Currently second in the GP2 Series, Carlin’s Felipe Nasr is the only driver with a realistic chance to catch series leader Jolyon Palmer.
As well as racing in the GP2 championship, Nasr is also the reserve driver for the Williams F1 team. He’s completed practice sessions in Bahrain, China and Spain this season, as well as tested for the team in the Bahrain and Barcelona in season testing.
We had the opportunity to sit down with the Brazilian at the Singapore Grand Prix and have a lengthy chat about his season so far in GP2 and his Formula 1 prospects.
Can you describe the season you’ve had so far, has it been a successful one?
Oh yeah it’s been very positive from many aspects. Coming back to Carlin we knew we had to make another step and we’re always trying to improve the car, everything we saw last year we missed a few points in strategy so this year I think we were able to put many things together. I got pole position, four wins this season and been on the podium many times this year so it’s been a good year so far and now we have two rounds left, so I just want to give a big push and try to get as many wins as possible. We will see, I haven’t been having the best of luck on my side to be able to catch up to the leader (Jolyon Palmer) but so far it’s been a very good season.
You’ve had the most wins so far this season, where do you think it has gone wrong for you to be 41 points behind Jolyon?
I had two DNF’s which cost me a lot because GP2 you have to score every race, it doesn’t matter where you finish you have to be in the points. You have to score one or two points it doesn’t matter, when you have DNF’s it becomes very difficult to catch up. And where Jolyon is, in DAMS, they’re a very experienced team. I was there and I know how they work you know, one car is always 100%, nothing will be wrong with that car and that’s what I’ve been seeing. They haven’t made many mistakes at all this season and he was able to score every race to build that gap which is pretty much the same as I had at the beginning of the year. I had a difficult weekend in Monza where things didn’t go well there because I was starting to catch up again and now we’re back to 41 points. Still what can I do? I’m doing my best and I want to extend those wins.
You had a good round in Hungary, but where did it go wrong in Monza? You had an advantage to capitalise on Jolyon’s misfortunes.
The first race, I don’t know if you saw properly on the start, I had a car stall in front of me. So when I made my start I had to avoid him, and then there was another car who stalled, [Raffaele] Marciello stopped, so I lost maybe four or five positions and dropped to maybe 11th or 12th on lap one, so it was all about getting in the points again. So for me it was about fighting back after my compromised race and I still got in the points which was positive. Out of all the things that happened in the race my team-mate went off and crashed into another guy [Stefano] Coletti missed the chicane and then Palmer was able to finish eighth. Starting from where he was if he had finished ninth or tenth it would have been difficult to have scored points during the weekend. Even though it was going to be a bad weekend for me considering I had a bad feature race, I would still have taken a few points from him, but that’s how it goes sometimes. This year for him until now he had a lot of luck, even though he had the problem in qualifying things still came together for him.
Next year GP2 are introducing DRS, is that something you’ll be looking forward to if you remain in the series?
Well GP2 has always put on a good show considering the tyres they have. We just have one stop so you really have to know how to manage tyres and that’s when you see the drivers struggling by overusing their tyres and not being able to get to the end with good pace, so it’s always been a good show. I think the DRS is positive, I don’t see any negatives with it if in Formula 1 we will have that it’s better to get used to the system now, and I think places like Monza or Barcelona which have the least overtakes we’re going to be able to overtake there, so I think in my opinion it’s a positive thing.
The racing has been good this year and for the most part overtaking has been entertaining, but driving standards have been a talking point and there are rumours going around GP2 that certain drivers…
Yeah it’s bad for the series I guess, you know motorsport is dangerous there are risks when we are racing and we as drivers have to have a limit on how aggressive you have to be, and you have to respect other drivers in the end.
What I’ve seen – not this year but in past years – are a few drivers who keep doing some stupid manoeuvres or they go off track and they come back on and they don’t even look where they’re going and then crash into other cars. It is bad, it’s only a few drivers in the series who do that but it’s something that has to improve.
The drivers we’re talking about are repeat offenders; do you think the Stewards are doing enough? It seems as if they’re getting a slap on the wrist and that’s it.
What I’ve seen is small changes in the way that they speak in the briefings, or the way they say “you have to look after others, we’re in Monza and you’re racing at high speed” but I think they have to be a bit harder on those drivers. They have to bring them in line it cannot keep going like this. Nothing bad has happened yet but it can happen, perhaps the FIA need to do something else.
Last race Sergio (Canamasas) was black flagged. Is that enough of a penalty in your opinion? Or should they do what they did with Romain Grosjean in Spa 2012 and send him home for a race to get the message through?
For sure it will help for him. To have received the black flag already was a big call and I think that’s good and it’s good that we have a break now. It could be just a matter of putting him in place, I don’t know who looks after him but there has to be a message that gets to him and he needs to look at what he did and not to repeat that.
On a brighter note you’ve had three practice sessions this year, where do you see yourself in 2016? Obviously the spots are taken at Williams next year, but do you stay on with Williams and wait it out for a spot?
It’s still pretty much open, we have many things on the table now we have to look after, there’s the option of keep on going with Williams as a reserve but my main goal is to be in Formula 1 next year as a main driver. I’m having a great experience this year with Williams; I have another three days in the car in Austin, Brazil and Abu Dhabi and I don’t see other drivers doing as much mileage as I did this year, and being able to race in GP2. So this is all pointing in the right direction I think, now is the time of the year that Steve Robinson who looks after me starts speaking to other teams for me, so we will see what’s available for me next year.
It’s a big challenge for sure, you have to adapt yourself to each car and to each procedures, switches buttons and messages you have to be synced to the team, they are completely different. Of course there’s a lot more going on in a Formula 1 car and earlier on in the year there were still pretty new things in the team, things that we had to try and things that we had to do they’re all improving with time. So it is a lot of information and that for me those two rounds from Bahrain and Barcelona which I had to swap from one car to another, for me that was the hardest thing I ever did. It was such a big challenge mentally to know how to drive each car differently and how to optimise the limit on both cars, it is tricky it takes more from yourself and at the end of the day it’s a lot of information in your head to take in. But as a driver I can’t complain because for me it was such a good experience, and then I went on and had a good result in Barcelona which proved it is possible to still have a good weekend.
In terms of relevance to Formula 1, what would you like to see added in GP2 to help bridge the gap between the championships?
Well if you look at the times comparing GP2 to Formula 1 the gap had become much smaller this year. In Hungary when I got pole position I think I could have been 16th or 17th on the Formula 1 grid, so it just shows how competitive the GP2 car is. The tyres are very similar to Formula 1 and I think the DRS will increase the lap times, so it’s just bringing the series closer to a Formula 1 car. Maybe one thing if I had to say, is to have more races in the calendar. I think it’s still very little the races we do with 11 rounds, we could have been doing more.
Yes because there is no race this weekend in Singapore…
Which is such a shame because it is a great track and it’s a different experience to racing in the daytime.
How is the relationship you have with your fellow countryman Felipe Massa? What’s it like to work with someone of his experience and how’s he helped guide you as a Williams reserve driver?
He’s been great, I knew Felipe from a few years ago and we always got on well together and it’s always much better when you can speak the same language getting some tips when you can. And he really helped me coming into Williams which was a big plus, so for me when I can I speak to him if I have any doubts or questions and he’s more than happy to help.
Images via GP2 Media and RichardsF1