Gene: 'Every 0.5s is more expensive'

2000 CHAMPIONSHIP: No Points
8th, Australia and Austria
18th, Australia and Brazil.
Running seventh at the A1-Ring, and passing a stunned David Coulthard Indianapolis.
Colliding with his pit crew at Indianapolis.
Awaiting a decision from Minardi, whose engine package is the key to its plans.

Marc Gene arrived in F1 in 1999 without much of an international track record, but over the course of the year he proved that he wasn't out of his depth. His sixth place at the Nurburgring saved Minardi's day after Luca Badoer retired from fourth. There have been no points in 2000, but that's hardly surprising when even Williams, Jordan and Benetton were fighting for fifth and sixth. While the Spaniard didn't set the world alight, he did have some good races, particularly when bad weather or a major first lap incident allowed him to climb the order. He emerged from the first corner chaos in Austria in eighth place, and had no trouble holding on for the first two thirds of the race, even gaining a spot when countryman Pedro de la Rosa retired. At Indianapolis he cheekily passed David Coulthard and even managed to stay ahead for a few laps. The loss of Minardi's Telefonica sponsorship has not helped Gene's chances of staying put in 2001, but he rather optimistically says that at least now the situation is clear, and if the teams retains him, it's on merit. Articulate and confident, the 26-year-old is helping to encourage an increasing interest in the sport in his home country. Adam Cooper caught up with him.

"The most important thing for Minardi was to finish in the top 10. I think we've some very impressive performances in the races, but for whatever reason we've been very bad in qualifying, and we don't know why. I think we've done the best with what we had. Usually we were 2s off the pace in the race, and I think Minardi has never been so competitive. So it's been a positive season."

"Maybe not in the position we are achieving, but there's not much we can do, because the other cars are going very quickly. But compared to how far off we were from pole throughout the season, on average it was 2.5 seconds, and last year it was 3.5s. So we were much closer to the guys in front. It's just that last year it looked better because Arrows was really bad, BAR was not so good, and this year these teams were on another level."

"It is frustrating. For example, in Austria 0.7s would have put me to ninth - but I still started 20th. We always had a good performance in the race. Often I got between the eighth and the 12th fastest lap in the race. The problem is when you're coming from the back you cannot overtake everybody and go up to sixth. For me the most frustrating thing is when the race is finished I see the team has been going as fast as the third or fourth best team - but you can only see it if you look at the fastest laps. On TV you cannot see it. That's the worst thing about this year - being so quick in the race, and not quite doing the same thing in qualifying."

"Obviously the closer you get to the top teams, the harder it is - every 0.5s is more expensive, let's say. But I believe it should not be so difficult. For example, the engine was good, but very old-fashioned, from 1998. So I think it's still possible to buy 0.5s or 1s.The last 1.5s will be the most difficult one!"

"The car was good. Honestly we didn't do much testing during the season. It was just 'out of the box' almost, because we didn't have a test team, and that's one of the problems, having no testing. Without doing so much development work and still being 2.5s off pole, I think the effort was very good on the chassis side. The engine people were doing the best they could, it just needed an agreement between the team and the engine manufacturer for more steps, and we didn't have them."

"That's a good thing about the team - they never give up. They have this titanium gearbox, which is a unique one in F1. Other teams tried to do it and they never managed. It's a very, light compact gearbox, and it has different suspension too. I have to say that's been a big improvement, on weight distribution and also on set-up."

"It is easier on the driving side. On the pressure side it was more difficult, because in the first year nobody expects you to do anything special. When I beat my team mate, Luca Badoer, it was a big bonus for me. This year although I outqualified my team mate it didn't make me any better because everybody expected me to do this. So it was a more difficult year on this side, but on the driving side it was much better. I didn't have any problems, I worked on the set-up, I pushed from lap one. I enjoyed driving this year, although outside it's a bit more difficult."

"Gaston is much quicker than anyone expects. I know it's normal coming from me, but he is quick! So I learned from his driving style too. He's quite good in set-up comments. But I think it's very important if a driver has gone to different teams, and then he's learned a lot more. With drivers that are always in the same team you can learn less than from other drivers."

"It was a very strange weekend. On Friday I was very competitive, on Saturday I was incredibly slow and the car was understeering everywhere, and on Sunday it was good again. The race was very good. We did a good start and we stopped at the right moment. The car was very well balanced, and then in the pit stop I wanted to gain some tenths and when I braked it locked up, so it was my fault. I think I lost 20 seconds. I would have been in a good fight for eighth place, but the main thing is the guys were OK, but I feel sorry because the same thing happened in Belgium. When you are with slicks then you have all the reference points for slicks."

"For me it was nice, because it was really on equal conditions. DC was on slicks, my car was on slicks, and my car at that point was very good. He went a bit wide so I dived on the inside. Then I thought he was going to pass me straight after, and he did not. So I started pushing. Then eventually he passed me on the straight, and there was nothing I could do. But it was nice, because that shows that the gap is very small. The problem is the positions make it look very big. I'm sure he was looking at his car and looking at my car, and wondering why a Minardi was pulling away!"

"I don't agree so much because they should understand that we are racing also. I tried to let them past in a way that they and I lose the least time."

"Yes, for sure. It doesn't look like, but now I push from lap one. I think I do the best I can in qualifying, I work a lot on the set-up, I think honestly I'm quite a complete driver. That's my modest opinion, obviously! There's no area where I think I should still improve a lot. I think I'm working quite well in all areas, and mainly on set-up I think I'm a lot better."

"I believe that we can be in this situation. If we have a test team and we have a big manufacturer behind us, Minardi can be between the fourth and the eighth best team. If that happens I would not like to go anywhere else, otherwise I will look at other options. I still believe they have the potential, and they can do it. It's not so much money, but when they have the money. Last year they got the money from their sponsors very late, and at that point they could have signed a deal with Supertec or even for a better generation Ford engine, but it was too late. I hope for them that they can know their future very soon so they can organise people for a proper test team."

"I have a lot of faith in Minardi, and I know the potential hasn't been reached yet. If they have a good engine I would not like to move anywhere else, and I think they feel the same way, so I hope we are together. The car is very good; we just need more testing, more hours in the wind tunnel, and a better engine."

"It's getting bigger. Now it's very good, it's the third most watched sport on TV, after soccer and bike racing. We just need good results, because they want their drivers to win races. Once we get really good results it's going to be huge. But we need to see a driver close to the podium or on the podium to really see F1 getting big in Spain."

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