Emilia-Romagna GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

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By Olivier Ferret

12 April 2021 - 15:57
Emilia-Romagna GP 2021 - Haas F1 (...)

Uralkali Haas F1 Team is heading to Italy, and to the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, for round two of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The circuit, more commonly referred to as Imola in deference to the adjoining town, reappeared on the pandemic-hit schedule in 2020 following a 14-year hiatus. Its comeback was well-received by Formula 1’s stakeholders, teams and drivers alike, and while its retention initially appeared a longshot, organizers ultimately secured a spot on the 2021 calendar.

Following last year’s presence on a fall date Imola this season returns to its more traditional spring berth, having featured in that slot from 1981 through 2006, when it was known as the San Marino Grand Prix. Now named after the Emilia Romagna region in which Imola is located, it will be the fourth round held in Italy across just an eight-month span, following last year’s events at Monza, Mugello and Imola.

The 4.9km circuit provides a number of challenges for teams and drivers. The presence of several low and medium-speed complexes, with high kerbs, places an emphasis on stability and traction while the lengthy full-throttle run from Rivazza to Tamburello means achieving a high top-end speed is also of importance. The narrow nature of the old-school circuit, and infrequent heavy braking zones, also puts the spotlight on qualifying and race strategy, with track position favored owing to the difficulty of drivers being able to pass.

For rookies Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, it will be their first experience of Imola behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car – though they have both previously raced at the venue. Mazepin competed in the European Formula 3 Championship in 2016 while Schumacher was victorious at Imola in the Italian Formula 4 category, also in 2016.

Mazepin and Schumacher are seeking to build on the experience gathered through the course of their debut Formula 1 race weekends in Bahrain and put some of the early lessons into practice at the historic circuit.

Günther Steiner

One race down – 22 to go. What was your take on the team’s performance at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and specifically how Nikita and Mick worked through their race weekend debut ?

“Well, the performance of the team and the car – we know what that will be. So, the expectations were not high, at least results-wise. I think the two drivers did a good job over the course of the weekend. Obviously, in the race Nikita spun out and damaged the car, and Mick spun once too – but the whole weekend for them was a learning phase. We need to do more of it, and as many laps as possible, with all that we’ll be fine. It was one weekend from 23. We need to get better and better, work on getting more laps in, and keep learning – that’s the mission.”

Do you think people underestimate how big a challenge it is for a team to start afresh with a brand-new driver line-up ? What are the specifics of your role in ensuring the drivers feel comfortable within the team ? How hands on are you in that management process ?

“It is quite a big challenge. Formula 1 is a very difficult sport, but we knew the challenge, therefore there’s no big surprise. We decided to do this, and we need to get through it. I just try to see it that the drivers feel comfortable – I don’t try to micromanage them. They have their engineers and they need to work with them on a day-to-day basis, or more accurately on an hour-to-hour basis, not with me. For sure though, in the beginning, I will be well-informed what is happening and try to see where I may need to intervene. I’m not doing the job myself ; I’ve got good people working for the team which know how to do the job better than me. I just observe what is happening. If there’s a problem I’m there to ask what it is and then I see if I need to do something.”

Reflecting on what you witnessed on-track in Bahrain through testing and subsequently into the race weekend – is there anything that stands out for you in terms of the competition or has the grid taken shape as you expected it to ?

“A very short answer. The grid looked exactly as I expected it to after testing. I think we’ll see a fight between Red Bull and Mercedes for wins this season.”

Looking ahead to Imola – on the last visit the team had no historical point of reference at the circuit given Formula 1 hadn’t raced there previously in the brief history of Uralkali Haas F1 Team. A little over five months later and we’re returning to the circuit. Is having that recent track knowledge more useful as a benchmark to evaluate the drivers on their learning curve or from an engineering perspective in terms of car set-up – or is it both ?

“It’s mainly useful in the car set-up. Even if the cars haven’t changed a lot, they have still changed with the aero regulations, so there is a difference. It’s always good to have been at a race track. Everything you know, and what you’ve learned, it’s all useful. The more you’ve been the better it is. For sure it will help the team and our rookie drivers.”

Nikita Mazepin

Having had time to digest and reflect on your debut Formula 1 weekend in Bahrain – what specifically stands out as a key learning you can take from that event and apply moving forward?

“I feel like the biggest thing to get used to is learning the schedule, and the weekend is much more intense with all that’s going on and the sessions on-track. It’s about keeping concentration and learning the schedule – that’s the biggest thing.”

With the intensity of pre-season testing followed almost immediately by the Bahrain Grand Prix, there’s now been a longer than usual two-week break between races. How have you used this time both professionally and personally to recharge ahead of Imola?

“For me personally it was very important to use these two weeks to go away and reflect back on the weekend to see the things I need to improve – and obviously there’s a lot of things being a rookie. Also, it was very nice to go back home and see my family. Knowing there’s a very busy schedule ahead during the year, these two weeks were very important.”

What are your memories of racing at Imola in your junior career?

“I raced at Imola back in Formula 3 in 2016. It’s a very old school circuit and it was very special to race there with the memories of Ayrton Senna. Going into Formula 1 there’s obviously going to be a lot of changes but I’m looking forward to being out there again.”

What preparations have your undertaken before racing at Imola for the first time in a Formula 1 car?

“Some simulator driving has been very important as I haven’t raced at the circuit in five years. It’s a circuit where the qualifying lap is very important because there are very little overtaking opportunities. So, getting that one push – that good qualifying lap, it’s key. Being on it from the first minute, that’s the key factor for the race weekend.”

Mick Schumacher

Having had time to digest and reflect on your debut Formula 1 weekend in Bahrain – what specifically stands out as a key learning you can take from that event and apply moving forward?

“I think in general I’ve learned a ton of new things, and we’ve seen that come through in all the meetings we’ve had. It’s always different talking about it and feeling it. There are a lot of things I learned about the tires, that’s probably the biggest new thing to me. Also, on things like how much downforce we lose at the start of the race. It’s like going from 100 percent downforce to 20 percent downforce the moment you’re turning into a corner. There was definitely lots learned and lots to look at before heading to Imola. I feel I have a lot more knowledge, a lot more comfort, but I was also really surprised at how quickly the weekend was over. It all happened in the blink of an eye – it was a case of little time and lots to learn, let’s put it like that.”

With the intensity of pre-season testing followed almost immediately by the Bahrain Grand Prix, there’s now been a longer than usual two-week break between races. How have you used this time both professionally and personally to recharge ahead of Imola?

“We had a few team meetings after the weekend as usual, obviously to put a point on what we learned, trying to put it all together ahead of Imola. I’ve been preparing myself physically, while doing a bit of recovery too. I’ve really just been focused 100 percent on going to Imola.”

What are your memories of racing at Imola in your junior career?

“I only have good memories there to be honest. I’ve raced at Imola in F4 and done a few tests in F3. Honestly, all of the experiences I’ve had there are great. We had a track walk there once and saw five peacocks, which was a new one for me. The track is amazing to drive. Racing-wise it can be quite difficult, with very few places to overtake. Once you’re in a flow and set a nice lap it’s amazing, especially how one corner follows after another. There are quick corners, technical corners, the kerbs that you have to ride. There’s definitely lots to look forward to in a Formula 1 car.”

Describe the specific characteristics of the Imola circuit and what you need from a car to push there. What preparations have your undertaken before racing there for the first time in a Formula 1 car?

“Obviously, Imola is known for a lot of kerb riding. You have the two corners up in the chicane where you have to take a lot of kerb. We have some long corners which follow into long straights. Everything’s basically very twisted. In all the junior categories that I’ve raced there, it was always very fun, and a track I enjoyed driving. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot better in a Formula 1 car. It’s amazing to drive a Formula 1 car, so to do that on a super cool track will be even more special. I’m definitely looking forward to it. Regarding preparation, I’ve been speaking through it all with the team and going through the notes I made there when I was young.”

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