I have had a busy few days since the Turkish Grand Prix, so time has gone by quickly and now I’m heading off to Barcelona for the fifth race of the season, which I hope will show more signs of the progress we had clearly made in Turkey. After a couple of days at home in Monaco, I headed for Rome where I attended a function for our partner Shell, after which I stayed in Italy spending three days at Maranello.
I had the usual race preparation meetings with the engineers, although much of the time was in the simulator, with it set up to replicate the Catalunya circuit where we will be racing this weekend. To be honest, from a driver’s point of view, the simulator is most valuable when you are using it to learn a new circuit, like we did last year for Korea and will do again for India, this year’s new venue. The work I was involved in this week was more for the benefit of the car, the 150° Italia, as I was testing the new updates we plan to use starting from Friday.
A session in the simulator is very much like a normal test at a race track: we start running at 9 in the morning until around 1, when we have a break for lunch, which we take in the simulator area itself and then we start again running from around 2.30 to 5 in the afternoon. After that, just like at the racetrack, I have a debrief with my engineers. Usually with the simulator, you start doing a run just to get acclimatised to it and then you start doing runs that last five or six timed laps. You can immediately see the results of what you are doing so, based on that, you decide what changes to make to the car and go out again. In one day in the simulator, you can try many more things than you could do at the track, because in the “virtual” environment, it is much quicker changing things on the car than at the track. Also, you don’t waste time in the simulator with “in” laps and “out” laps: for example at the Catalunya track on the simulator, you start the lap coming out of Turn 11 and then you can immediately begin your timed lap. When you press the button to finish, it’s like being back in the garage again. You talk to the engineers and anything you want changing on the car they can do almost immediately, or they can configure the car to test new updates or experiment with set-ups. The simulator is therefore much more time saving than testing for real.
Physically, a simulator session is much less tiring than driving the real car, because the G forces are less, but you are still driving, moving and working hard, but the physical effort required is far less. The best thing about the simulator? When you crash, nothing happens, absolutely nothing! Okay, you can feel something through the steering wheel but then the platform just stops and it’s over. When you first start using a simulator, you can find yourself going off line and even crashing but there is no harm done to you or the car.
Back in the real world, we have new parts we plan to use on the car in Spain and we are expecting to make yet another step forward in performance terms. We know how tough a time we had in the early part of the season, but hard work has seen us reduce the gap to the quickest cars and we plan to continue that way, especially in qualifying trim. If we make the car better for Saturday, we should also end up with an even more competitive car in the race on Sunday. I hope we are on the right road, because we now have Spain and Monaco just a few days apart and after that, we will have already completed six Grands Prix, or almost one third of the season. So it is a very important time for us and I have every confidence in the team that we can have a good Spanish weekend. The Spanish Grand Prix will be another interesting test of the effect of the new rules, with KERS and the DRS, although overtaking might not be quite as straightforward as in Turkey, as the main straight in Barcelona is not as long as the one at the Istanbul track. Of course, we have seen that tyre performance is possibly an even bigger feature than the KERS and DRS and from a driver’s point of view, it makes the racing quite interesting psychologically, as you have to deal with having a car that is really competitive for some laps and then finding your lap times dropping off and you are struggling to fight off the cars behind you. Then you fit new tyres and the whole situation changes again. It’s interesting for us and more importantly, very exciting for the race fans. Obviously, my team-mate will be the focus of most of the attention for his home race in Spain and Fernando’s arrival at Ferrari has made the Scuderia very popular with the Spanish race fans, so I hope we can both deliver a good result for them on Sunday.