Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are adamant that they are up to the challenge of racing at Spa, and maybe even scoring a point or two.
Welcome back! How did you spend your summer break?
KM: I went back to Denmark for some time off and ignored training for a bit! But soon enough I missed racing and got back to the gym. The second part of the year gives you a good reason to train – there’s a lot travelling and you need to be on form.
We’ve now go for the second part of the season. What lessons have you learnt from the first half of the year?
KM: I think we have learned that it’s a challenging year and our focus should be on just that: learning. We now know our level of performance and where we are in the field. While we need to try and get the most out of this year, we will now focus on putting everything we have learned into next year and maximising opportunities in 2017.
What are your thoughts on the challenge that is Spa-Francorchamps?
KM: I love it. I remember the first lap I did there in 2009 in a Formula Renault 2.0 car. That car is way too slow for the track! You need an F1 car as it is just so big. I feel very lucky to have done it now as you can appreciate the flow and speed of the corners. I love Eau Rouge – even though it’s flat now it’s still so enjoyable to go through. On top of Eau Rouge you can run the kerb and straightline a lot so it’s a bit of a shame it’s not gravel or wall on the outside as would make it even more of a challenge. In the wet it is still a massive corner and you can guarantee it will be wet at some point over the weekend! It’s one of my favourite corners.
How do you deal with that famous changeable weather at Spa?
KM: The track is so long that it can be wet in one part of the track and dry in the other. In these cases your normal cut off points for intermediate, wet and dry tyres go out of the window as you have to judge how much you will gain on slicks in some corners versus the risk of wet in other. It’s one of the main difficulties of Spa.
Which of your Spa races stand out for you?
KM: I have won in everything I have raced, except F1, but I have had some fun races. I held back Alonso for the whole race…he was very annoyed with me and I actually ended up getting a penalty for defending too hard, but I definitely enjoyed that one!
You seemed to take a step forward in Germany, do you think this form can continue in Spa?
KM: The car felt good and we were competitive in the first two stints on the supersoft tyre but ran too long on them. The two stop strategy didn’t really work but at least we showed at the start that we were competitive. With the right strategy we could have fought with Toro Rosso at the end of the race. I hope we can be at this level in Spa again.
What were your thoughts on Spa when you first encountered its flowing corners and long straights?
JP: When I first drove it thought, I remember I thought it was incredible. The first thing that hits you is Eau Rouge. It’s just awesome. You see it on TV, or on the onboards or on the Xbox, but it is even better the first time you drive it. Nothing prepares you for heading flat out down the hill and then coming up the other side and down that straight. In the dry we are now easily flat, maybe just slightly under with high fuel in the race, but it’s a real corner.
Any other corners that grab your attention?
JP: The whole circuit feels very flowing and you can appreciate the size of it. Pouhon is a very quick double apex left and it is probably the biggest challenge now. It also goes downhill so you pick up so much speed – even with the run off, if you get it wrong you’ll be off. Blanchimont is now easy flat but leads into the Bus Stop chicane, which is a great overtaking place when you scream round at the end of a fast lap. It’s very easy to get wrong, but hard to get right.
How have you fared in your races in Spa?
JP: I actually won my first race at Spa, which was in Formula Palmer Audi. I remember it was wet – as always for Spa! I’ve had podiums in GP2 since but have always missed a win somewhere. I also started on the front row last time I went there. I’ve had some good memories but I’m eager to make some more!
What do you need to do well in Spa?
JP: Qualifying is important, but in the race overtaking is easier than at other races. The biggest thing is to keep one eye on the weather as you always need to be on the right tyres at the right time. If you get caught out it’s such a long lap that it can take you two minutes to get back to the pits and change tyres, by which time you would have lost so many positions.
Would you have liked to drive the old circuit at Spa?
JP: I would absolutely love to look round some of the old tracks like Spa and the Nordschleife and have a drive. I have seen old videos of the races there – each circuit is unique and incredibly high speed; I don’t think people liked going slowly back then!