With the sole Formula One race on U.S. soil just around the corner—the United States Grand Prix on June 17—the sole American driver in F1 slows down long enough to chat with MF
MF: Formula One is like soccer—hugely popular all over the world but not in the United States. What’s it like being an American driver in the midst of that?
SS: It’s not easy. It’s difficult for me because I have to leave my family behind all year. My dad and brother get to come out for maybe a race or two. And Europe is a big culture shock. I’ve been here for about four years now and it’s certainly getting easier, but it’s still different. But I think if anything I’ve proven that you can come from having almost nothing in go-karting to Formula One.
MF: Has your presence attracted more interest to F1 in America?
SS: Certainly. At the U.S. Grand Prix last year I got a huge reception, which, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting. It’s definitely grown, but it will take a while for it to reach a level anywhere close to what it is in the rest of the world.
MF: Now that you’re into your sophomore season, do you feel more or less pressure to perform?
SS: There’s probably more pressure on me this year because I really have to make my mark to make sure that I’m here for a long time.
MF: Do F1 drivers talk trash?
SS: There’s always a big battle of the egos between professional drivers, but once you reach Formula One, it’s something that you don’t really talk about anymore. There’s no “I’m better than you.” We’re all here, so we all think we’re the best, so we don’t talk about it.
MF: Is there any production car that comes anywhere close to driving a 750-hp F1 car?
SS: No, because you’re missing downforce. It’s really easy to find a road car that can go as fast in a straight line as a Formula One car. The difference is how fast you can stop and how fast you can take a corner, and no car on the planet can compare with that. In Turkey, there’s a corner that’s about 280 km/hr minimum speed and about 5 1/2 lateral Gs. I’ve pulled 11 Gs in a plane before, and I can tell you that it’s not even comparable to 5 1/2 Gs lateral. It’s so much tougher on your body and on your neck to withstand these forces for a whole race. It’s incredible. I think that’s why Formula One drivers are in the kind of physical condition they are.
MF: What sort of fitness regimen are you able to keep up during the season?
SS: Off-season is where I really go hardest, and that’s when it’s fun because I can see improvements in myself. During the season it’s just a lot of endurance work, maintenance work, and core stability things. On average, during testing or on a race week I’ll put in 10 hours of mostly cycling and running. When we have a free week, I’ll put in more like 15.
MF: It was big news last year when Juan-Pablo Montoya went from Formula One to NASCAR. What’s your opinion of NASCAR drivers?
SS: They’re in a different world. You don’t see people as old as some NASCAR drivers who are able to compete in Formula One, so obviously there’s a certain difference in the competition level as a driver. But there are different demands—NASCAR drivers have it far tougher from a media sense, and they have a lot more races in a year.
MF: Is it fair to say that NASCAR drivers are far, far better than Formula One drivers?
MF: Uh, just kidding.