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GP Week : Issue 180
meant to drive on a street circuit. So it wasn’t the circuits that appealed – I think it more came from the knowledge that F1 cars were the fastest cars in the world. I remember telling my dad that I’d like to drive an IndyCar one day and he told me that F1 cars were much quicker. Right, I told him – then we need to do that. It was the cars themselves that drew me to Formula One, not the circuits. Anything with technology and electronics fascinates me, so naturally Formula One makes sense as a passion.” So what else makes Rossi tick? Even when there are no cars involved, there’s still an element of racing in the Caterham driver’s other athletic endeavours. “I grew up skiing, and it was a big part of my life growing up. It’s probably the one thing that I love just as much as driving a race car. To be on top of a mountain and to be completely disconnected from everything, overseeing the whole thing – it’s very similar to driving a race car. You’re not thinking about what you’re doing, you’re in your element, your own space. “The parallels with F1 are incredible – they’re both about weight transfer, balance, and making the corners as straight as possible so you scrub off as little speed as possible. Instead of managing a set of tyres, you’re managing your legs, because you can’t go at 110 percent for an entire run, because your legs can’t deal with it. So it’s about finding the points where you can push harder. The whole concept of driving a race car is managing the grip that you have available, getting to your highest speed as quickly as possible. To do that, you have to make the corners as straight as possible. If you break it down very simply, that’s all it is. And to do that, you have to manage the weight of the car you have.” One thing skiing lacks, however is the lure of technology. The skills needed to read a mountain might be similar to those needed to read an ever-evolving race track, but the winter sport is hardly the scene of the sort of technological arms race that excites the young racer. “I was a very geeky kid growing up – I kind of still am! – so I’ve always been fascinated by things that go fast, that fly, that float, and things that just don’t seem to make sense,” Rossi admitted. “One of the massive thrills I get from an F1 car is that every single time you drive one, you’re breaking mental barriers. You’re doing things that you don’t logically think are possible, and you have to push yourself beyond a normal human reaction. When you can decelerate under 5Gs of braking, it doesn’t compute logically. Buttobeabletodoit,tobepartof a machine that has the technological capability to do it? There’s nothing else like it. “You have to disconnect your brain from your foot. The ability to do so just comes from doing it. Even in karting it’s a progression – every step you take is there for a reason, and you build up to it and build up to it. Even now, if I’ve been out of an F1 car for a couple of months, when I get back in it’s like damn, that’s fast. It’s really quick. But your mind and body adapt, and when you start doing more laps everything starts slowing down. When that happens, then you enter into this place where you no longer think about what you’re doing, where you don’t think ‘oh, I shouldn’t be able to brake this late’ – you just do it.” Drivers often talk about getting into ‘the zone’, that magical elusive space where the car seems to drive itself as you collect more and more speed, stretching limits you never knew you had. But any time spent racing involves a certain mental disconnect, forgetting the mechanics of your performance and driving on instinct. “Once you get used to the environment, the surroundings, the vehicle you’re in, everything becomes second nature,” Rossi acknowledged. “But, at the same time, it’s also easy to snap out of that, and while you’re driving you become conscious of exactly what it is you’re doing. You become very aware, and that is a trippy experience, because it can happen at any point in the lap. You have to be able to deal with it and get yourself back in the place where nothing can bother you. “If you overthink it, you’ll struggle. What you find yourself thinking about when you’re driving are things completely unrelated to the driving itself – it’s more about what the car’s doing, what the weather’s doing, what the track’s doing, how the car is changing with the fuel coming off, what people are doing around you... It’s not anything to do with ‘I need to brake here, turn in here, hit that kerb’ – that’s just happening.” So how do you control the impulse to overthink, to second guess? The teams have got it covered. “A whole side of the training process is getting to a place where you’re able to multi-task with your mind. I’ve had training sessions where I’m sitting in the simulator and they’re firing math and trivia questions at me – it forces you to think about things while you’re still driving. If you can do that, I think it’s what separates the better racing drivers from the rest of the pack. “At the end of the day, all of these guys can drive a car quickly. They wouldn’t get to Formula One if they couldn’t. So it’s the little things that make the difference – if you’re able to take yourself out of the cockpit and see the bigger picture, look at everything that’s going on around you, it allows you to make decisions that other people might not be able to make.” Alexander promotes the FIA Action for Road Safety program, along with Danny Sullivan and Mario Andretti 27 GPWEEK.com // 27 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> FEATURE