Formula One loves a statistic and there have been plenty bandied about concerning your start to season – the best since Michael Schumacher in 2004. However, you’re the one who has been sounding a note of caution through all that hyperbole. You’re obviously expecting Lewis to bounce back – but how real a threat have Ferrari been over these first three races? Have you seen any evidence of what they are capable of yet?
NR: I’m not really sounding any notes of caution. I’m just realistic and Ferrari, amongst others, just haven’t shown what they can do yet. They’ve taken each other out in the last race at the first corner, for example, and from then it was just messy, as an example. A lot of things have been going wrong and for sure they are a lot quicker than they have shown. We think they are very, very close to us.
Mika Häkkinen made some interesting comments earlier this week – talking about your performance this season and what it takes to be a world class driver. He said the road is long and painful and it doesn’t matter whether you have friends and family beside you – ultimately a driver is alone in the process. Is that how you see it? Is a driver alone in the position that you’re in?
NR: No, I’m not alone. It’s a team sport in the end. Alone you can’t achieve anything. Then there’s the closer group, which is my family, friends, my management, physio and everything. Everything plays into it. Everybody has their role and any success I have on the track, they are a part of it.
Does it feel like there is a mental burden upon you when you are going for a championship? Does it become very tough?
NR: I generally see it as a very pleasurable experience! It’s just an awesome feeling to come to a race track knowing that I have the car to be able to be on pole and win the race. I just look forward to it. So I’m here in Sochi and I can’t wait to get going, see where we are compared to our direct rivals and try to make it happen.
After six wins in a row, can we say that this is the best Nico we’ve ever seen? Is it possible for you to describe when the spark ignited? Maybe with the birth of your daughter or a change in the car?
NR: I’m the most experienced Nico ever after the last two years battling for the Championship. Definitely, I’m pleased with the way I’ve been driving in the first three races. For me, it’s not six in a row, though, because the three last year don’t count for anything in this year’s Championship. So, for me it’s winning the first three which I’m really happy about. I’ve been driving really well – but my opposition have had a really messy start. That’s the reality of it. I definitely expect them all to bounce back – especially Lewis. It’s going to be a great battle against them as always. It will be tough, even if I have a lead in the points now. It’s still such a long season – three races is a seventh of the whole thing. There’s something like 450 points to take still and I’m only thirty-something in front. There’s still a massively long way to go, so it’s not really changing the situation much.
Is there much you can do on strategy in this race? It’s been a regulation one-stop in the past…
NR: Yeah, strategy is probably not going to make it as exciting as China, for example, in terms of overtaking. It’s more straight forward there. But Turn One, for example, is still a good place to pass at this track and we’ve seen some exciting stuff in past years. Not as much as last time in Shanghai maybe but hopefully it will still be good with some individual exciting moves. Let’s see.
We have reached a situation where we are seeing good racing this year. But everything will change dramatically for next season, with more downforce on the cars. From the drivers’ point of view, is the solution set to make the show even better, to see more competition and to attract the public more?
NR: Our opinion was that it’s not the right direction to go and we were hoping that they would look into it again – just to make sure from a technical point of view. Now, though, this is the way it is so all we can do is accept it, make the most of it and hope that there are going to be some surprises. Maybe we’re going to love the cars and enjoy driving them even more than we are now. Maybe all the grip is going to feel great. Like I said, for now it’s just accepting it and making the most of it.
Do you agree with the fact that you have no say in what you’re doing on the track? You are out there racing so why not be part of the decision-making process?
NR: Actually, we’ve been trying to get more involved and it’s moving in the right direction because the FIA is asking us more things now. They want to hear our opinion – asking us for get-togethers – so the process is going well, I think. With time, let’s see where it goes. We will try to be more and more involved because I think we can really give something additional to the direction of the sport. We do actually know a lot of things about what should be good for the sport – we’re driving the cars in the end!
Do you really know what is the best for the sport from the outside? Surely a driver will always want what’s best for the drivers – so can you make that valued judgement on what occurs?
NR: What I meant was that we love the sport, all of us, so I don’t say that we’re just going to say what we think is best for us driving the car. We do think beyond that and think about everybody who’s in front of a TV screen, supporting us and getting excited about this sport. That’s what we’re thinking about and we think that as a group. We are wise enough to definitely give some added value for the future direction.