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.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

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As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.