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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