After a rare weekend off, F1 gets back down to business this weekend in Qatar. While we've been to Lusail before, this is a new experience. In addition to more F1-friendly garages, the track surface has been re-laid, which is always a voyage into the unknown. It's also a Sprint weekend with just an hour on track to figure it out and then a small window to decide on final set-up choices before the car is fixed in its spec at the start of Qualifying.
It's a high-pressure environment and, in his regular column that's first made available to I /AM members ahead of every Grand Prix, Team Principal Mike Krack has plenty to say on this, but also the previous round at Suzuka, a first test in the AMR21 for Jessica Hawkins and how he likes to spend his weekends off... at a racing circuit.
This is Mike on…
Japan and Lance
"Japan was a tough weekend for us. It's a shame we had to retire Lance when he was making really good progress through the field – but it was a safety decision we had to take and there isn't much you can do about that. The rear wing had an issue, and if you lose your rear wing at Suzuka, it isn't going to be a nice experience. He had a big crash in Singapore, he can't have another the following week. It was a shame, but Lance understood the necessity.
"On race pace, we were a little better than expected. Fernando's struggles to pass Esteban Ocon came about because we'd selected a little bit more downforce at the cost of end-of-straight speed – but our performance with that package means we're heading to Qatar now very much up for the fight and keen to see what's possible."
Fernando the tiger
"Fernando, as you may have noticed, wasn't particularly happy with our performance at Suzuka. I'm fine with his comments. Nothing he said was personal, nothing was unfair, unjustified or untrue and I think perhaps we gain something from having that kick up the backside!
"I don't think we'd be developing as rapidly as a team if Fernando was skipping around the Campus putting an arm around everyone's shoulder. He's hugely ambitious and wants us to be on the podium and fighting for wins. Having that tiger prowling around behind you all the time provides a lot of motivation. It's good but also an experience we need to have because dealing with a driver who's occasionally frustrated and vocal about not succeeding is something a top team needs to be able to deal with."
A weekend off
“We're in a busy part of the year with the trackside team now criss-crossing the globe on a weekly basis. It meant last weekend was a very rare chance to be at home. How do you spend a precious weekend like that? Me, I go to a racetrack! Or more precisely, a karting track. We have a little karting community where I live, and we go practicing whenever we can.
“I'm still OK behind the wheel but my kids are getting pretty close on the timesheet. I'm happy that they want to join in, and it's pretty cool to share that passion and be out with the entire family.
“Of course, it does mean the kart is taking a hammering. I explain to the kids that it isn't an endurance machine, that we need to take care of it, grease the chain, check tyre pressures, make sure all the bolts are tight. Sometimes they get a little frustrated with me taking my time, but it's a lot of fun. I might have to invest in another one!"
Jessica on track
"I'm not the only one who's been out on track since Japan. Jessica Hawkins has done a test at the Hungaroring in the AMR21. I'm so pleased that Jessica had the opportunity because we've had to delay it. We should have done this last year but there wasn't an opportunity because the car wasn't ready, and then when it was, there was bad weather – but it's important we stick to our word in this sport, and I'm very happy that she's had her moment.
"It was nice to see how much driving the car affected her – because you really want to see a driver moved in that way by F1 cars. She did exceptionally well and, operationally for us, it will improve her understanding. It'll help her in a number of areas: when she's in the simulator, representing us as an ambassador, and working on our F1 Academy programme.
"It's a very small number of people that have driven a modern F1 car and she's now in that exclusive club. Jessica has put in a huge amount of effort to reach this point, and I think it will inspire others, provide visibility and ultimately help her a lot in the future."
More high-speed, less low-speed
"This is my first time in Qatar, but for the rest of the team, even those that were here in 2021, it’s also a new experience. We didn’t have a race last year because of the World Cup, and also because the pit complex was being rebuilt and the track resurfaced. The latter was the big unknown in our preparation: we could have been greeted with a new surface that was bumpy; we could have been greeted with one that was billiard-ball smooth – and that really does make a difference with these cars.
“Overall, we’re cautiously optimistic this weekend. The circuit is quite like Suzuka in terms of the proliferation of high-speed corners, but crucially where it diverges is the lack of low-speed. We suffer when we have to compromise the set-up for chicanes, hairpins and other low-speed corners. Suzuka is like this, but also Monza, Silverstone, Barcelona.”
"Sprint weekends are always difficult for a team and coming to a track with a completely new surface makes it more difficult – but that's just another way of saying it presents an opportunity. With only one practice session before the cars have to be fixed into their final configuration for the weekend, there's always potential for some teams to get it right and others to get it wrong. We need to be the ones who get it right.
"As I always say, we're fighting against very good opposition and we're only going to do well if we're functioning at 100 per cent of our potential. The drivers both like the circuit – last time F1 was here, Fernando finished third and Lance sixth, which counts in our favour – but it's going to be busy, the temperature is going to swing around between day and night, and that creates openings. It should be exciting."
"The blood, sweat and tears were worth it" – Jessica on driving an F1 car for the first timeRead Now
I / AM – Our free fan membership programme.
Get closer to the team. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Exclusive competitions and rewards. Special edition teamwear, offers and more.