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‘You learn a lot more in bad times’ - Felipe Nasr Q&A

22 Jun 2016

In 2015 Sauber were fighting firmly in the midfield, threatening to spring an upset whenever the opportunity arose. This season, however, they have found themselves battling at the bottom of the order, overtaken by newcomers Haas and level on zero points with Manor. How does an aspiring young driver cope with such a downturn? We spoke exclusively to Felipe Nasr about that, about his Monaco clash with team mate Marcus Ericsson, and about the Swiss squad’s chances of an upswing come Silverstone…

Q: Felipe, this time last season you had already been in the points three times. This year you have barely even smelt them. How do you deal with this situation?

Felipe Nasr: Ah, yes, I have fond memories of that! (laughs) Right now the situation is not easy - not easy for myself, nor for the team. Last year already it was not easy - and, of course, the plan was to improve the car for 2016. But when we came to winter testing we already could see that we were going to struggle. Looking at the grid right now everybody has made a huge step forward and we found ourselves fighting at the back. Unfortunately that is the reality.

So looking back at the same time last year, we had a package that was competitive. This year I don’t feel we had that to begin with, and I also struggled with the car I was driving at the first three races. Then at round four, in Russia, we changed the chassis and things started to move into the ‘brighter’ region. But strangely enough I also had the impression - even with the car that I was struggling with - that we could have had chances to score a point or two, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Q: You just mentioned that even at the first test you knew that this would be a tough season…

FN: …yes, but we’ve improved since then - only the other teams have improved a bit more. Other teams made such big improvements on everything - car and power unit - and we couldn’t keep up. That’s when we realized we are moving backwards.

Q: But you have the 2016 Ferrari power unit - and that is a pretty competitive tool…

FN: Yes, the power unit is good. Our main struggle comes from lacking downforce. We lack a lot of stability in the car. So on high-speed tracks or big braking zones we struggle. That’s the missing downforce. This is the main limitation for us. More downforce would mean that you bring the car alive - bring the tyres alive.

Q: You are a very competitive young driver and you came into Formula One last season with high hopes. What’s left of those hopes?

FN: Yes, I am competitive. I was born competitive! (laughs) I look at the big goals. But sometimes drivers have to go through tough learning periods - and guess I am in the middle of one. And believe me, you learn a lot more in bad times. When the pressure comes you see the true colour of people. I had quite a lot of it so far this year given the races I have done. I’ve had a lot of experiences that I easily could have done without! (laughs)

Q: Monaco - where you and your team mate Marcus Ericsson collided - was surely the low point so far. Can you tell us your version events?

FN: What can I say? First of all it was a weekend where I already had an engine failure in qualifying and was starting from the pit lane. Starting from there I was able to gain a few places at the beginning and by making the right choices on the pit stop, that put me ahead of my team mate. He had pitted five laps earlier than me, so he had a bit more temperature in his tyres than I had - but at the same time we were catching the cars ahead. And I still believe what I did was right at that time. I didn’t see any reason for giving up my position - especially as I was catching the cars ahead! Using the old-spec engine. I simply didn’t see the point. Moreover, there have already been two occasions in the past when he was given the call to let me pass and he didn’t do it. Probably that explains a bit.

Q: You said that in Monaco you were on the old-spec engine. What about in Canada and Baku?

FN: I had the new engine in Canada and I kept the same one for Baku. Now we both run the same power unit.

Q: So in Monaco there was only one latest power unit available, and that was on Marcus’s car?

FN: Correct.

Q: Your team mate hinted that all the above is related to Sauber’s difficult financial situation. But your team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has promised improvement in due course. So what can you expect from the next few races?

FN: For sure we need upgrades - no doubt about that. We are still running the same car we were running at the winter tests. So, of course, we crave for updates to arrive - and what is not letting this happen are financial issues. We have hopes…

Q: But have you been given any indications on the when and where?

FN: Let’s say probably by the time of Silverstone - pretty sure before the summer break.

Q: And will it be enough for you to jump into the midfield again?

FN: You always have to be careful about any predictions. When you put the package on the car it maybe works, but it also can fail. You never know.