Exclusive interview: Pedro de la Rosa on F1 2009 and Motorland Aragon

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Pedro de la Rosa was at Autosport International to launch Motorland Aragon
Pedro de la Rosa was at Autosport International to launch Motorland Aragon

Turns eight and nine are like the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it’s quite steep. But for me that is the beauty of it, you know? What’s the point of racing on completely flat tracks?

I like Pedro de la Rosa.

Here’s what he had to say about Hermann Tilke’s new Motorland Aragon circuit, whether the 2009 McLaren is better looking than its rivals, and whether we’ll see more overtaking this year.

The Motorland Aragon circuit is a new international-standard circuit built in Spain. The track layout was designed by Hermann Tilke and the main building was created by Sir Norman Foster, who has designed many famous and award-winning buildings, including the McLaren Technology Centre.

McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa has been involved in the project as a consultant, and he explained his role in developing the circuit to me at Autosport International yesterday:

Corkscrew and Loews on one track

Motorland Aragon (click to enlarge)
Motorland Aragon (click to enlarge)

F1Fanatic: When did the bring you on board with the Motorland Aragon project?

Pedro de la Rosa: We started in 2004. Since then we’ve been slowly working on it and now we are on the last lap and getting everything finalised. The karting circuit and the gravel circuit are already working, the kart track has had an international event and a European championship event and it will hold the world cup in a year or so.

I think that there’s still a long way to go but the circuit will be finished in a few months.

F1F: What’s been the extent of your involvement? Are there parts of the track you can point to and say ‘I designed that’?

PDLR: I’ve been pushing very hard, mainly, for having a very long straight to improve overtaking. You don’t need to have three overtaking places on one circuit – just one very good one.

What I really wanted was to make it good for testing as well as racing. Obviously now there’s the testing ban but there’s also aero testing which is important in Formula 1. It’s expensive for F1 teams to go to airfields, particularly in England for environmental reasons. So that was one thing I pushed for.

And I always told Hermann [Tilke] that when we go testing in Formula 1 we always need to adapt the car to very strange corners like Monaco’s Loews corner [now Grand Hotel hairpin], which is the slowest corner in the championship. It requires a very extreme steering angle and we have to make modifications to the front suspension. So therefore it makes sense to have that included and we can test for that before we go to Monaco.

The rest is all Hermann’s style as you can see by the shape of some corners. We race on many of his tracks around the world but there are not many in Europe that are Herman Tilke’s full design.

F1F: So there’s a good chance F1 teams will be testing here at the end of this year, or next year?

PDLR: Yes, if they want and the testing ban allows for it. It will be fully homologated for this purpose.

I always say it’s Formula 1-equipped so if they want to they can come and test, but also people can come here for Moto GP or superbikes. There are some corners that are only for four wheels, others that are for bikes. Like turn 12 after the long straight: there is a continuous radius corner for motorbikes, because they don’t like tight hairpins, which we had to account for.

It’s much easier when you can start a track design with a blank piece of paper and you have people like Hermann behind it.

F1F: The planners seemed to want to push the extremes of what they could do – there’s quite a lot of gradient in the track and they were saying they’re very close to the limits of what’s allowed by the FIA rules.

PDLR: Absolutely, yeah. Especially turns eight and nine – it’s like the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it’s quite steep. We had to work on making it less steep than the plans originally said it would be.

But for me that is the beauty of it, you know? What’s the point of racing on completely flat tracks? Its good for the spectators and for the TV viewers as well because the moment you lose the car out of sight you realise how quick we’re travelling.

It’s a natural characteristic of the landscape. For me it’s fantastic.

F1F: Are the regulations on that sort of thing too tight?

PDLR: I think as long as you have enough run-off area it’s fine. Some corners, especially with motorbikes, if you have an accident and you go into the next corner with an inside kerb, for instance, it could be quite sharp when you hit it. So it’s more a concern for motorbikes than cars.

The Portimao track [Algarve International Circuit] is an example.

F1F: How did you find that when you drove it?

PDLR: Like a rollercoaster. The gradient changes are huge. It’s fun! So I don’t think there’s any limit how far we can go, really.

Driving the 2009 F1 cars

F1F: Speaking about testing in general, how have you found the 2009-style cars so far?

PDLR: They’re quite different in that you have more grip in low-speed corners and less grip in high-speed corners. But the actual lap time is very similar. We are losing about three seconds on reduced downforce levels and then we’re picking up approximately three seconds on grip levels from the tyres. It doesn’t make a big difference overall, it’s quite good to drive the new cars.

F1F: Do you expect that the cars will be able to follow each other more closely?

PDLR: A little bit. But not as much as people expect. It’s going to be a little bit easier to overtake.

But never forget this is Formula 1. It’s not motorbikes or any other category like saloon cars – it’s very difficult to overtake because of the aerodynamic effect which will always be in Formula 1. The cars are wide, when you go offline it’s very dirty, so it’s not going to be a motorbike race from now on. It’s always going to be Formula 1, there will be very few overtaking manouevres.

And the KERS won’t help overtaking. Yes, it’s an extra boost of power, but everyone has it – or will have it, eventually. It’s a step in the right direction. But people shouldn’t think it’s going to be like watching a different category of racing this year – it’s still going to be the same old Formula 1.

McLaren, Ferrari – and Alonso

F1F: Will we see a new round of Hamilton versus Alonso in 2009?

PDLR: I think that the same teams will fight for the championship like last year – McLaren and Ferrari. Alonso and the Renault team have progressed a lot this year and BMW is a team you mustn’t forget.

I can only speak for my time and we’ve been working very hard for a long time on the 2009 project. I’m confident we have done everything possible to be competitive.

F1F: Have you seen the design of the 2009 McLaren?

PDLR: Some of it.

F1F: Does it look better than the BMW does?

PDLR: Er… it will take some time to get used to. It’s funny, after a few tests we will eventually forget about the 2008 cars and these will look beautiful. I don’t think it will be a big issue.

NB. The numbering on the track diagram does not relate to the corner numbers.