Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – The understudies

Abu Dhabi GP – The understudies

Maranello, 29 October – They will both be there in the Yas Marina Paddock, smartly turned out in Scuderia Ferrari team kit, taking part in technical meetings with the race team, talking to guests and giving interviews to the press. No, it’s not Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, but Marc Gene and Pedro de la Rosa. It’s a similar job description to the race drivers, except that, unless something prevented Fernando or Felipe from competing, they will never get to drive. However, Marc Gene and Pedro de la Rosa are an integral part of the team and rather like an iceberg, the part of them you see is the smallest one, as their work for the Scuderia goes way beyond their duties at the track. “I am a test driver, as is Pedro, albeit with slightly different roles,” explains Marc. “I work with the team and attend all the meetings and Grands Prix, but I also do work with other Ferrari departments, such as Corse Clienti and have a role as an expert with Italian TV. I also do most of the show runs with the F1 car and I work with the Ferrari markets around the world.”

“I am also a test driver and I travel to all the Grands Prix,” adds Pedro, taking up the narrative. “If anything should happen to one of the race drivers I have to be ready to jump into a car to replace them. However the biggest contribution I make is back in Maranello, where I am part of the development programme in the simulator, together with Andrea Bertolini and Davide Rigon. Together we work on developing not only the simulator, but also the F138 and next year’s car as well.”

This week, they will be working alongside the rest of the team in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina circuit and Pedro especially is well placed to talk about the track, as he has raced around the 5.554 kilometre track in Formula 1. “I love the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina track,” enthuses the Spaniard, who competed in 107 Grands Prix. “It’s beautiful with no bumps and very flat, so you can run the car as low as you want at the front. The asphalt is very smooth and it’s very easy on the tyres, so sometimes you can struggle to get them up to temperature. The two first sectors are very similar, with top speed, hard braking and chicanes and the F138 will be quite competitive at this point on the track. Then, for the third sector with more low speed turns, you need a very high downforce set up. With the 5pm start, you begin the race in daylight and then gradually during the race it starts to get night, so you set your visor tear-offs to have different tones to adapt to the changing light conditions.”

Gene, who drove in 36 Grands Prix and has won the Le Mans 24 Hours also finds this an interesting track. “Yas Marina is a typical standard Hermann Tilke track, which means it has a bit of everything,” reckons the Spaniard. “It has a first sector with some quite high speed corners that actually suit our car quite well as does the second sector, where there are the two longest straights. The last sector is probably the most difficult for us where traction is very important. That’s the part of the circuit people remember, as the track goes under the hotel, which is not something you do so often as a Formula 1 driver and you are aware that the noise level at that point in the car is very high.”

Gene and De la Rosa have worked together for a while now and are something of a double act when it comes to interviews, bouncing off one another. Asked what they recall about the first time they drove a Prancing Horse F1 car, Marc is the first to jump in. “I drove one much earlier than Pedro, even though I am much younger than him. I drove it at the end of 2004. That year we had a great car, maybe the best Formula 1 car in history. The drive was in Barcelona so I was driving at home, which meant it couldn’t have been better than driving a World Championship winning car in my home town. I will never forget it.” As Marc said, I had my first drive much later, but the important thing is not your age, it’s how you look! jokes Pedro. “My first ever test with Ferrari was in Jerez this year in February and obviously it’s something you never forget. It was not an easy test as, on the installation lap the car caught fire, and we lost half the day. The mechanics did a fantastic job to rebuild the car and we managed over 50 laps by the end of the day. My baptism with Ferrari was really one of fire! But it was still an unbelievable experience and I can remember being impressed by the grip level of the car. Prior to that I had been driving a much less competitive F1 car so it was a bit of a shock for me. I also began to realise what it means to drive for Ferrari as there was a lot of pressure on me at that test, even though it was only a test, but it was a good experience. With Ferrari you just have to win.” Despite what De La Rosa says, this year, we know Ferrari will not win the championships, but taking second place in the Constructors’ category, in which it currently trails Mercedes by just a handful of points, is now the prime target for this season. “Behind Red Bull I expect it to be quite close in Abu Dhabi and I think Ferrari can fight for the podium here,” believes Marc. “Qualifying is our weak point and if we can manage to get on the second row, that would feel like pole to us! If we could do that then I feel we can get to the podium and therefore be in front of our main competitors Mercedes and Lotus which would be good for our chances to finish second in the Constructors’.”

A lot will depend on tyres and the same compounds used in India are again the choice for this Sunday. “I think Medium and Soft is quite a safe bet for Pirelli,” states Gene. “It’s probably the combination we have seen the most this year even if, at some circuits, most recently India, the Soft can suffer if it’s under stress.” “At Yas Marina it will be quite easy on strategy, but you have to take into account how the track will evolve over the course of the weekend, not just in terms of rubbering in but also the temperature drop of the surface is quite big from daytime to night,” interjects Pedro. “It means that track temperature can influence your choice of compound. Funnily enough the Medium has a low working range and the Soft a high working range, so it could be that at night with low track temperature the harder compound could work better.”

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