|The 2014 GP2 season is almost at an end with all the teams heading to Abu Dhabi for the final race weekend of the year. The Racing Engineering team has had a mixed year in terms of results with race wins and podium finishes but without the success of 2013.
Below Thomas Couyotopoulo, Sporting Director of Racing Engineering, looks back at Sochi and the season to date:
Were the logistics of racing in Russia for the first time a big challenge?
Russia was a big challenge for all the teams and the championship in general as it is a brand new venue on the F1/GP2 calendar. The circuit didn't’t have any experience in hosting an event at this level of motorsport. Considering this, we can say that the facilities were very good and the organization was generally fine. Maybe the biggest challenge was the amount of paperwork in regards to travel and transport. In the end everything went quite well and it will be easier to organize it for next season now that we know how to proceed and what to expect.
Are you happy with the team’s preparation of the car this year and its reliability?
Unfortunately, I cannot say that I am totally happy because our cars have stopped on track on some occasions this year when we didn't have any issues of this type during the previous seasons. If we look at the causes of the incidents, we can see that they were "out of our hands" as there are parts of the car that the teams are not allowed to work on since they are sealed. Stefano Coletti had a promising race in Sochi on Saturday until the engine alternator belt on his car broke. Lello, on the other hand, also suffered from technical gremlins outside our influence. On our side we continue to apply and improve the methods and systems in place that have been working in the past. We do everything in our power to have the best preparation and reliability possible. Even the current F1 World Champion Team has been hit by some big reliability issues this year, so it proves that everyone needs to continually work to maintain and improve the level of reliability of their race cars.
Both drivers had podiums this year, but it seems as if much more was possible?
We have missed some great opportunities in scoring big points this season, and we are paying for it when we look at the championship standings. We know that Stefano could have easily been on the podium in Barcelona without the puncture at turn 1 on the opening lap and he missed a P2 finish in Monaco's feature race due to an accident. Lello could not get the best out of his Silverstone's pole position due to the gearbox failure and he also lost a lot in Budapest due to a penalty for speeding in the pit lane and the overtaking of Vandoorne before the Safety-Car line. These are some of the examples of the "missed opportunities" we had this year, meaning that with the potential of our cars and drivers, we could and should have scored a much greater number of points. The important point is to learn from these incidents, even if these are sometimes due to some external factors making this sport unpredictable.
Having won two championships, the first with Giorgio Pantano in 2008 and then with Fabio Leimer last year, is there any difference between the approach in the years you have won the championship and this year?
To be honest, we go deeper into the preparation and analysis of the events every season. I think we do provide our drivers with more information and simulations than ever in the past to try to maximize the potential at every event, but this does not replace the experience or the performance "on the day". It is true that the very strong and stable performance that lead Fabio Leimer to the 2013 title with us, is mostly due to the work done with him during the 2012 season, where he committed several mistakes (yellow flag penalties, etc.) but learned from it to become a more complete driver who deserved his GP2 title.
Do you think the F1 teams respect the challenge that GP2 provides for young drivers?
I think F1 teams respect and use the challenge and work done with the young drivers, especially when they come from the top GP2 teams that are participating very actively in the development process of the young drivers. F1 is the objective for most of them and their managers with F1 teams obviously searching for the best performing and complete drivers. It is therefore logical and positive that a challenging GP2 championship is the main feeder series for F1.
Do you use the GP2 simulator that you have in the workshop and how realistic is it in the way that it handles and how the tyres behave?
We do have our own driver simulator at the workshop, based on an actual 2014 GP2 cockpit. We constantly work on it to get as close as possible to reality as it makes it an interesting tool to prepare for test or race events. Simulation in general is a complex topic taking a lot of parameters into account and allowing the drivers to "train freely", with advice from our engineers. Drivers are part of the system as well since their feedback from being in the actual race car is something very important for adjusting the simulator and adapting it to the different situations or components (tyre compound, car balance and circuit grip level for example). Tyre thermal effect and degradation is one of the key points of a professional simulator and it is also one of the key points to performing well during a race weekend. Obviously, brand new circuits like Sochi this year are generating particular interest for simulator sessions and we have been quite satisfied with the preparation done last month with ours.