Nico, a tough end to a strong weekend. Talk us through your emotions?
That was definitely the toughest day of the year so far for me – even more so than in Silverstone. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride out there – well, a rollercoaster that just goes down!
When did you realise there was a problem?
The problems with my steering wheel began in the garage even before the race. It was strange as the team must have done five checks before I got in the car and it all looked fine, then I jump in and it doesn’t work! It was a difficult moment when I couldn't pull away from the grid. The car didn't get out of neutral and, when I left the pit-lane, I was only able to change gear. Sitting in the pit lane rather than on the grid and watching everybody go by was tough. I was stuck in a very low engine mode and had almost no Hybrid power at all as almost nothing was working on the steering wheel and I couldn’t change the switches. There was no radio or DRS either – all I had working was my gear shift paddles and even with them, every time I tried to change gear it was shifting two gears instead of one. It was strange as it was sort of working – but I had no second, fourth or sixth gear which meant the car was all over the place. The brake balance too was in the wrong place so I couldn’t brake properly and it was very, very slow out there. That was a hugely frustrating experience as I couldn’t make my way past anyone.
The team certainly seemed to try anything and everything to get you going again. Did you feel it could come back to you at any stage?
We tried to fix the problem by switching steering wheels again in the pit stop – having already done so in the garage and on the grid. We were hoping that the systems might come back to life, like the radio did, and that we could change the situation. It did start to come on and off so there was some hope there and I was just thinking “come on, come on, it’s got to be possible!” If it had happened there would still have been a chance for a solid result with the safety car and everything. But sadly it didn’t work in the end. For the pit stop I had no pit limiter and couldn’t select neutral, so the plan was for them to jack me up, for me to nail the throttle and then for them to drop the car back down again. In the end, when we went to try it, the team decided it was too dangerous and it was clear that it wouldn’t make any sense to continue. As it turned out, it was a problem with the steering column – the connection between the wheel and the car – so changing it made no difference.
We saw you stay behind to watch the rest of the race – how tough was that?
It was a tough day for me in general but I’m pleased for the team that even though one car stopped we were able to win with the other car. It was at least something good for them that Lewis was able to take the win. It means a lot to me – seeing the team have something to cheer for – and it was important not to lose too many points to Red Bull in the Constructors’ battle too. Watching the rest of the race from the pit wall also gave me a chance to see if there was anything to learn, which of course there always is.
What’s next for you?
Now we need to analyse what happened today, get to the bottom of it and to optimise everything further because reliability is our issue this year and we need to do our best to be 100% reliable moving forwards. I know the team are flat our trying to achieve that – working crazy hours to give us the best car possible – and we all want the same thing. It’s hard to take anything away from a day like today – it doesn’t matter if it’s your mistake or the car breaking down, a DNF is always hard to take and it’s a lot of points lost in either case which could prove costly. But the main thing is that the performance is clearly there and in Suzuka I’m sure we will be quick again. I’ll be pushing hard as I was all weekend here and throughout the season. It’s not my style to dwell on the past – I’ve been through it now and of course it’s disappointing in the moment – but tomorrow I’ll be looking to the future and I’ll take it from there. I’m still very optimistic.