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

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.

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

  1. Well done my friend. Just the things we want to know. None of that fluff stuff that you normally get. ;) You da man!

  2. The Limit said on 9th January 2009, 2:35

    Gracias Senor for cutting through the hype. So things won’t be ‘that much’ different from 2008? You can bet your life they won’t be.
    De La Rosa comes across as a very agreeable person. He is right about the track designs, flat circuits are boring and you do lose the sense of how fast these guys are going. If only we had people like this where it mattered, INCHARGE!

    • Arthur 954 said on 9th January 2009, 14:57

      Pedro DLR has the personality and class to be part of a commitee that oversees F1 in a way that it does not lose its spirit and heritage.
      All those new racetracks are flat and generic. On the contrary, so many of the great old European and American tracks are, in their origin, derived from public roads, and therefore follow the contours of the terrain, with its ups and downs, irregular radious curves, etc. This is much more exciting to watch, either live or on tv : long straights that go into a forest, reappear in a series of ups and downs with grandstands, dissapear again into the forest and then again an open area with grandstands and slow curves, like the old Hockenheim …….
      So, I propose a commitee of people with good judgement and taste that steers F1 in the direction of more authenticity : those memories of cars following each other at full speed through the ups and downs of a forest in Belgium are what really touch your heart

  3. Fer no.65 said on 9th January 2009, 3:22

    I guess the only answer to “Does it (The new Macca) look better than the BMW does?” is “Err”… :P

    “Err, no, it’s as awful as the BM yes…” :)

    • Arthur 954 said on 9th January 2009, 16:44

      I wish the McLaren livery would include the wheels painted like their old racers : black on the inside and chrome around the rim. All – black tyres I do not like. By the way, the FIA could ban those plastic wheel covers : they make the cars look ungraceful, and eliminte the posibility of painting the wheels in nice signature team colurs

  4. Agree with DLR, 09 cars are ugly. And the theory that slicks and reduced downforce will create a festival passing will be falsified, but I think many will be satisfied to get rid of winglets.

    And lest we forget if DLR was in the car on race day this year McLaren wins both titles. Driving that car is like getting groceries for him, and he’s fast.

  5. Ferrari will dominate 2009. This is my 2009 prediction.

  6. the limit said on 9th January 2009, 4:37

    @DMW.

    I agree 100%. De Le Rosa should have been given the drive at McLaren instead of Kovalainen, who, to be honest, has not greatly impressed me.
    De La Rosa produced some gutsy drives for McLaren back in 2006, following their fallout with Juan Montoya. Who can forget that wonderfull duel with Michael Schumacher in Budapest, inwhich Michael straightlined a chicane in his efforts to keep the Spaniard behind.
    By consigning De La Rosa to the sidelines, one cannot help feel as if he is being punished by McLaren for his role in the Spygate scandal. After all, his communications with Alonso concerning the stolen Ferrari data did prove damning in the FIA case against McLaren.
    Just a thought!

  7. Here it is a nice video of the circuit.

    Great interview, and a lot of common sense coming from DLR, we are not quite used to feel that in F1 enviroment.

    Max is telling he wants to balance F1 Team’s budgets reducing costs through standarization that means reducing part of the aim of F1.

    Well, how about increase their income through reducing big margins of Mr Bernie Ecclestone?

    FIA, FOM, FOTA to many people taking margins out of the value chain.

    Circuits is not a healthy business, and I’m not very happy watching local goverments expending loads of money building and promoting circuits with our tax income.

  8. I like the circuit, please can we have racing there instead of Valencia – I’d even put up with a ‘European’ GP!
    I have always thought Pedro was a good driver, but like The Limit, I feel he was compromised during ‘Stepneygate’.
    Maybe he will be given another race drive before he retires!

  9. Adrian said on 9th January 2009, 9:41

    I wonder when the 09 cars are being unveiled, how many drivers or team principles when asked about the new look this year will respond with Err… before basically admitting the new cars are ugly.

    Only a few days left now before we start to see what the teams have come up with. I’m betting that Macca, Ferrari and Renault’s will look the least ugly… If BMW’s hybrid car was anything to go by, their’s is gonna be an eyesore… How long before we get used to the look of the 09 cars? I’m betting by Melbourne…

  10. Not sure that I believe that he’s been sidelined because of ‘Stepneygate’ – to put things in context, he’s almost exactly the same age as David Coulthard and the team does really have an obligation to find itself new talent rather than relying on the old guard all the time.

    But one thing I do know – he’s one of the most fantastically entertaining and committed drivers to set foot on track when he does race, and I really hope we’ll be seeing him do it again.

  11. ajokay said on 9th January 2009, 13:37

    Maybe Pedro de la Rosa should join forces with Alex Wurz, buy Honda, put themselves in the race seats and give themselves the chance to shine they’ve always deserved.

  12. matthew said on 9th January 2009, 16:51

    “…it’s still going to be the same old Formula 1.”

    Pretty candid for a test driver don’t you think?

    The course kind of looks like a backwards Interlagos.

  13. theRoswellite said on 9th January 2009, 16:58

    Keith…great interview. It would be nice to read YOUR INTERVIEWS during the season. I would think running this blog should provide you plenty of access.

    I trust McLaren to be making the right driver selections with regard to Pedro, they are certainly familiar with his work. And, after all, racing drivers come and go, but test drivers are forever!

  14. Arthur 954 said on 9th January 2009, 17:02

    PDLR puts forth an interesting point : better to have one very good passing point ( in this case a very long straight ) than three lesser ones. Now, could this idea of one great passing point on the track be taken further ?
    — a long straight, preceded by perhaps two curves that are difficult ( perhaps off – camber or similar ): this way it is not only about top speed and a powerful engine, but also about the skill of the driver in launching himself for the straight, from those difficult preceding curves.
    — at the end of the straight, around the braking area, the track would be triple wide or so,and the first turn ( maybe an “S” )also double or triple wide
    — this extra – wide passing area could be cleaned with a powerful air – blowing machine before the race, so that there is more than one clean line.
    — then the track would resume its normal width

    cheers to all !

  15. I hope that the Motorland Aragon circuit will become the home of the Spanish GP. I mean, Barcelona does not really deserve it!

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