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.

Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

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It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August.

NBCSports.com gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes many legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcend into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on Dec. 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”


With so many obstacles in the way of Alonso competing for any other team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best (and essentially his only) option come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” Brown said in a response to a question from NBCSports.com in a Tuesday teleconference. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso, and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after (the Dakar Rally) because he wanted to be very focused on that event. had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda in 2017. He got up to speed quickly, qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before his Honda failed with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso’s worst days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux pas was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over because of disparaging and critical comments about its engine by Alonso and the team.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what then was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. To make the deal work, the team had to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

When the Arrow McLaren SP deal was announced on Aug. 9, 2019, Alonso still was attempting to negotiate an Indy 500 deal with Andretti Autosport, and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed, and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no and held firm against doing business with Alonso for the same reasons as with McLaren.

Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver.”


Though it appeared this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized they had been wooing Alonso for several months.

The addition of Hampson, who oversaw a car Bourdais qualified for the Fast Nine in the past two Indy 500s, and a solid test at COTA helped make the case.

“These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump,” Brown said. “There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Said Schmidt: “It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November. We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal.”

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Having conquered Monaco and Le Mans, Indy remains the final event to master for the Spaniard.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. There are four corners but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

The key to completing the deal was Michael Andretti allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to follow Alonso as his Indy 500 sponsor to Arrow McLaren SP after the deal with Andretti Autosport fell through.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown said, referring to the Virgin Australia Supercars team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them.”

Alonso is just as excited to return at Indy despite last year’s disappointment, gleefully describing the Brickyard’s appeal in his interview with Diffey.

“Definitely. once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500