Q&A with Caterham’s Charles Pic

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Charles, you’ve made a really good start to the season. How much have things changed since leaving Marussia last year?

Charles Pic: I think the two biggest changes for me were the KERS which were new for this year and the Renault engine was also new so these were the two biggest changes.

And as a driver, do you feel that you have changed since you left?

CP: Oh of course. I’m stronger this year than last year, I have one year of experience, I know all of the tracks and how I see the race weekend is a bit different also and I think my approach is stronger than last year for sure and my performance also is stronger than last year. But I mean this is normal because I am still young and it’s only my second year in F1 so you have to keep pushing and keep improving yourself every year.

You raced alongside four of the five rookies in F1 this year in GP2 back in 2011. Has the extra season of F1 experience given you an edge over your rivals?

CP: I don’t know, I don’t really see things like that. To get into F1 it depends on opportunities and what you do in GP2 and a lot of things so I had the great opportunity to enter last year and I had a great season with Marussia. I think we made a good job with what we had, and I learnt a lot with Timo [Glock] and the Marussia team who were great with me. I am very happy about last year and now I am very happy to be in Caterham and I feel very good here. I feel we are making good progress through the season. We are now closer and closer to Williams and Sauber, especially in race pace, in qualy pace we are still a bit behind but I think in race pace we are around five or four tenths [behind] so I think we have closed the gap from the start of the year. This is our main target, continue like that, keep pushing and closing this gap with them.

So your target for this year, obviously you want to beat your teammate, you want to beat the Marussias but are you also thinking of Williams and Sauber?

CP: Of course, we have to look ahead and it will be very hard because they are also pushing but I mean our target is to at least close the gap, to be closer and closer to them. I don’t know if we will be able to reach them this year, but we give everything we can.

Last year of course Williams won a race, and now you’re right behind them!

CP: Yeah, this is Formula One and it’s changing very fast and everybody is pushing very hard so it can change really fast.

Your closest battle so far this year has been with Jules Bianchi, your fellow countryman. Do you talk with Jules? Do you get on? Are you good friends?

CP: Yeah, I have known him since go karts so we are already fighting since then! It’s very okay, and it’s nice to have this fight with him.

You’ve now got four French drivers in F1, would you like to see the French GP return at possibly Magny-Cours or Paul Ricard?

CP: Of course it would be great. The first step was now we are four, so this is very good for the French fans, but the next step is the French GP so I don’t know if it would happen one day, but if it will of course it would be great.

We’re here at the Nurburgring this weekend. What are your thoughts on the circuit? Is it one you like?

CP: I like it very much. I think it’s a very nice circuit. Our main target will be to keep our pace that we had at Silverstone and if we can be a bit closer to the guys in front, Williams and Sauber, especially in race pace, and yeah, I think Pirelli are giving us new rear tires so some of the attention will be on this, especially on Friday to understand exactly what it does and what we can expect from it for this weekend.

How will these new constructions change things?

CP: I think it’s a construction that we know, it’s the construction of last year. We don’t know really these tires to be a mix between the rear tires of last year and the front of this year. I don’t see anything big to make a big change, I don’t think it will make a big change, but I think it will make a small change and if you adapt yourself a bit faster than the other team then you can have a one or maybe two race advantage.

Do you feel more comfortable that Pirelli have made a change and made things safer?

CP: Yeah of course, it’s not what we want to see. I’ve got a lot of trust in Pirelli and I am sure that they will sort the problem and from now on that it will be good.

You’ve had Heikki Kovalainen run in the car [FP1 in Spain] to aid with development, how valuable has his feedback been?

CP: I think it’s always very hard to give your feedback just from one run, but Heikki has got a lot of experience so I think it’s good to have him with us, but I think to give a good feedback on just one FP1 in two runs, I think it’s hard.

Are you confident that you can beat Marussia to P10 in the championship?

CP: Honestly they are making a great job this year, Marussia, and we are really close and fighthing together. They are also not far from Williams and Sauber, they also closed the gap very much compared to last year. The improvement they made compared to last year is big so we will keep pushing to make sure we are ahead of them.

And for this weekend, what is your target?

CP: To still try to close the gap with the guys in front, Williams and Sauber.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.