There is no mistaking the star of the show at the Spanish Grand Prix: it’s the guy wearing the red overalls with the ferocious scowl. But there will be plenty of people waving the Senyera this weekend, and most of those will be flying for Jaime Alguersuari – Barcelona’s own representative at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Jaime’s had a rough season so far and has yet to record a single points finish in a car that has shown flashes of real pace. But with a big upgrade for his home race, the Toro Rosso driver has high hopes that the turn around begins here.
Jaime, do you have an affinity for this circuit?
Yes, without a doubt. I’m a Catalan, this is the Circuit de Catalunya and I’ve been coming here as a spectator and a racer since I was a little boy. Any grand prix in Spain is special for me – so I really enjoy it when we’re in Valencia – but this is definitely the big one. I’ve always had a good feeling racing here. I had two podiums in the Formula Renault Eurocup, back in 2007, and I should have won in World Series, but for a rain shower at the wrong time when I was leading and then an engine problem – and last year in the Grand Prix I scored a point after a really hard fought race – so, yeah, I like the track and I think it likes me.
The consensus is that you can’t – or couldn’t – overtake here. But you don’t agree?
You can overtake here! I’m not saying it’s easy, but you can do it in a Formula One car.
Things haven’t been going too well this year. What’s wrong? Why no points?
I’m really hoping this weekend is where the season turns around for me. So far it hasn’t been anything like what we were hoping for. There have been technical reasons, and the wrong strategies and I haven’t done the best job regarding tyre degradation – but we are learning all the time, and I hope we’ll score our first points this weekend.
You’re in the zone hovering around the top 10 in qualifying. It must make your qualifying sessions a little bit more interesting than they are for people who know where they’re going to be.
Definitely. I think the car is competitive. But still, some days it’s not really important because even if we know we can be fast, we might prefer to save one set of tyres because Sunday is more important than Saturday. Get your strategy right on Sunday and you can score some points. The strategy is the key, not the qualifying position.
The word in the paddock is that this season is all about driving at 90 per cent rather than flat out. Is that true? And is it difficult?
Is it true? Yeah, I think it is. In fact I’m sure it is. In Istanbul, every time I had new tyres I was pushing like hell, trying to get the maximum out of the car. After 12, 13 laps I was out of tyres and I had to stop again. That’s why I did one more stop than my team-mate, even though the strategy was not as fast as his. It’s just about taking care of the tyres and not pushing it too much. It’s a different type of Formula One now. I need to adapt to this.
As a racing driver, how difficult is it to stop yourself from putting the hammer down? It can’t be much fun driving within yourself.
It isn’t! You always want to push; you always want to drive fast and you don’t care about the tyres. That’s the truth. But you don’t score points for that.
Which is the more important factor: the fact the Pirellis don’t last as long as the Bridgestones, or the fact you’re going into qualifying and the race with six sets of tyres instead of the eight you had last year?
Having fewer tyres is definitely a factor, because it’s always nice to start a stint with new tyres. Which factor is more important is difficult to judge because everything is still changing. We have a new hard Pirelli compound this weekend, so it won’t be the same as it was in Turkey. We’ll have to see if the window is still the same, or if the gap between the primes and the option is even bigger, and if the degradation is reduced.
There’s a big update on the Toro Rosso here. Will it make a difference?
Honestly? I won’t know until I see the laptimes. I mean if it’s good then I’ll feel it on track; you kinda know if something works or it doesn’t – but it’s the timing screens that ultimately tell the story.
When did you first see a grand prix as this track?
I’ve seen plenty – mostly when Schumacher was winning all the time. The first one I came to was 2000. I was cheering on [fellow Catalan] Marc Gené, who was driving for Minardi.
That was before the Spanish Grand Prix caught Alonso fever. Were you cheering him on in his championship years with Renault?
It was crazy here when Alonso started to win everything. I hope I can generate that sort of reaction from the spectators myself one day! In 2005 I was already signed with Red Bull, it was my first year in the programme, so my loyalties were there – but I think I may have been quietly offering Fernando a little bit of support!
Of course, whatever you do in F1, Spain is still the land of motorcycle racing – so why did you, Fernando, Gené and Pedro de la Rosa choose cars over bikes?
For me it was mostly because I don’t like the pain! My Dad was a bike rider and runs a bike magazine, so I guess I should have been a bike rider. I started on bikes at about the same time I started in karts, and I did plenty of stuff on motocross and road bikes when I was nine or ten, but pretty soon it was clear in my mind that I didn’t want to get hurt. The thing about bikes is that when you try to push, brake later, go in tighter, eventually you over do it come off. And it hurts. I didn’t like the injuries and decided karts were the safer option. I think that made my Mum happy!