[N. from the Ed: This interview was conducted on Saturday morning at Spa, before the tragic events that followed. Both the questions and the answers need to be judged in the referred context.]
Meet Louis Delétraz, a guy who is as happy to be with Haas F1, as he wasn’t while he raced at Racing Engineering. And a Top 5 performer in Spa’s qualifying: “Everybody was on the push lap when the first red flag happened. The second one didn’t impact us [caused by Gelael going off-track]. It impacted no one, apart from Latifi, who was late.”
Do you feel that the main setup of the Carlin car is better suited to a track like Spa? Or you just got it right here?
No! I feel the set up is always good … really fast as always, but the real problem was that we didn’t finish races, because we had technical problems. So we were fighting for the top three, top five, and we would DNF because of issues. And that has affected our whole season; apart from that, we have been quick all the time. Initially we are fifth in the grid, but the race will be long today.
If you had to pick one single corner of Spa as your favourite, which one would you go for?
I would say Pouhon (Turns 9-10), because it’s a very fast corner and it’s not flat out. Eau Rouge is amazing when it’s flat out but is pretty easy with those cars. However, it’s also an incredible corner. But I will pick up Pouhon, which is a tough corner technically, but extremely fast and you have to get to the limit of the car.
In order to negotiate Pouhon with an F2 car, do you sacrifice entry or exit?
I just try to go as fast as possible, you don’t sacrifice anything.
You’re one of the drivers who drove the old GP2 chassis in 2017; now we have this car specification. How would you compare both single-seaters?
It’s very different. The main difference is the engine, because the other one was a V8 and this one is a V6 Turbo, and with a turbo you have a lot more torque. So it’s really some more… at initial throttle there is less power, but afterwards the turbo picks all the power, that’s the main difference to deal with. And the V6 car has got more downforce but it is also more heavy. So this is the main difference, but both are nice cars.
Are you capable of describing your driving style? Do you regard yourself as aggressive, smoother…?
I think that I can be both. In qualifying I’m more aggressive (even sometimes a bit too much); in the race I’m pretty smooth, because you have to look after the Pirelli tyres.
Was it difficult for you to adapt to the Pirelli tyres?
The tyre degradation is always high. That’s a big key of the championship: To handle the tyre right and make it to go to the end of the race without it actually dropping. So that’s a cornerstone with the Pirellis: When to push and in which way you can do it. It is the main thing.
Now we go for an anecdote: You wear #1 in your car: Do you feel comfortable with it?
Yeah, totally comfortable. I also had #1 in 2015 with Fortec. It was a really good year, and I don’t feel pressure for having #1. It just is a nice thing.
If you had to choose your own racing number…?
…No, but this goes according to the position of the team in the championship. I was the first one to sign, so I got #1.
Yeah, but anyway, if you could have chosen, which number would you want?
[Answers before finishing the question] I would have taken #1 in that case.
And if we put aside #1, as in F1…?
No, in F1 I would want 22, because it is my birthday, I already had it in karting for many years and I was very successful with #22. So if I could choose, it’d be 22.
Until now, which has been the best and the worst moments of the season?
The best one I think it was Monaco [N. from the ed: Déletraz saw the chequered flag in a photo-finish, just 0,059 secs. behind winner Hubert]… Yes, I guess that Monaco and Silverstone were two good weekends: Two podiums and leading races was something good. The worst ones have to be the DNFs: For me it has been an unlucky championship. I think that I’ve had six DNFs, and in addition they are happening at race one, so then you start last for race two. I have scored about nine times zero points in the weekend, and this way you don’t win championships. By far they are the worst, but there is nothing I can do, it just happens. So…
I remember your DNF in Hungary…
In Hungary, in Red Bull Ring, in Barcelona, in Bahrain, in Paul Ricard… I abandoned the race.
What is your view about how the current motorsport ladder is set up? They have put together F3, F2, F1…
I think that it’s really good to have a clear step. It’s a shame that there are not maybe two F3s, because when you don’t have a very big grid it’s more complicated, so maybe there should be two F3 championships. But I think that at least now it’s clear: F2, F3, F4… Before it was Formula Renault, World Series, Formula 3 Europe… There were too many. The only thing that I think that it’s bad in a way is that it is very expensive. We should find a solution to make it less expensive.
And what would you suggest to make it less expensive?
There are many ways, but all the people want is to earn money, don’t they? But just in general… keep very simple cars. For example, turbo or hybrid cars are not ideal: If you put hybrid cars in Formula 2 if would become a disaster, because it’s so expensive technically… We don’t have them now, but I hope that it doesn’t come in the future.
Yes, in fact I ask you because in 2016 you raced in the 3.5 World Series. Would you have followed another route if you’d got the opportunity?
No, I loved the World Series by Renault. They were really good for me. The car was mega, and Michelin tyres had no degradation so you could really push. With such a car it’s nice. But I think we need to go through F2 because the Pirellis are what you have in F1.
You worked for Racing Engineering. How was it like to work with Andalusian Spaniards?
I love Spanish people, really, but the team wasn’t really Spanish at all. They had only the name and the flag of the team, because everyone was French. Pretty much 99% of the people were French. I don’t want to go into details, but this was a terrible season for me with this team. There were differences, not only about performance but also about the people who were put inside. As I said, they were not Spanish and I don’t have any problem with Spanish people [laughs]. As I said, the team could have a Spanish flag, but they were French. Not the best of memories for many reasons, but it’s in the past and I don’t want to go back into it.
We are curious about how do you remember Alfonso de Orleans, and how would he compare to Trevor Carlin in their styles of management.
Ahm, yeah… I don’t want to speak.
[Laughs]. OK, we focus now on your work with Haas. What have you learnt until now?
There are two things. Haas is starting a new simulator Project. They are people who didn’t have a simulator. The fact that I did it for Renault and for McLaren, and a bit for Ferrari, which means that I have a lot of experience with simulators. So I am a good driver for them to bring in to handle the whole thing. Now that this is on, we actually run the updates, the systems, all the… everything around F1, and that allows me to learn a lot about it. So lots of procedures, and I want to implicate with the technical staff. So that is really useful, and I must really be part of the team, like in Hockenheim, where F2 wasn’t racing but I went to the weekend with them as part of the team, and that’s a good experience for me.
Today are you going to be with them?
Yeah, I was already. It’s like a second family and I know everyone there.
What surprised you the most when you entered into an F1 team?
It’s very nice, F1 is always a dream. But I’ve always told Haas that I don’t want to be only a simulator driver. I want to take more part because I want to be one day an F1 driver. Of course, I need to learn, and I am very happy to do this job. I really like to see how they consider me and we really work together. For me it is very important to be valued, because if it were like if they didn’t care about me, it’s not worth it. But as they do really give me support… They are really a good team for this. They are very simple people: No politics, straightforward to the point.
Any plans for 2020 now that they are recruiting…?
Yes… I’m probably not on top of the current list. They seem to want an experienced driver, but you know… Leclerc is 23 years old at Ferrari, Mclaren has a 20 year old driver, Red Bull has a 21-22 year old driver… Young drivers are everywhere so, if they want one, I have a superlicence and I’d say yes straight away! I have the paper, I did the miles already last year in Abu Dhabi testing, and now I have it for life. So if they call me tomorrow, I can come.
What catches the most your attention when you arrive to an F1 team?
Everything. There is just more of everything: More people, more analysis, more work the cars are so fast… You just have to deal with a lot more tips, but at the same time that’s also maybe why young drivers are now very good because, when we go to the simulator, a lot of people say that we are like a different generation. If you ask an older driver, they tend to hate simulators and say that they’re not worth it and have trouble… But for us, we have played with PlayStation and it’s totally normal to do this. So we can be in the sim, be at the phone and speak to someone at the same time, and change the buttons… I guess that’s why nowadays young drivers adapt so well to F1, because we can do many, many things, and we don’t get disturbed by. There’s so many information coming, but we sort of take it in easily. When some people call us “the PlayStation generation”, that’s a bit true: We adapt to all this information quite easily.
But when you sit in a simulator, how close it is to reality?
In g-forces, not at all, but the actual car (the feeling, the whole tyre work, etc) it’s very similar. But you don’t have the risk…