Pedro de la Rosa returns to racing action this weekend after several years as a McLaren test driver.
AUTOSPORT heard from the Sauber driver ahead of the first race of the season.
Q. How does it feel to be a racing driver again?
Pedro de la Rosa: It feels good. I'm very happy to be back, to be honest. Relaxed, as well, probably because for me being here is already like I won a grand prix. It's been a tough winter, long, difficult, so I'm relaxed in that sense.
Q. What shape do you think Sauber is in ahead of the first race?
PdlR: I'm not sure. I don't think the tyre information is that relevant, because we come from winter testing where temperatures were very low, and now we come to the reality. So I think the way we use the tyres will change dramatically from the way it was in Barcelona, for example. So we have to be open-minded. We really don't know where the competitors are. We can only judge by what I feel and looking at the data on our car. We are quite happy with the tests that we've done.
Q. Do you think you have the potential to cause a surprise?
PdlR: We will push. We are here to improve. I'm not sure if we will manage it or not, but we have the motivation to do it. But honestly I don't know where the competitors are. I have no idea which teams will be quicker with a 50-degree track temperature. I'm very open-minded and I'll take it just step by step.
Q. How important would a good start be?
PdlR: It's always important. I think, to be honest, is not how you start but how you develop the car. My experience at McLaren was very good, because you understand how a top team works and how it develops a car during the year and if initially you are not very competitive you just have to analyse the data to know where the weaknesses are. But not to get carried away or not to get nervous about it. Take it easy.
Q. Are you confident Sauber has the results to develop the car?
PdlR: Yeah, we have a budget to develop the car so I don't think why not. Obviously we have limited resources, but we still have the budget to develop. So we are going to push until the very end. There's no question about it.
Q. Will you be a little bit more careful at the first race?
PdlR: No. One thing I've learned from Formula 1 is you never know when is your last race. You have to push as much as you can in every race and every moment. I come here to have fun. If you start compromising then you don't have fun.
Q. What importance will the new regulations have?
PdlR: I think the driver has more importance with these new regulations, just because you have to listen to your tyres, to know how they are degrading, if they will grain or not, and inform your team about the situation, because the only guy who knows what's going on is you. And you need to inform your team about how the tyres are developing and what you can see. I think it's important for the driver not just to push from the first lap, but you have to take care of your tyres.
Q. Is experience a benefit?
PdlR: I don't think it's a benefit. It just favours intelligent drivers, irrespective of experience. There are young drivers who are tremendously talented and intelligent and there are experienced drivers who are not.
Q. Will you find it easy to pick up racing again?
PdlR: Some years I have been testing every two weeks, so it's been very easy to keep the pace and the speed and the physical strength, but there's been other years where I haven't been in the car for three months, and then I've been jumping for one or two days. It's been like on and off, on and off for a long time, so I'm used to it. It makes it easier, but it's never ideal. Let's be realistic, it's like a new start. But at least I have this training before.
Q. Do you think there might some crazy strategies?
PdlR: Yes, definitely. We've seen in the past that new regulations tend to bring new ideas and gradually we all converge to do the usual.
Q. Will using a new fresh of tyres make a difference at the start compared to a used set?
PdlR: I think it's really important for the start. For the launch it can give you a few meters' advantage. After that I don't think there is a big difference unless you have damaged your tyres in qualifying. If you have already started to grain the front ones for example in Q3, and you start the race with those tyres then you are dead for sure. Because graining doesn't go away in five laps, and with slicks sometimes you hardly ever clean it up again.