So, youíre the unofficial chief cheerleader for the Monaco circuit, what makes you like it so much?
From the driverís point of view Ė and maybe teams see it differently Ė the best thing about coming to Monaco is that itís a circuit where the driver has more influence on events. Driving a Formula One car anywhere is special Ė the speed, the power and the acceleration just blows you away Ė but here itís like trying to do a lap in a supermarket, and thatís just so, so cool. I know thereís that quote about racing at Monaco being like riding a bicycle around your bathroom Ė well when I was a kid I used to love riding my little bike around inside the house. It was more fun, there were more obstacles and a bit more danger. That really is what this is like: You have the walls around the circuit and the bumps on the track that make it a bit more real. The circuit has a lot of character; you can feel that in the car. You canít afford mistakes, your concentration levels rocket and you tend to amaze yourself with how quickly you manage to do everything. Just completing a lap feels like an achievement. It feels like a challenge.
Is it all about the track?
Not at all. The Monaco Grand Prix is the real deal. Thereís so much energy surrounding it: the big boats; the big spenders; the cool people, the Hollywoods Ė itís all there. I wouldnít say Iím massively into that stuff at any other time of the year, but it creates a crazy atmosphere over the weekend here and that really makes the adrenaline rocket.
Youíre now a resident of Monaco Ė will you walk down to the paddock and take it all in over the weekend?
I could Ė but I wonít. Iíll be in team kit and I reckon Iíd end up stopping for a chat every ten paces and get to work a couple of hours late. People in the garage tend to frown on that! Maybe I could wear a disguise. Hey! Perhaps Iím that guy with the moustache, sunglasses and baseball cap standing next to you right now.
Whatís Monaco like for the other 11 months of the year? Where do you hang out?
Youíll be shocked to hear that there are some cool clubs and restaurants. You canít see it from TV but thereís a really nice place Ė it keeps changing itís name but I think itís one of Flavioís Ė underneath the entrance to the tunnel with a really nice view out into the Mediterranean. Then thereís the bars around Rascasse, theyíre always fun Ė not that Iím a big hitter on the club scene or anything. Another fairly regular place for a lot of the guys is Sass Cafť. It has the advantage of being open seven nights a week and even on a Sunday night itís open until 3am. That can be pretty handy if youíre getting back late from a race or team event and donít fancy a dinner of instant noodlesÖ
Itís often said that Monaco presents drivers with the ultimate test. Is that a fair description? Is it a daunting prospect for a racer?
Itís a real Ďconfidenceí circuit. You need to be in tune with it. You need to find yourself, find the flow, you need to find the right approach mentally and with the car and then you just have to make it happen.
In the beginning itís a big test. To go out and find that confidence is not easy and you always question yourself, asking Ďwhen is it going to happen, when am I going to feel it enough to really go for ití. But at some point in the weekend it just happens, you find the rhythm and the lap time comes. When it works like that, when you get yourself in the right place and you find a good understanding with the track, itís great.
Itís a circuit youíve only ever raced in Formula One. Are you still discovering new things about it?
Yes, definitely. I did pretty well in qualifying last year (9th) but I only did a handful of laps in the race because I had a problem with the car, so I would yes. Iím not sure thereís a special secret about it and thereís no one area that holds the key. Itís just a really massive lap, the whole thing seems to go by in one breath. Itís just as well itís a short lap!
What about the sense of history in Monaco and the crazy atmosphere on the streets? Do you find yourself getting caught up in those things or do they get in the way?
In terms of the atmosphere and so on, Iíll be perfectly honest and say that, for me, itís not the best. Itís really confined and thereís not much chance to get some space for yourself. It is totally unique and it is an amazing place but for me the trick is to try to remove myself from that and focus on what weíre there to do.