Sergei Sirotkin not only knows the Portimão track well: in 2012, taking part in the Auto GP series, he won there. Therefore, we asked him to talk about the features of the Portuguese autodrome and comment on the success of the Renault team, with which he cooperates as a reserve pilot, but our conversation began with endurance races, because this weekend Sergey will compete in the 24 Hours of Spa marathon in European Cup GT World Challenge.
Question: In September, on tests in Spa, you showed very good speeds behind the wheel of a Ferrari 488 GT3 of the SMP Racing team, which in this championship works closely with AF Corse, the factory team from Maranello – how everything is going, and what tasks do you set for yourself in this weekend?
Sergey Sirotkin: To begin with, our SMP Racing crew, like all Ferrari factory cars, only participates in the Endurance classification, i.e. only in “long” races, of which there are only four in the current situation in the world, and this is already the third of them.
We are in this standings and continue to fight, because all is not lost yet. Let us have a minimum of points for now, but this weekend the Spa will host a 24-hour marathon, which we have high hopes for, because points for it are given almost double. Considering the unpredictability of this championship and the fact that there is no clear favorite, and during the races there are a lot of all kinds of nuances, and no one can consistently score points, then this is a good chance for us to return to the fight for the leading positions.
Actually, we could count on these positions in previous races due to our pace alone, but, unfortunately, due to various failures, this has not yet been achieved. But we hope for a good result in the Spa. And our task this weekend is to fight for the highest places.
Q: Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina are very experienced professionals and have long been involved in endurance racing. You, too, have been participating in this category of motorsport for several years, but your career is still developing more diverse – you played in GP2, and in Formula 1, and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Can you somehow compare yourself with your current partners?
Sergey Sirotkin: It must be said right away that they are Ferrari factory drivers, which immediately implies that they must be high-level professionals. Both have been playing in this championship for many years, they know all the tracks very well and piloted this car every two weeks. Of course, their speed, understanding of the features of this technique and experience with it are phenomenal, especially compared to mine.
Yes, I had a short-term experience in endurance racing – on the BR1 sports prototype of our SMP Racing team, I took part in three stages of the WEC in 2019, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Still, the LMP1 category car is completely different, and in terms of handling it is completely different from the GT cars. Therefore, I cannot say that that experience helps me in any way.
Question: So everything has to be learned on the fly?
Sergey Sirotkin: Certainly. It was necessary to roll in during the season, especially since there are quite long breaks between races, and this also does not contribute to the rapid development of the car, which is complex in its own way and requires a special approach.
How do I compare myself to my partners? I will say this: I clearly see what I can give the team – precisely due to the fact that after Formula 1 and other categories I have developed some of my own approaches and principles. I feel that, based on this experience, I can, figuratively speaking, bring a little fresh air to the team, it is very motivating and inspiring for me. And I can say with confidence that at least I am not inferior to Rigon and Molina – I judge by our results.
Q: Moving on to Formula 1. This weekend so coincidentally that you will not get to Portugal because of the upcoming race in Spa, but in all the previous stages you were and performed your role as a reserve driver for Renault.
It seems that your team has switched on some next gear and in all the last races performed very confidently, and in Germany, Daniel Riccardo went up to the podium. It is unlikely that this result became possible only thanks to the talents of the driver …
Sergey Sirotkin: Of course not! When results start to appear, it is always a combination of many factors. Since the return of the Renault factory team to the World Cup, they have shown quite confident progress, but it has not always been as fast as we would like.
This year, from the very beginning of the season, it became clear that the work that the team had done in previous years has borne fruit; we immediately saw that the new car was more competitive.
It took the team some time to unleash the potential of the RS20, but during the season, the right decisions were made, competent work was carried out in terms of updates, and this made it possible to fully use all the strengths of the car and mask weaknesses. So we really saw, I would say, not even a step forward, but a jump up.
This became possible both due to a more efficient power plant, and due to a more correct ratio of downforce and drag. The combination of these two factors determines the progress of the team this season.
Q: Does the return of Fernando Alonso to Renault have any effect on the team’s mood?
Sergey Sirotkin: Fernando has not yet been to the races, and the team of the racing team is still focused on the current season and the current composition of the pilots. For example, the team had a very good relationship with Daniel Riccardo. I’m talking not only about the management, but also about its mechanics team, about engineers and so on.
After all, everyone knows what a great guy he is, plus this year he is at the peak of his form – I judge this by what I see from the inside. Now he performs at the highest level.
Fernando is definitely a great driver and also a good guy – at least I know that from my experience with him. I think he and the team will also find a common language, but until the season is over and everyone is focused on it, on achieving maximum results now.
Q: This weekend, the Formula 1 race will take place for the first time at the Portuguese circuit in Portimão, where you competed in the Auto GP series in 2012 and even won. What can you say about this track in relation to modern Formula 1?
Sergey Sirotkin: I must say right away that everyone will have difficulties because of the bumps, because the road surface is very uneven. You talked about Auto GP, but in the winter of 2017-2018. I also spent three days of testing there with our SMP Racing team – then we were just starting to work on finalizing our BR1 sports prototype for the WEC championship.
Even for a car of the LMP1 category, this track was very bumpy, it was extremely difficult to drive on it. In Formula 1, probably all this will be even more difficult. The rest of the track, although quite modern, has its own character. In general, the track is steep, and I think maybe it will cause the same effect as Mugello. I expect that Portimao will have a very similar story.
If we talk about overtaking, then there is a rather long straight line, and the last turn in Formula 1 cars can be ignored. Acceleration to full throttle from the last slow bundle is long enough, so I don’t think there will be any global overtaking problems. Plus, the first turn also gives some opportunity to cross the trajectories at the exit – we saw something similar in Sochi. I don’t remember how the DRS zone was organized on the Portuguese highway, but I believe that conditions for overtaking can be created there.
Question: Of course, there is a situation in the world now that it is very difficult to make any plans, but nevertheless, can you say what awaits you next year?
Sergey Sirotkin: I would like not only to continue cooperation with Ferrari, but also to expand it, helping the team not only in one series, but in several, share my experience and understanding, developing all future projects of the company. This is my goal and it motivates me a lot.