With F1 in the middle of three street races in a row, Toro Rosso’s Sébastien Buemi gives us his opinions on DRS, strategy and why everything is different once the racing line is next to a big concrete wall…
Seb, it’s often said that the driver makes more of a difference on a street circuit. Why is that?
It’s a fact that a driver can make more of a difference when we’re racing on streets, and it’s all about the amount of risk you’re prepared to take. Like everywhere else, there is a compromise to be reached, but on a street circuit you’re very aware of the walls, and that always makes a difference in your head. It’s an advantage for the guy who has a really good feeling for his car. He knows he can reach the limit without going over, whereas the other guy doesn’t think he can. On a ‘normal’ racetrack, it doesn’t matter – you push too hard, you slide, you run wide… On these circuits, slide a little bit and you hit a wall. So, pushing the car to its limit takes a lot of feeling.
'The more laps you do on this sort of circuit, the better you are'
Is it important to get a lot of laps in during the practice sessions?
Yeah! The more laps you do on this sort of circuit, the better you are, because you don’t arrive at the maximum on the first lap. At least, I don’t think anybody does. The grip level improves quite a lot at circuits of this type, and your confidence improves as well. When we go to Turkey or Barcelona, we know what to do, and in three laps we’re at the maximum of what the car is going to deliver. But go to Monaco, Montreal or Valencia and it takes longer. The more you drive, the better it is.
This season, strategy is a big word, but it seems that the strategy that works for the leaders doesn’t work for the cars battling in the midfield– why is that?
At the front, the tendency is always to go for the strategy that is the quickest, which most of the time means making more stops and getting the maximum speed out of each set of tyres. But where we are, we might get stuck behind Lotuses, for example, or have to get off the racing line because we are being lapped. All of that costs you more time than you make up. We’ve seen this year that the guys at the front can pass pretty easily, so that’s why four versus three stops or three versus two works for them. Further back, the field is very, very compact.
On the subject of overtaking, we’re going to see two DRS zones in Canada and Valencia, what do you think about that?
Well, I think they want to get even more out of the DRS! If you want to see overtaking, then this is definitely going in the right direction. Obviously there has to be a limit, but I think you will be able to pass in Canada with the DRS, even on the start-finish straight. [The DRS zones in Canada are split by the final chicane. The first zone comes after the hairpin, on the long back straight, it’s interrupted by the chicane and then comes back in over the start-finish line up to Turn One.]
Do you think the strategy will be to follow closely through the final chicane and then try to pass over the start-finish line?
Hmm… no. I think you’ll pass more after the hairpin, because the back straight is so long. The DRS is going to work immediately, and with that 10-15kph extra, you’re going to be able to pass easily, on the inside or the outside. So far, we’ve seen that DRS works best on a circuit with a very long straight, like China or Turkey. The back straight in Canada is like that.
Does the same apply in Valencia?
I think so, but it depends on speed. Up to 200kph, whether you have the DRS on or off, there really isn’t much difference. It’s only when you get up to 280-300kph and hold that speed for a long time that you get the big advantage. In Monaco, we estimated DRS was worth only two-tenths of a second, which isn’t enough to make a pass. It was worth more than one second in China – which is.
'So far, DRS works best on a circuit with a very long straight'
We’re hearing that DRS is complicating everyone’s decision on aerodynamic set-up and gear ratios. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is traditionally one of the lowest-downforce tracks – will it be more of an issue there?
It’s a good question, isn’t it? If you can use DRS, you might go for more wing to help you in the corners, knowing that you’ll be fast on the straight regardless because your DRS is powerful. If you go for a very long seventh gear, that would work in qualifying, but in the race you might not be able to use it at all [except on laps where you have the DRS option], and that’s going to cost you lots of time. We always used to set up for qualifying, but so far [this year], there has been a tendency for teams to be on the limiter for 300-400m in qualifying [because the car reaches the rev limit in seventh gear], just to make sure the engine will rev all the way up in the race!
- Last word on the Monaco Grand Prix
- Sébastien Buemi on Twitter @Sebastien_buemi
- Buemi's official site, www.buemi.ch
- Visit the official Toro Rosso site, www.tororosso.com