FELIPE NASR ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
The young Brazilian on an upbringing steeped in motorsport, and why two seasons at Sauber was always the plan
The Sauber racer opens up about his slip down the order after his brilliant debut, support from Kimi… and his all too similarly named compatriot
Some drivers have a trademark look: Lewis Hamilton has his chains, Pastor Maldonado has his braces and Fernando Alonso a bushy beard. For Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, it’s a vivid yellow cap emblazoned with the logo of sponsor, Banco do Brasil, which he wears constantly.
The cap is firmly in place as we huddle inside the Sauber hospitality unit in Suzuka. Japan in autumn can go one of two ways: hot and humid, or a constant deluge of freezing rain. Today, it’s the latter. Yet despite the miserable weather, Nasr, 23, is in high spirits, flashing a bright smile when he spots the stack of question cards from the readers of F1 Racing.
After a quick re-positioning of the cap for the cameras, Nasr turns over the first card – and immediately recognises one of our readers…
Would you like to try other types of racing in the future? Like rallying? We have nice roads here in Finland. Sini Salminen, Finland
This is from Sini? F1R: Do you know her? FN: I recognise her. She’s a big fan, I tell you. She’s been in touch with me many times. Yes, I’ve always enjoyed racing and it doesn’t matter what it is. Not long ago I drove in the Daytona 24 Hours and I had a podium finish on my debut. I’d like to do it again and I believe that you can learn something from new experiences. But rallying? I don’t know if it’s my thing. I have a big respect for the guys doing rallying because it’s something very different. Maybe I’ll try it in the future, I don’t know. F1R: And in Daytona, at night, in the rain on the banking, how is it? FN: It’s quite grippy, actually, much more than you would imagine. Obviously it depends on how heavy the rain is, but from what I remember it’s not too bad. We go fast on the banking, 185mph, which is an amazing experience.
Have there ever been any funny instances where you’ve been mistaken for another F1 driver with a very similar name? Stuart Morrall, Australia
There is a lot of confusion about Felipe Massa and I; sometimes people can’t get the surnames right, but any funny instances? Once I arrived at the track and had people calling me ‘Carlos Sainz’ and I had to say, ‘That’s not me, mate!’
How did you get into racing? Kirsty Bayliss, UK
My family have been involved in motorsport for over 30 years. They have a racing team back in Brazil, run by my Uncle Amir and his three brothers, and they have run stock cars, touring cars, prototypes and single-seaters. I was born into the middle of all of this, but I never imagined that I was one day going to be a driver.
I enjoyed watching the races and I was in contact with the mechanics, engineers and truck drivers. I grew up in that environment and by the time I was seven or eight I had my first kart. It was very different from anything I’d done before. I enjoyed the experience and realised I wanted to do this for myself. F1R: And now you’re the quickest in your family? FN: Should be!
Which car do you drive on the road? Kerstin Popp, Austria
It’s a BMW M4.
Describe your driving style. Francisco Meireles, Brazil
This is difficult to do. Some people think that all you need to be a driver is to be fast, but it goes beyond that. It’s about knowing when to attack, when to defend, how to position the car and understand what it is doing. There are so many things that go beyond just being a driver and the thing I try to work on most of all is consistency.
A few years ago, you said you needed to run only five laps to learn everything you needed to know about any circuit. How about now? Has that changed? Simone Vestidello, Italy
I don’t think it has changed much. In five or six laps you can get a very good idea of where to place your car. You gain a good understanding of kerbs and bumps over the track. The more you run, the more you see and the more you try. It’s easier to get to know a track now in F1 because we have three practice sessions. In all the series I’d done before, like Formula BMW, we had just half an hour of free practice before qualifying.
Some people might describe you as a ‘pay driver’. What’s your answer to that? Alan Stoner, UK
That’s your opinion but if you look at my career, I won one of the most significant championships before entering Formula 1. When I came to Europe at the age of 16, I competed in the Formula BMW championship and won it straight away, in my first year. I had five or six offers to guide me to Formula 1. One of them was from Red Bull, and I had Gravity and people from Mclaren looking. I had interest from many people and I chose to be managed by Steve Robertson, Kimi Räikkönen’s manager and he supported my career financially and looked after me when I was 17. Back then I had my own car and my own salary. I was paid to drive a racing car and not many people get that opportunity at such a young age. All my career I’ve won in every series I’ve raced in. The only one that I was missing was the GP2 championship – but I came close to it.
Sauber gave you your start in F1, but what was it about them that made you choose them, and then stay with them for 2016? Lucy Carr, UK
Sauber are the ideal place to begin a career in Formula 1. You look at the history of the team and so many drivers came into F1 with Sauber first. They have a good background and a good approach for new drivers. You need the right people surrounding you, so when I got to my first race in Australia, I knew exactly what I had to do. Two years with Sauber was always the plan. I never intended to change teams after one year.
Which famous person would you most like to have a meal with? Pam Berryman, UK
I would say Michael Schumacher, to be honest.
Of all the F1 circuits you’ve raced at so far, which one has proved to be the most challenging? Lewis Wells, UK
Monaco. I can put that on the list, for sure. It’s very challenging and there is no margin for error. Because of its flow, if you don’t have your mind focused completely on the driving you aren’t going to go anywhere. F1R: Is it harder than Singapore? FN: What makes Singapore tricky is the race length and the heat and humidity. But the most challenging circuit is Monaco.
Would you like to have stayed on at Williams? Paul Finch, UK
[Chuckles] All I would say is that I had a really good time at Williams and most of the experience I got there was very useful. I learnt a lot from the engineers and the people I worked with. I had the option to stay another year as a reserve driver, but when the option came to have a race seat at Sauber I didn’t want to miss it and I think I made the right choice. If you look back at the fifth place in Australia on my debut, I wouldn’t have changed that for anything.
Given the recent tragic death of Jules Bianchi, what are your feelings about closed or protected cockpits? Do you think this goes against the very essence of Formula 1, or do you believe it is a natural safety progression? Steve Durney, UK
I think it’s a good idea to have this. Of course we need the right people to design and study these cockpits, but we cannot control parts once there is a crash, because cars fly apart and if you’re unlucky you might hit one of them. I’m fully supportive of the idea of having closed cockpits for better safety. For us it’s just a case of getting used to it, there isn’t a problem with driving it. For example, if you look at prototypes, they have fully enclosed cockpits and if we move in that direction, then, for us, it’s just a case of getting used to the view inside the car.
What qualities does a female boss bring to the team? Adrian King, UK
I think that I’m the only driver to have worked with two female team bosses, Claire Williams [as Williams reserve driver in 2014] and Monisha Kaltenborn. It’s been really good to work with them. They’ve both paid extra attention to things that maybe others wouldn’t. F1 should not be closed to women and we should have not only female team bosses, but engineers and mechanics, too.
Is it true that Kimi Räikkönen is, or has been, one of your personal sponsors? Agne Lazauskaite, UK
That is correct. Back in 2010, Kimi and Steve Robertson were the ones who were involved in my management programme. Financially and personally, Kimi came to support me over the years. He has given me quite a few tips and when Steve came up with the idea of managing my career, Kimi was the first one to get involved with that. F1R: Do you chat much now? FN: We do. Kimi appears from the outside to not talk much, but he’s a human being and we get on very well together.
After a fantastic start to your debut season, can you pinpoint why the car’s performance seems to have tailed off? Sandy Coutts, UK
At the beginning of the 2015 season, most of the teams were still not performing at 100 per cent. We took the most out of the car at that time. It had been strong during winter testing, so we were able to score early points, most notably in Australia, where our car was especially competitive compared to the others. But if you don’t develop the car from race to race, you’re not going to be competitive. After the Australian Grand Prix, we didn’t bring any major updates until Singapore, so that’s why the car has been underperforming so far. We haven’t been competing up at the front because it’s a matter of investment. This team didn’t score any points in 2014 and that left us with very little to invest in it this year. But I think that over the 2016 season, we’ll be able to invest further.
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