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Olivier Panis on his protégé Charles Pic

28 June 2013

1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis has played a significant role in Charles Pic's career since the youngster made his F1 debut last season. Here, the Frenchman offers his thoughts on the Caterham F1 Team driver's year so far...


Q:
Olivier, with seven races already completed this season how would you assess the start Charles and Caterham have made?

Olivier Panis:
After seven races I'd say that we're in a positive position, despite the difficult start to the season in terms of performance. Caterham is a young team and its owner, Tony Fernandes, has the desire to make further progress. Many changes and much investment were made during the off-season and it takes time for things to come together. Charles has adapted well to his new environment and, as usual, has remained extremely motivated. That integration has helped him to develop trust and a strong bond with his engineers. The same goes for Caterham's engine suppliers, Renault.

Q:
But performance-wise it looked to be a difficult start to the season?

Olivier Panis:
Yes, that's true. But as I said there have been a lot of changes made at Caterham during the off-season, what with the factory move, a new team principal coming on-board and two new drivers. That led them to using last year's car while the other teams went for a fresh design. It was a bit complicated to begin with until updates arrived in Bahrain. But the most important thing has been to create a strong team spirit, and stay focused and involved in order to continue making progress. This is what the team and Charles have done.

Q:
Bahrain was an important race, then?

Olivier Panis:
Yes. Bahrain was a real turning point in the season for Charles and the team. Caterham started bringing new parts for the car, which the team knew would make a difference and help them to progress. The work bore fruit, which is always as motivating for the team as it is the driver. Charles had a great weekend as a result and his links with the team were reinforced.

Q:
Has Caterham analysed the car and identified areas that can be improved?

Olivier Panis:
Certainly. As the new parts worked Bahrain provided the team with useful feedback and offered pointers for the direction future development should take. Then further new parts delivered another step forward in Barcelona. Of course all of the teams did likewise in Spain so Caterham's gains were less visible than in Bahrain, but I think the team is heading in the right direction.

Q:
What about the performance of Charles himself?

Olivier Panis:
I've never had any doubts about Charles' speed. I know that he is capable of being just as fast during a single qualifying lap as over a race distance. He was up against Heikki Kovalainen during practice in Bahrain and finished over half a second quicker, so I think that says everything about his speed.

Q:
And the progress he's made this year compared to last season?

Olivier Panis:
He has definitely improved compared to 2012, especially in traffic. Managing the race while at the front is different to doing it when you're at the back. That surprised him a bit last year but it's an area he's worked on and improved. He also has a better approach to races. Last year he was competing at most of the circuits for the first time but, now that he has experience of them all, he's been less anxious. It's a more positive approach.

Q:
He's been extremely strong off the line this year. Any reason why?

Olivier Panis:
He has improved a lot this year and made some incredible starts, like in Bahrain and at Monaco where he made up quite a few positions. He has a much better understanding of everything going on and knows all the drivers around him. That helps to be more aggressive right from the off and hopefully pick up positions from those mid-grid. It was the case in Monaco where he immediately jumped up to 16th behind a Williams and both Toro Rossos. That could have been a fantastic result for Caterham and Charles, perhaps finishing 10th. Unfortunately technical issues dictated otherwise, which is a shame, but that's part of racing.

Q:
So do you consider Monaco a missed opportunity?

Olivier Panis:
Without the mechanical issue we could have scored a magnificent result for the entire team and Charles. He was unlucky in qualifying after being competitive during practice and then looked good in Q1. But traffic is always complicated around Monaco, the track was drying and he was blocked on his fastest lap, which prevented him from reaching Q2 like Giedo. It would have been great for Caterham had both cars made it through, but this is part of racing at Monaco. Charles will have learnt from that and can apply it to his approach next year.

Q:
What are Charles' greatest strengths?

Olivier Panis:
His speed, mental fortitude, consistency during races and tyre management. Determination and motivation are also assets. He approaches things in a very professional way and has strong analytical capacity.

Q:
A lot has been said about Pirelli's 2013 tyres. How is Charles finding them?

Olivier Panis:
Charles is conscious that the Pirelli tyres provide a true challenge for the driver as they have a very narrow operating window. He understands the importance of this and has adapted well to the constraints they pose. He has a good approach and knows that one of the keys to a successful race is to manage his tyres. His smooth driving style is a real asset in this regard.

Q:
Speaking of the CT03, can we expect further developments and improvements from Caterham?

Olivier Panis:
I hope so! Team principal Cyril Abiteboul and everyone at Caterham have worked really hard to ensure the car progressed, and Tony Fernandes continues to invest so that the team has the means to develop and grow. There are new parts still being planned and we hope they will continue to aid progress. We have every confidence in them: they work hard and everyone is pushing in the same direction. It is the same situation for Charles who will keep striving until the end in an effort to achieve the best result possible.

Q:
Given his potential would you be surprised if Charles wasn't offered an opportunity by a top team?

Olivier Panis:
I have always said that when Charles gets the car underneath him to fight at the front a lot of people will be surprised by his full ability. Charles has great motivation and works hard. I'm not worried about his career because he has great potential and the determination to succeed. His day will come.

Q:
Is there anything about Charles, either character traits or the way he drives, that is similar to your approach when you were his age?

Olivier Panis:
Determination, motivation and never giving up are things we have in common. On the other hand I think he has a smoother driving style than me, which is what these modern tyres require. He is closer to the way Alain Prost drove than me as today, just like when he drove, the tyres wouldn't be able to cope with the punishment we gave them. Races were more of a sprint and there was a different philosophy. Nowadays modern Formula 1 looks like the version from Alain's time, with larger tanks able to carry enough fuel to complete a race distance. There are also a lot of different things to manage. I would say Charles' driving style is closer to Alain or Jenson Button who are easier on their tyres. He's part of the new generation but Charles retains similarities of great champions past.


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