Vitaly Petrov: "My target is to finish the race and continue learning"
Vitaly, your race in Melbourne ended early, but what did you think of your first F1 street race? I liked the circuit and it was quite bumpy and challenging, just like most street circuits. The wet weather
also made it interesting and I really enjoyed the first few laps of the race in the damp. I was a shame to retire so early because I think I could have challenged for points in the race. Although I'm disappointed, I still take a lot of positives from the weekend because it's clear that we have a competitive car with a lot of potential, and my aim to get the maximum from it in Malaysia.
Are you finding it easier to work with the team and set the car up?
F1 is such a steep learning curve, but I feel like I'm improving each time I get in the car. After two races I now have more experience and a better understanding of how to work with the team to improve the car. This is something where I will get better throughout the season because it's a big difference compared to GP2.
How is the balance of the R30? What do you feel are the strengths of the car at the moment?
The car is generally well balanced, consistent and stable in the corners, which makes it an easy car to drive, but we still need more overall downforce to get closer to the front. There will be some more aero updates on the car in Malaysia, which should give us a bit more performance.
What are your expectations for Sepang?
It's a track I know already from GP2 so I won't have to spend time learning the circuit on Friday, which means I can concentrate more on finding a good set-up and evaluating the tyres. I really hope I can finish the race, which has to be my target because it's important for me to get more miles in the car and experience a full race distance. Robert's result in Melbourne has shown the car has potential and hopefully I can score my first points soon.
Robert Kubica: "Melbourne was pretty much the perfect race"
Robert, after the disappointment of Bahrain you must have been delighted to finish second in Melbourne.
It was pretty much the perfect race and a great result for the whole team. My start was good and I took things quite easy in the first corner to avoid a repeat of what happened in Bahrain. Then I made up some positions with the early pit stop and I have to say a big thank you to my mechanics for the great job they did in the pits. The rest of the race was all about being consistent and not making mistakes, which was tough with the changing track conditions and the degradation of the soft tyres. I had to do 50 laps on the soft compound tyres and it wasn't easy to keep the quicker cars behind me.
From the outside it was an action-packed race. How did it feel from the cockpit?
For me it was actually quite a straightforward race because after my pit stop I simply had to concentrate on being consistent and looking after the tyres. I had some good battles with Hamilton and Massa, but I think most of the overtaking and accidents happened behind me.
How do you feel the R30 is evolving with the new updates?
It's still difficult to judge because Albert Park is a completely different circuit to Bahrain. There are certainly some positive aspects of the car that I'm pleased with because the car has good consistency and is easy to drive. However, there are still areas where we are missing performance and where we need to improve if we are to get on terms with the top teams. Melbourne was not a normal race because of the changeable weather and, although it's great to finish on the podium, we need to remain realistic about our level of performance. These unusual races are not that common and we need to work hard to make sure we can fight for the podium in every kind of race.
Looking ahead to Sepang, it's a circuit with low, medium and high speed corners. How do you think the R30 will perform?
Again it's difficult to predict because we have only had two races. I don't think it will be an ideal circuit for us, but on the other hand we discovered in Australia that the car performs better in warmer conditions and the heat in Malaysia might help us. It's a demanding track because there are lots of different corners and it's so wide that it gives you the confidence to really push and find the limits. Recently the high-speed corners haven't been too challenging, but I think they will be more demanding this year with the heavier fuel loads. There's also a high risk of rain storms, and with the race starting late on Sunday afternoon, we could have another wet race.
Steve Nielsen: "The result in Melbourne is a great reward for the team"
Coping with the heat
Malaysia is a tough place to go racing. It's hot, humid and there's always the risk of a late afternoon thunderstorm to spice things up. The extreme climate has led the Malaysian Grand Prix to be dubbed the 'toughest race of the year' for the drivers who will endure cockpit temperatures above 40o.C and lose around three kilos in weight. And it's just as tough for the pit crew in their fireproof suits, boots and helmets.
"The biggest problem we have to worry about in Malaysia is overheating" says Riccardo Ceccarelli, the team's doctor. "We're not so worried about dehydration because when you sweat in such humid conditions, the sweat does not evaporate and it stays on your skin -- which is why we always feel so damp and sweaty. However, because the sweat doesn't evaporate, it causes the body temperature to rise, leading to overheating, which then causes a big drop in concentration levels."
To avoid overheating and loss of performance, most F1 teams have experimented with various solutions for keeping their drivers cool. Dry ice is an old favourite and will be stuffed in the drivers' helmets, shoes, gloves -- basically anywhere they will feel a benefit. It may be a short-term fix, but every degree of cooling counts. Good ventilation of the helmet is also important because keeping the head (and brain) cool is the priority. If there's time, Riccardo even recommends a cold shower just before the off once the car is on the grid.
The drivers should also follow doctor's orders on their arrival in Malaysia to acclimatise to the local conditions. "It's important to do some exercise as soon as they arrive while adjusting to the new environment," explains Riccardo. "They also need to change their diet and eat light meals like fruits and vegetables because a heavy meal will require more digestion, which increases body temperature."
As well as watching what they eat, the drivers will need to drink plenty of fluid over the weekend. Robert's usual concoction includes special mineral salts, potassium, magnesium, and carbohydrate. Likewise, the cockpit drinks bottle plays an important role in keeping the driver hydrated during the race. Vitaly's drink of choice is a sugary mix flavoured like a lemon tea -- something that will taste okay no matter how hot it gets in the cockpit of the R30.
It's thirsty work for the team, too, who must take similar precautions to ensure they can take the heat. In fact, 4000 bottles of water will be drunk over the four days in Malaysia -- that's almost double the usual amount. On top of that the team will also get through 1000 energy drinks and 1000 cans of soft drinks.