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Tiago Monteiro is showing a steady performance this season. At the last race in Hungary, he had a good fight with team mate Christijan Albers and finished in ninth position - his best finish of the season. Time to catch up with Monteiro.
For the last few races, you and Christijan have been contenders for the top 16 in qualifying, and you made it through again in Hungary. Have you been impressed by the consistent improvement in performance?
TM: "Definitely. The last five or six races have been an improvement, and you can see that by the fact that we are always fighting for the top 16. When we don't make it, we're only two or three tenths away from it, and we're much closer to pole than we've ever been. It's very encouraging and very motivating for everyone - the drivers and the team. I'm pretty happy with that."
At the start of the year, there seemed to be some problems that made it hard to have a clean qualifying session…
TM: "True, but that's part of the game. When we started the season, we were three or four seconds off pole, like last year, and to be honest, we were not happy at all. We had high expectations for the M16 and we were really hoping to be closer to our opposition at the beginning of the season, right out of the gate. But the fact is that we didn't test that much early in the year, so most of the testing we did took place on race weekends. That's a lot of development time to overcome, but we're catching up."
You also had some niggling failures in races, which must have been very frustrating.
TM: "It was for me, especially, since I wasn't used to technical problems after last year, when we were one of the most reliable teams! In 2005, we basically ran a 2004 Jordan chassis, so it was therefore a very reliable, mechanically-sorted car that everybody knew very well. This year, we have a brand-new car that's more competitive, but that also means it's a little bit more fragile. These cars are pushed to the limits, and it's normal in F1 to have problems. What wasn't normal was to not have problems, like last year! So we weren't used to having these kinds of problems. Anyway, apart from the mechanical issues - which seem to be more or less under control - we are still not performing as well in races as we are in qualifying. So we need to find out what the others are doing differently than us to give them the extra race pace that we can't seem to be able to maintain. We're working on that, believe me."
What's been the highlight for you this season, or do you think it's still to come?
TM: "It's still to come, definitely. To get into the top 16 is important, and we've done it a few times this year. But my feeling is that a proper highlight is still to come."
What about disappointments? There have been a few first lap dramas…
TM: "I guess Monaco was disappointing, because I think it was a race where we could have done something, especially when you look at the results. I'd been in the top 10 or 15 all weekend, so it was supposed to have been the first race where we were going to be in the top 16, and it should have been. But in qualifying, Barrichello blocked me on my flying lap, and then in the race, well, we all know what happened. Unfortunately, it was the kind of race where you needed to be there at the end, because points were on offer. So that was a big disappointment. The other one, I would say, was having two retirements in a row, in Indy and Magny-Cours. That's definitely not normal for me."
You and Christijan are always going to be lining up on the same part of the grid, which increases the chances of both of you being involved if something happens…
TM: "That's exactly the point. We are in identical cars, fighting at a similar level, so we we're always close to each other on the track. And we're both competitive, we both want to win, so there's always going to be some risk. It's part of the game, because we are fighting side by side. If I am always sitting next to Raikkonen or whoever, the chances of us coming together are going to be higher. In Monaco, I think Chris made a mistake, but I understand how it could have happened. I can also accept responsibility for my role in the collision in Canada. OK, we're on the same team, so we should be helping each other finish races - everyone understands that. But at the end of the day, we're also fighting each other for position, and that has to be taken into account."
Is it good to have a quick team mate to push you?
TM: "Yes, I think so. Last year, Narain often had amazing pace but sometimes he was a bit too erratic and not as consistent, unfortunately. I don't know if Christijan is as quick as Narain over one lap, but he is a lot more consistent. He hardly ever makes mistakes, and he is a very solid driver. So we are pushing each other a lot, and that's good for us and it's good for the team. One of the reasons the team is progressing so much is that there's not one session where my focus can be less than 110%, and it's the same for him. Every time we're out on track, we're always pushing hard. And off track, we're putting in the effort, as well, and not only with regard to physical fitness. I think I'm spending more time than ever with my engineers, because I'm paying attention to all the details. Everything on the car is important, from the tiniest little part to the smallest adjustment - it's amazing. I guess that is what sets F1 apart as the top form of motorsport. I've still got a lot to learn on that side, but I'm getting better at giving feedback and interpreting how everything affects the car."
If Ferrari's form is anything to go by, Bridgestone has clearly been strong recently. Has that been a big help?
TM: "Yes, absolutely. So much of our success depends on the tyre choice we make for each track, so it's very important to get it right. Because of production schedules and lead times, we have to choose them very early, so it's always a bit of a gamble. But luckily, we've been making some good choices at the last few races. Let's hope that trend continues for the rest of the season and helps us score a few points before we're done."
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