Monaco sees the first and only event on the calendar where both Formula Renault 3.5 and the GP2 Series run at the same venue on the same weekend. A year ago Arthur Pic was racing for AV Formula in Formula Renault, while in 2014 he will be competing with Campos Racing in GP2, so he is in a good position to describe the differences between the two series.
“Both cars are pretty similar in terms of lap time; the main difference lies in tyre management and degradation,” says Pic. “[In GP2] I’m able to manage this throughout races, although I struggled slightly to unlock the one-lap pace needed to shine during qualifying in Bahrain and Spain. We are working hard to improve in this area, whilst remaining competitive in race trim because of GP2’s reversed grid system. That makes it crucial to finish inside the top eight during the weekend’s feature race. Whereas in FR3.5, you start again on Sundays.
“Both fields are hugely competitive, but in GP2 you are racing against guys with several years of experience in the championship. They know the car and circuits like the back of their hand. That’s why it’s so hard for a rookie to compete with them. Saying that, I have nothing to be ashamed of performance-wise this year.”
Pic for sure has nothing to be ashamed of. The Frenchman took a fifth place finish on debut in the feature race in Bahrain, while in Spain bettered that result with fourth in the sprint race to sit an impressive fifth in the championship.
“So far, so good; I’m quite happy to be honest. We’ve managed to score valuable points in three races, which have put us fifth in the standings – ahead of every other GP2 rookie – including McLaren and Ferrari protégés. Admittedly, we haven’t secured a podium finish yet, and we still lack a bit of performance in qualifying, but overall our start has been promising. Of course, we’re looking to improve throughout the year.
“There’s a combination of factors that enable us to compete at the front. Firstly, Campos Racing and I have focused our efforts on optimising the set-up for races. Furthermore, I frequently travel to the factory in Valencia to prepare for the next race weekend on our simulator. Feature races tend to give you some flexibility in terms of strategy, which we’ve managed to exploit this season. Also, I’d like to extend my thanks to all the mechanics who have done an amazing job during my pit stops. And last but not least, you must be careful of not taking too many risks during the feature races, as they can have a major influence on your weekend’s overall result.
“[My engineer] Philippe [Gautheron] knows me well and understands my driving style. It’s good to have continuity but it’s also a great asset because track time is limited in GP2. I mentioned earlier that there are many elements to explain why I’m performing so well. Working alongside Philippe is definitely one of them.”
2014 will see the fourth visit to the legendary Monaco street track for Arthur Pic, and he admits the circuit it is a unique challenge during the year. It will also be the closest thing the Frenchman can call to a home race this season.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching Formula 1 there since I was five. Following FR3.5, this will also be my fourth consecutive appearance there, so I’ve gradually become accustomed to the circuit. Still, Monaco remains a unique challenge, although you need to re-acclimatise to the layout year after year. Grip levels evolve so quickly, which means you can shave around three to four seconds off your lap time over a weekend. This is the only street circuit we visit, which also feels like my home event due to the number of French people who attend. It’s always nice to be in a French-speaking paddock on a race weekend.”
Having already admitted his struggles in qualifying, with a best effort of tenth in Bahrain (that became ninth after a penalty was applied to Felipe Nasr), he knows a good qualifying session in Monaco is a must, especially with the difficulty in overtaking the circuit is renowned for. He acknowledges that some luck is required to have a good weekend in Monte Carlo.
“I hope we’ve made a step forward in this area because breaking into the top eight in qualifying has been our priority since leaving Barcelona. Monaco is rather paradoxical because, unlike at other tracks, you can’t over-think the situation. With barely 15 minutes on the clock, you don’t have the luxury of choosing when to go out. Instead, you put on a set of tyres and go for it! You can even do several consecutive flying laps, as tyre degradation is less troublesome in Monaco.
“Making sure you maximise track time during free practice and preparing to take some chances in qualifying are both vital, as well as keeping your cool during the races. Monaco is much more mentally demanding and strenuous than it is physically, although it’s important to capitalise on any good fortune that comes your way. You always need some luck to perform well in Monte Carlo.”