers. Like with any race, we had a debrief afterwards and that was productive. I always look ahead so my focus is Spa and the next races ahead.
How did you spend your summer break?
PM: Of course I spent as much time as possible with my family. It's good to not have any pressure, events or factory visits for a couple of weeks so you can clear your head and prepare for the next nine races. I've been training and enjoying the good weather whilst preparing mentally and physically for the rest of the season. Whilst it's great to have a bit of a break, I can't wait to jump back into the car.
What's possible in the second half of the season?
PM: I think we have some tracks coming up which suit our car so that's a good positive. Certainly, Spa and Monza should be strong for us so good results there will be a great way to reboot our season before we head to all the flyaway races when anything is possible.