What's your verdict on the team’s winter testing programme?
My feeling is a good one. The team has been working very hard over the winter to shape our car in all of the areas which had been identified by us as needing improvement. The data I have seen over the winter had been quite encouraging, but then we all know that the realities of data and the race track can be quite different. As a driver, you obviously hope for a good step forward and I think this is what we have achieved. I am confident that we can compete for podium finishes, and I am hopeful we can fight for victories at some of the races. Saying that, we will only see the truth once the season gets underway, so I can hardly wait to go to Melbourne to finally see what the real picture is.
The trend during the winter has been positive from a difficult start to a good upgrade in Barcelona. Can you continue the same way?
Well, I can definitely try and I certainly will. As I said, it is difficult to predict, but I am happy with all the work that we have conducted so far.
This is year two of your comeback: how different does it feel to 12 months ago?
This year feels very different indeed. Last year everything was new again; the testing situation, the car, the team, the structures. It was very exciting but it was still something you had to find your way through. Now, one year later, I know much better which areas to work in. I am much more familiar with the team and we have a great group of very skilled and dedicated people. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with Mercedes, and I have never regretted my decision to return… if that is what you wanted to ask next!
You've completed thousands of kilometres with the new systems like KERS and RFA on the car. What impact will they have on the racing?
From what I have seen so far, these systems can have an impact, but just not to the extent that you push a button and overtake easily. You still have to be in the right position and have to catch the right moment to find an advantage out of the new possibilities. Only during the races will we be able to understand fully if they work to our complete understanding and satisfaction.
How much have you had to change to adapt to the Pirelli tyres, and what will be the key to getting the most out of them in race conditions?
The tyres are the same for everyone, and I am sure we will all get along with them. Of course, being drivers as sensitive as Formula One drivers are, we feel the differences, but this is what is exciting about the change and we are trained to cope with them. The key in my view is finding the right strategy to make the tyres work to their maximum.
You said that the latest update to the MGP W02 will be an impressive performance gain. How did the car feel compared to earlier in the winter?
We’ve made good progress over the four tests. It’s perhaps been a more difficult winter than we expected but everyone has worked really hard and pushed on with the new upgrades so that we have the car that we want for the start of the season. We haven’t got the fastest car yet but we are going in the right direction. The handling is better, the car has more grip, and is generally more fun to drive.
Is this the car that can bring you your first win?
I hope so! We are certainly looking much better this year and our main target is to improve on our performances from last year. We have a good platform to do that.
How challenging has it been to master the new systems on the car?
We understand the Pirelli tyres well now, both over race distances and shorter qualifying runs, and had the opportunity to try them out in the wet on the last day in Barcelona. KERS took some getting used to: it was a completely new system for the team, and also for me as a driver. The trickiest thing from a driving point of view is under braking, because the amount of energy you try to harvest can really affect the balance of the car. The adjustable rear wing is actually fairly straightforward to operate and should bring an extra interest to the races.
Will the driver have a bigger strategic role to play and are you looking forward to that?
Yes, definitely. The strategy is going to be really interesting this year and, thanks to Pirelli, we will have some very exciting races, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works out. As a driver, you always want to be more involved in the race, so that should be good.
What do you think will be the biggest surprise for the fans at the first race in Melbourne?
It’s always difficult to predict who is on top from the testing times but I think there will be a real battle in Melbourne. The race strategy is going to be fascinating and the number of pit stops should make it really exciting for the fans.