Romain Grosjean didn’t have the easiest of weekend’s in Singapore, the Haas F1 driver failing to even start the race after trouble with the brake by wire system. This was after a very problematic free practice and qualifying, making it an all-round disastrous weekend.
However, he has put all the adversity behind him and is now looking ahead to the next race on the agenda, the Malaysian Grand Prix this coming weekend….
After a difficult weekend like the one you experienced in Singapore, how do you put it behind you and focus on the next opportunity, in this case, Malaysia?
It’s actually very straightforward. It was frustrating not to race. It’s what I love to do. I just want to go to the next one and get on top of all the issues we had. Singapore was a very difficult weekend for myself, but mostly for the guys on the team.
There is a multitude of changes to the Sepang International Circuit this year, so much so that the promoter says drivers will feel like they’re racing at it for the first time. Even though you have experience at a particular circuit, how long does it take to become familiar with the intricacies of a track when it receives an update?
With the resurfacing, you’ve got to go through with the cars and see if the grip is different. There’s also a lot of rain at Sepang, so we could see some big aquaplaning. We’ll be working as hard as we can to deal with all the conditions.
On Thursday of every grand prix race weekend you walk the track with your engineers. What is the goal of that walk and this weekend at Malaysia, does the track walk take on added importance because the track has undergone so many changes?
It’s usually a good sun-tanning session! It’s good for seeing changes, because every track we go to there’s a little bit of change each year. It’s also good to spend over an hour walking with the guys, talking about the program for the weekend and what we can do better, and a little bit of socializing. It’s always a good time. We can do our work and have some laughs at the same time.
Singapore, site of the last grand prix, was hot. But Malaysia is even hotter. With Singapore preceding Malaysia, does it help prepare you better for the heat and humidity?
Kind of, yes. Even though I didn’t get much racing in Singapore, you get your body used to the heat regardless with your overall fitness and training. That helps you feel good when you get there. Your body is better prepared to accept the temperatures you encounter.
In Singapore, all of your track time came either at dusk or at night. In Malaysia, it all happens in the heat of the day. Is Malaysia a more physical race because everything takes place under the glare of the sun?
They are two of the most difficult races of the season with all the elements to consider. As I didn’t race in Singapore, I’m absolutely ready, physically, to race in Malaysia.
The weather in Malaysia is predictably unpredictable, with heavy downpours late in the afternoon commonplace. Do you go into the weekend like you do at Spa-Francorchamps, where you know a lap around the circuit can suddenly change due to weather?
Yes, it can rain at one point of the circuit and not at all on the other side. I think that was the case last year. In qualifying, in Q2, I told my guys, ‘It’s raining,’ and they replied, ‘No, it’s not’. For me, it was pouring down and I could barely keep the car on track. I was on the edge. Suddenly the guys then got the rain and were like, ‘Yes, we can see it’. So yes, Malaysia can be very variable with the rain, and in a short amount of time. It’s part of the show and part of the game.
The energy loads are high at Sepang. The tires take a beating, but so do the drivers. Between the heat and the g-forces sustained over the course of a race, how physically demanding is the Malaysian Grand Prix?
I think it’s pretty much the hardest race of the year. Singapore is a slower track with slower corners, whereas Malaysia has high speed with high loads. Again, it’s a great challenge, a great track, and when you have a good car, it’s an amazing experience.
When it’s hot and the race is physically draining, how important is mental preparation prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix?
It’s always very important. Of course, when you are physically suffering as well, it’s more important to stay calm. It’s like riding up a hill and someone’s trying to chat to you or your phone’s ringing nonstop. You can get fed up with that very quickly simply because you’re tired. You just need to be ready for every race.”
Where are the overtaking opportunities at Sepang?
There are plenty. There are some big straight lines with good top speed, and then some big braking zones. It’s a track with high tire degradation. Overtaking is really good fun at Sepang.
Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Malaysia?
I remember GP2 Asia in 2008. I had the pole position in Sepang by around a second or something like that. It was a very fast time. I stalled on the grid, came back from last and almost climbed back up to first, but I was pushed out by a backmarker. I finished ninth, while the top-eight were then reversed on the grid for the second race. I started the second race from ninth and finished second. It was a weekend where I should’ve won both races but, unfortunately, didn’t. I love the track though.”
What is your favorite part of the Sepang International Circuit?
I’d say turns five and six – very high-speed corners.
Describe a lap around Sepang International Circuit.
Big braking into turn one – it’s very similar to China, both turns one and two. Long right-hand side corner, then a left hairpin. You need good traction. Then you have a long straight line going to turn four. Big braking, 90-degree right-hand side corner going up a crest. Then you have very high-speed corners going through turns five and six, almost flat out. Then it’s a small brake for the double right-hand turn eight. It’s a mid-speed corner with very tricky traction going through to the next turn, another left-hand side hairpin. The right corner is very long. It’s quite good fun when the car is well balanced. You then have a bit of straight line going to turns 12 and 13. Flat-out left corner, big braking, with g-forces from taking the corner. Then it’s a long straight line approaching the final corner. Big braking to carry minimum speed, then it’s full-throttle as early as you can to finish the lap.