WTCR season build-up Q&A: Nathanael Berthon
Nathanaël Berthon is gearing up for the 2021 WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup on a high.
“The opposition is super-competitive. When you look at the grid it’s unbelievable. We have to be really focused and all details will count”
After landing a breakthrough first WTCR win in 2020, Berthon was signed up as an official Audi Sport driver, along with Frédéric Vervisch, for this season as part of the Comtoyou Racing-run attack.
But as well as competing in the WTCR − alongside Tom Coronel in the Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport line-up − the 31-year-old from France has played a key role in the development of the second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS.
Equipped with Goodyear tyres, the car makes its world debut at the eagerly anticipated WTCR season opener on the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany from June 3-5.
This is what Berthon, who has also won in GP2 and test-driven in Formula 1, has had to say.
Following a strong 2020 and given the fact Audi has trusted you to help develop second-generation RS 3 LMS, how confident are you for the 2021 season?
“It’s really great to participate on car development, it’s something I really love. We did about 5000 kilometres with the car and tried many things. I feel really well in the car, it’s really comfortable and I’m improving myself all the time. It’s my third year now in WTCR and I feel stronger, ready to push hard. I am getting experience all the time and I feel great with the package we have.”
But you’re facing super-strong opposition, how tough will it be?
“The opposition is super-competitive. When you look at the grid it’s unbelievable, so definitely it’s going to be difficult this year. We therefore have to be really focused and all details will count for sure. I’m fully dedicated on WTCR. My mind is 100 per cent concentrated and I will need it to be if I want to fight against the others because the level is very high and the competition is very strong.”
The 25.378-kilometre Nürburgring Nordschleife is up first, can there be a tougher place to start the season?
“It’s an amazing track, the Green Hell everybody knows. I had the opportunity to train a lot this year, I passed my Permit A, so I have a lot of experience on the track. That gives me more confidence because it was maybe my weakness last year without the experience. I really want to be there now.”
So you wouldn’t have preferred a tamer place for the new season to begin?
“It’s always tricky to start with the Nordschleife because there are no other tracks like it. It’s an old-school track, very fast, but it’s good because it’s in Germany, the home of Audi. I am confident the characteristic of the car is matching better on the Nordschleife. Of course, we are one of the heaviest cars on the grid, which is not going to be easy, but I am happy to start there.”
Given your experience driving Audis and with your increased role this year, do you feel part of the Audi family?
“I have a very, very good connection with all my team and all the Audi guys welcome me in a very warm way so it’s very nice to be part of the Audi family, definitely. They are great people to work with and this gives you even more motivation. To be in the middle of the development is really exciting, sharing all the engineering side. It’s something I really love. Audi is putting in a lot of effort and I see the enormous work they are doing. It’s very hard to build a new car but this car is very well born and it’s really impressive to see all the efforts behind this car. I really hope we will shine with the new RS 3 LMS.”
As well as a strong car you’re part of a strong driver line-up, how good is that going forward?
“The level is super-high in the team, which pushes you to be the best and this is good. With Fred [Vervisch] we always had a good connection. In 2018 he was more experienced, but we were sharing in the right way and I learned from him. Now we are sharing the developments of this car and it’s nice to be back with him in the team. He will be pushing everybody, which is important. Then we have my Tommy Boy, Tom Coronel. He is one of the best team-mates you can have, he’s a great guy, I enjoy being his team-mate since two years now. Of course, we are competing on the track but we are sharing like we have the same car and it’s really nice to work with him. If he’s going stronger then we will be stronger as well because we are building up ourselves. And Gilles Magnus, wow! He’s still young, not as much experience as we have but he’s talented, super-quick and another driver to share the data with. It was a great choice from Audi and Comtoyou to have this driver pool. We are good on the track and we are friends out off the track so it’s perfect.”
Looking back to 2020, what elements gave you the most satisfaction and what areas do you need to improve on this year?
“It’s always good to do some pole position and win but it was a big work. I still have a lot to learn because the WTCR car is completely different to what I knew. I always drove other types of cars and when I came to WTCR [in 2018] I had to completely start from scratch and learn everything. It’s another driving style to learn but my experience from last year has helped me a lot on the technical side, how to set up the car and to react quickly, because you don’t have so much time during the race weekend, and then to make the best of it as we do. Of course, it’s not going to be easy this year, but I feel really well with the team, we have a very good connection and a very good car. But it’s new and there is still a lot to know. Even if we have done a good development, we still have a lot to do with the car and it’s difficult to give an expectation. We will do the maximum to be fighting at the front, I feel confident, the team feels confident, everybody is fully pushing and if we can win it will be amazing.”
What do you hope to achieve this season?
“There are two questions, do you think you can win the title or do you want to win the title. Every driver wants to win so of course it’s the target, but we have to be realistic as well. We have a new car to learn, a car that hasn’t done any race kilometres. So, we need to see after the first two or three races where we can be. Regarding the others I am sure they have put a lot of effort in, they have worked a lot, we have seen them testing like hell and we know the competition is so strong this year that we have to be cautious.”
Finally, your 2020 WTCR bid should have begun with a win had it not been for that jump-start. Without that, could you have won and how did you turn that negative into a positive?
“It was a very, very difficult day with this mistake on the start. We worked a lot on the start procedure and I hope we won’t have any more trouble. But it was really painful when you know you can win the first race of the season but did not. Okay pole position is good but at the end of the day you want to win the race. I was very sad for the team because everybody had worked so hard and it was a kind of unfair situation. You feel bad, but I knew I was quick in the car and I knew the team could rely on me and everything started from that. We knew we could expect better and this gives you extra motivation, extra confidence and you can work with more serenity in the team. If you ask me which crew do I want, which team, which team-mate, which car, to be honest, I don’t think I would have chosen better than what I have now. I feel very happy in my position now and I am very thankful to everybody around me. I see everyone pushing like hell. This winter was really demanding developing a new car, this work is really not easy so I really hope the effort from everyone will pay off at the end of the year.”