• Jean Alesi GP week interview

'Racing is the religion round here'

ESPNF1 Staff
September 15, 2011
Jean Alesi: "Racing is the religion round here" © Sutton Images
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We always love to come to Monza. It must be especially poignant for you, with your Sicilian blood and Ferrari history…
You can feel the rumble of the race track from 10 miles away. Monza is a very special place. It has a level of atmosphere far greater than any other track, and when they call it a cathedral to speed they're not exaggerating. Racing is the religion round here. For the Tifosi, it's the Vatican. As a driver, you feel the pressure from the fans even if you don't drive for Ferrari. For Sebastian Vettel, winning here is the sweetest feeling, and he isn't even Italian. You come here and you know you have to deliver. Stepping out onto that grid is like walking onto a pitch for a world cup game, and you're playing for your national team - you know you have to score.

Vitaly Petrov, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg were very much the innocent parties in that dramatic Turn 1 shunt. As a racing driver, is there anything more frustrating than that?
No, especially in this way. When a car gets out of control on the grass like that, you've had it and Liuzzi became like a meteor - impossible to steer. You knew it was going to hit, you just didn't know where. And while we could see on the screens that an accident was imminent, the other drivers were oblivious. They're turning in, they're feathering the throttle and looking at the car in front and WHAM! No chance to hold their breath or anything, it's really scary. The dust settles and you sit there confused, winded, shaken, wondering what went wrong. It's an awful feeling.

Bruno Senna scored his first F1 career points - two of them. In just his second race for LRGP, he's got on the pace remarkably quickly, hasn't he?
Nowadays, without testing, the amount of effort needed for a driver to be immediately in the game, to be competitive, is enormous. So I am very impressed and pleased for him. The pressure his name brings isn't always positive, it can be destructive. Yet he's thriving on that pressure, and I tell you he has brought fantastic energy to the team. Everyone is rooting for him and Vitaly, giving it maximum effort.

Having raced with Ayrton, do you get a special feeling seeing the name Senna on the timing screens?
Of course. Ayrton was a legend. It's not a big name, it's the name. To see the yellow helmet out there, not to mention the black and gold paint, and the way Bruno is performing… It's a special sight for all of us.

Jean Alesi finished fourth on his debut with Tyrrell © Sutton Images
How did you feel the first time you scored F1 points? It was on your debut, at your home grand prix no less - 4th place at Paul Ricard. That must have been mental!
It was completely unexpected, of course. I was just happy to be driving and hoped I would be okay and I wouldn't embarrass myself. At one stage I read my pit board and it said P2 - I thought it was a mistake. The quicker you claim your first points, the better the moment feels.

With both Lotus Renault GP cars top ten on the grid today, is this a sign that the team has turned it around since the August break?
Definitely, they've made a big step forward, which is great. Often, towards the end of a season, teams drop back because they switch focus to next year's car, yet LRGP is continuing the development of this year's car because there's still plenty of performance that can be squeezed from it, and all the knowledge that comes from these gains can be directly applied to the 2012 car.

A lot of people speculated there might be too much overtaking at Monza, with two overtaking zones. Do you think it was about right?
Today the DRS was of limited help to overtake. In Spa it worked better because in Monza the cars run very little wing anyway. So when you flatten the wing it actually makes very little difference, because there's hardly any wing back there anyway.

Did you expect Red Bull to be so fast this weekend, given they're rarely quickest through the speed trap?
Everybody was talking about the speed trap, but it was confirmation that Adrian Newey has built the perfect all-rounder, which can win anywhere. In Monza, it is not about top speed, it's about car balance. When Vettel took pole position, everyone was shocked. They asked, how can you get P1 and not be fastest on the straight? At the end of the day, the balance was so good he could carry the highest average speed over the full lap.

Was Schumacher too firm in his defence from Hamilton?
Well it made it the race of the day, and it was great to see Michael back at the sharp end and fighting like a warrior. He was a little bit over the limit, yes. You should only move across the track once or twice, and he did it two or three times. But all I can say is wow, the race was so good to watch. They had a good clean fight.