Belgian GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

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By Olivier Ferret

24 August 2021 - 14:27
Belgian GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

Uralkali Haas F1 Team is raring to get back to action after the summer hiatus with the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps the venue for the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is among sport’s most recognizable venues and is this year celebrating its centenary. Baron Joseph de Crawhez and Henri Langlois van Ophem thought that the triangle formed by routes 23, 32 and 440 – connecting the villages of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot – would provide a fantastic course, winding its way through the contours of the verdant Ardennes Forest.

The first race, in August 1921, was held for motorcyclists but a year later sufficient automobiles were registered for the Belgian Grand Prix to be inaugurated. Those roads were eventually tarmacked in 1928, and in 1950 the 14km road circuit was included on the first Formula 1 world championship season. Only Monza, Monaco and Silverstone have hosted more rounds than Spa-Francorchamps’ 53.

The current Spa-Francorchamps layout, most recently modified in 2007, remains a fearsome challenge and is a favorite among the Formula 1 paddock. At 7.004km it is the longest circuit on the calendar and features fast and sweeping curves such as Pouhon, Blanchimont and the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex, a waterfall of asphalt which the drivers ascend at full-throttle.

Not only is the circuit a test for drivers but it also provides a trial for teams owing to the varying characteristics, with a power-heavy first and third sectors counteracted by a downforce-reliant lengthy middle sector. Teams also face a challenge that has been ever-present throughout Spa-Francorchamps’ 100-year history: the weather. Its location within the Ardennes Forest means conditions can change, even corner-by-corner.

Uralkali Haas F1 Team rookies Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher have strong records at Spa-Francorchamps in junior categories. Mazepin was victorious in the GP3 Series in 2018 and last year finished first on the road in Formula 2 prior to a time penalty. Schumacher recorded his maiden European Formula 3 pole position and win at the track in 2018, going on to win that year’s title, while in 2020 he secured back-to-back Formula 2 podiums en-route to the championship crown.

Günther Steiner

The notable highlight from your personal summer break seemed to be the scaling of the grand Ortler mountain in your native South Tyrol. Can you share that experience and the motivation to climb it – a beach holiday wasn’t an option?

“As a South Tyrolian, there is always one thing you should be doing – climbing the highest mountain of the region! I did it pretty late in my life but it was one of those things I’ve always wanted to do when I was a kid, so I got it done. I stayed a few days on the beach just to make my family happy – I was obviously happy being with my family – but it’s one of those things when you want to do something, you need to go and do it. I’m pretty happy – it was a nice moment being on the beach. It wasn’t easy work, but it takes what it takes!”

Were you able to successfully strike a work / holiday balance and are you feeling charged up for the second half of the 2021 season? What’s the key to taking a successful break and where do your immediate priorities lie now having had time to reflect on the first half of 2021?

“I am absolutely recharged for the second half. I spent some time with the family but what I’ve learned over the years in this period is doing something constructive is very difficult because everyone is on holiday in our industry so it’s just going backwards and forwards with no real result. The best thing is to step back, think things through on your own where you don’t need anybody and then when you come back, just work hard. The priority is just to get to the end of the season, do the best we can, as we try to do every race, and then focus on preparation for 2022.”

Do you feel that there’s now a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting the 2021 season behind you, and saying goodbye to the VF-21 package, while ramping up hopes for the 2022 Haas package?

“Absolutely. We are getting there over the hump. I think there is one more race to go and then we are closer to the end than the beginning but the focus from now is getting ready for 2022 and I think we are making good progress with that.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is the first race in another F1 triple-header. Would you have rather eased the team into competing with some space between races or do you feel a triple-header enables a bit more of an immediate focus given the intensity of the schedule?

“Triple-headers aren’t avoidable with the pandemic still around. Ideally it would be a single race with a week in-between and then the second option would be to have double-headers and one week in-between, but we can’t choose this year. I think FOM and Stefano are doing a very good job in getting a good calendar together for us and we have to live by it. For sure, it will be a tough second half of the season, but our team is tough, and we will get to the end of it.”

Nikita Mazepin

How was your summer break – did you fully switch off or were you already thinking ahead to the second half of the season?

“The summer break was really good. Unfortunately, those three weeks are never long enough to fully switch off because I had to pass some exams to get into University in September. Formula 1 has a very long season and you need to take time off in order to be best prepared for the mental challenges that are coming in the second part of the year. I focused on my studying, went to the mountains to quad bike and buggy and just focus on the things that I love. The last one and a half weeks I’ve been training so that I’m ready for Spa.”

The first race after some down time is arguably one of the toughest tracks to master – Spa Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix – Round 12 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Eau Rouge, the left-right up to Raidillon – what is it like to race through such famous – and challenging – corners?

“Spa is one of my favourite circuits in Formula 1 and in general, in racing. The craziest thing about Spa is that the lap feels so long and sometimes you’re in the first sector and it’s dry and in the second it’s wet because it’s situated on such a big amount of land. You’re driving through the forests and different sections of the track at different speeds but if the car is good there, it’s the best circuit and the best feeling you can get to drive. I’m looking forward to trying it in Formula 1 - Eau Rouge flat out will be a very interesting feeling.”

You won the sprint race here in 2018 and came second last year in Formula 2’s feature race. How does it feel to win around such a circuit?

“It feels amazing. Obviously, I had a difficult win and actually I’ve won twice but I got a penalty the second time. It’s a really cool track because I like to race where you can overtake people and Spa is a great overtaking circuit with many opportunities, the speeds are high, the downforce is low, so to win on a circuit like this, it’s super special.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is known for varying weather conditions – sometime with rain falling on some parts of the track with sun at others – due to its size. How does that affect the set-up of the car for the weekend?

“It doesn’t affect it because in Formula 1 – with not be able to change the set-up after qualifying – you are in-between where you could be, depending on the weather conditions. I hope it’s dry because I want to experience those G-forces and those maximum speeds.”

Mick Schumacher

The first race after some down time is arguably one of the toughest tracks to master – Spa Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix – Round 12 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Eau Rouge, the left-right up to Raidillon – what is it like to race through such famous – and challenging – corners?

“In general, Spa is my favorite track, in any circumstance. For me, coming back to Spa is just great. I was there last year and previous years and obviously we’ve had a lot of ups and downs there. It’s definitely one of the most challenging tracks – it’s super long, there’s a lot of undulation in it, it’s very historical and definitely one of the most special weekends that we have on the calendar, so I’m really looking forward to going back. Also, having in mind some difficult times but we always keep everyone, especially Anthoine (Hubert), in our hearts when we go there.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is known for varying weather conditions – sometime with rain falling on some parts of the track with sun at others – due to its size. How does that affect the set-up of the car for the weekend?

“It doesn’t impact the car set-up that much because we can still change it during the practice sessions – so we have time to set it up our way, but usually the conditions are changeable over the course of the Grand Prix. I’m looking forward to getting on to some rain again which would be nice. Obviously, if it’s dry, I’m happy to go on dry too, so we’ll just let it come our way and then we’ll see!”

In 2017, you drove your father’s championship-winning Benetton B194 around a lap to mark the 25th anniversary of his maiden Formula 1 victory. We return to Spa this weekend on the 30th anniversary of his Formula 1 debut, during your first year in the sport. What was it like to drive that car and being able to experience those special moments?

“Driving my dad’s Benetton in 2017 was a great experience. Now, five years later I’m driving in Formula 1 myself and that’s 30 years after my dad made his debut. It’s a really special moment for me and my family, so very happy to go there and put my mark on that special track too.”

A year later in 2018, you won at Spa during your Formula 3 European Championship winning campaign. How does it feel to stand on top of the podium around such a circuit?

“It was my first win in Formula 3 in 2018 and the first one from a good streak. It was also my first pole position that year. It was very good to start off there as it’s such a special track to us as a family, and to me, so I’m very happy to be able to go back there and hopefully we’ll be able to pull something out of the hat, which would be great.”

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