Albert Park is upon us and testing didn't quite go to plan for you; how are you feeling at the start of the 2013 Formula 1 season?
We had some problems in testing but we still completed quite a few laps. Of course, you always want more laps, but it is what it is. We're all going racing and then we'll really see where we're at. I'm not really concerned about reliability or anything like that as it was the same problem which caused us the biggest problems in testing and we're on top of that now. You can never be 100% certain of course, but if you look at last season we had problems before the start of the year then we were pretty good when we got to the races. Of course we hope that we can perform better than last year, but let's see how it goes.
Do you feel better placed to fight for the championship than last year?
Hopefully, but it's so difficult to say from testing. Twenty kilos of fuel can make a big difference to lap time and we don't know how much fuel people were carrying in Spain. Let's see what happens in Melbourne. Hopefully we can be fast in the first races and have a good start to the year.
You've said the E21 is a nice step forward from the its predecessor; is that across the board and in every area, or is there more you want from a racing car?
I think you always want more, but this car is a pretty good starting point and we'll see; hopefully we're fast enough. I don't think there's any area where it feels worse than last year's car; so far everything is better. We had good speed last year, but not enough to win the championship. That means we need more speed this year. If we can get just a little more from the car and keep our consistency, with some better results at the beginning of the year, then we should have a much better chance.
It's your second year with Lotus F1 Team; does that continuity help you and your feeling with the team and does it mean you are working well together?
It helps for sure, but if it's going to make a difference, well I don't know. The fact that we know each other already will be better - you know each other and what the other driver likes from their car and so on - but if this actually helps to bring better results to the team I don't really know.
What would you like to achieve in Albert Park?
I'd like to start the season strongly and hopefully run the first races better than we did last year. We don't know exactly what to expect so we'll try to do the best we can; we should have a reasonable start to the season.
You've had some good races in Australia; is it good to be starting the year there?
Australia is a nice place even though it's a long way from Europe. The circuit itself is not the most difficult on the calendar. It was good to score a point on my first time at Albert Park, and the podiums and race win in 2007 obviously made me happy. The circuit hasn't changed at all so I'm confident I know which way it goes...
Do you think Albert Park could suit the E21?
It's always difficult to say for the first race of the year. It's not a full time race track so the weekend starts pretty slippery. The weather can be a bit of a surprise sometimes and we'll also learn how we compare to the other teams. You need a car with good traction and the E21 feels better in this area than the E20 which wasn't a bad car itself. Strong turn-in and stable braking help too, and those areas also feel good with the car so we are well placed.
Next stop Albert Park and we're looking ahead to the 2013 season; how are you feeling?
I'm really looking forward to the 2013 season; it's been a good winter for us and we achieved quite a bit of what we wanted to do, even if the conditions were not always easy. We're ready for Albert Park, it's one of my favourite Grand Prix circuits, so it will be good to get there, start the season and do the best that we can.
We saw last year that the E20 was somewhat of a dark horse and that then carried on through the year; how does this year's car feel in comparison?
It's a good continuation of the E20 and definitely a step forward; the team have been working hard and are doing their best to give us a good car. The answer will only be clear after qualifying in Melbourne; we looked quick during winter testing but it's always different to race weekends, so let's see what the first race brings us. Hopefully it's a good surprise, as was the case last year, and I'm sure we can have a very good season.
Last year you impressed with P3 on the grid in Australia, on a circuit you'd never raced on before. What's your feeling as you look to the first qualifying session of the 2013?
I obviously have much more experience than I did heading into last year and I'm looking forward to the whole season. I will try to put all the work I have been doing together with the team and turn that into good performances on track. I feel much more comfortable as I approach the 2013 season. Last year there were some highs and some lows, so the idea now is to keep up the performance that I'm able to show and bring some consistency which needs to be there every time. We know what we want and we've had good discussions through the winter, so we'll all looking to start the season with a clear direction.
How much benefit will the continuity bring?
I think consecutive seasons in any category is good from two points of view. The first is with the driving itself; you're restarting a season so you know the circuits, you know the cars, how a race weekend works and what you should and shouldn't do. Then, there is the continuity with the team, which is another point and one that's quite important as well. As we go to Melbourne we'll know the set up we used from last year and we can work from there. All our engineers are the same and the way we approach the data is familiar. From this standpoint we can really work well and keep everything we've been learning together. During testing I also had to the chance to run with Kimi's engineers which was very good. We are a team and we're working together; there's nothing that is hidden or not shared between us.
You've been with the team for quite a long time now; what is the feeling within the garage as we head into the 2013 season and where are our strengths?
This team has so much history; it was started a long time ago, has won three Constructors' World Championships and there will hopefully be more in the future. The key people here know how to create a good car and over the last four years the team has been picking up momentum. Our objectives keep rising higher and higher, but I think it's reasonable to say that we can achieve them.
It's also your second season with Kimi as a team mate and you were both racing quite closely on track together at certain points last year; how will you approach this season and working with him again?
Kimi is a good team mate and the relationship we have is ok. We're both quite quick and we're always pushing the limits. In engineering meetings and internally we share everything which helps us both perform better on track and when we're out there we push each other hard, but it's always with respect and fair play.
It's very difficult to predict these things after winter testing, but where would you hope to be in Australia?
I've been thinking about this quite a lot, but I really have no answer until we get to qualifying in Melbourne. Of course, we always want to be at the front; that's the aim, and we'll do the best that the car can do. As long as I perform to my best then I will be happy.
How do you view the continuity with Kimi and Romain going into 2013?
That for me is one of the key points for this year and it's clearly going to be one of the assets of our team's performance. To keep both these drivers, who are very complimentary, is the best situation for the team. Both now know the team well and it is their second consecutive year together in Formula 1. With this you can build up a nice momentum for the start of the season, compared to last year where we had to spend time nurturing that relationship.
When you look around at your rivals, how intense is the competition likely to be this season?
I think it's going to be as competitive as ever. You can see at least five teams having the potential to win races and it's getting very tight. It's going to be interesting to see how the teams can perform on a single lap, but also how they can perform during long stints and on track. More so than last year, it will be important to fight from the front with a good qualifying position and the race pace of our drivers will be important.
Last year there was a lot of talk about the Pirelli tyres and this year we have new constructions and new compounds; how do you think we'll get on with them?
The most important thing is we want to keep the strength we had from last year in that we managed the tyres well. This is one of the key points we could see during testing, but I think it's going to be another challenge to understand these tyres. The key is the Pirelli philosophy; we understand the tyres, however wear is higher than last year so you may expect more pit stops during some of the races. We still have to try these tyres in hot conditions; we've only run in cold weather so far and they have been specifically designed for higher temperatures, so we may have some surprises.
Going into 2013, where do you think our main strengths on track lie?
I believe we have kept the main strength of the car from last year, which was very conservative on tyre wear and degradation, and we've proved our capability to deliver one lap pace which is important for qualifying.
The team has been pushing to be at the front; how does 2013 fit into this plan and where do you see the team going?
There is a long term plan and a clear road map to the front of the grid. Last year we showed some peaks of good performance and were nearly always at or near the front. I feel that this year we will be even more so and the key element will be to maintain that performance and pace to fight for regular points and podiums. At the same time, we'll be preparing in Enstone for the new era of Formula 1 in 2014 with new engines and big regulation changes.
We haven't started 2013, yet the team is probably looking at the massive regulation changes for 2014 already...
Yes, you're right. As we keep saying, these changes will be a revolution in the Formula 1 world. Our design office started work on the next generation of cars quite a few months ago, but asking engineers to work in advance is not going to be enough if we want to be competitive in 2014. To achieve this, we'll need to establish a new way of operating which will allow us to be much more efficient. Our view is that, in order to be competitive in the future, Formula 1 teams should forget about the way they've been operating for years and should re-invent themselves.
Looking ahead to a brand new season, how are you feeling and what's the vibe with the E21?
Right after three tests in a row you feel quite tired as it's almost like three consecutive Grands Prix. We're a little frustrated about the amount of time we lost out on track, but we're also excited, optimistic and looking forward to taking the car to Melbourne and seeing what we can do with it.
What have you learned about the E21 this winter and what do you think it can achieve?
I think that from right back in Jerez it was clear that there are a number of quick teams out there. I think it was also clear from the first test that we have the potential to be one of them and the evidence of our running so far hasn't done anything to dispel that. We'll be in the hunt for podiums and very much looking for race wins.
How big a challenge are the latest Pirelli tyres?
We've seen some headlines about the challenge they present, but it's good to remember that the tyres are the same challenge for everybody and that they're designed for the racing season, and not the testing season. We've also been using them so far in temperature conditions that are not really ideal so it's foolhardy to make any conclusions based solely on what we've seen so far. I expect they'll be less dramatic once the season kicks off, but nevertheless I think we can expect them to play a full part in the opening races of this year.
There has been a lot of talk of very big degradation. Is this an issue?
You need to put this talk in context of where and when we test. Of all the tracks we visit, Barcelona is one of the more aggressive and Jerez is about the most aggressive. Using tyres which are designed for summer, in the winter, on a track which is one of the most aggressive means that you won't see the tyres at their best. Even with track and weather conditions far from ideal, we've still completed a satisfactory race simulation so we're not too concerned as a team. When we see the tyres at less aggressive circuits in better weather conditions they will perform better. Yes, they're going to degrade, but it's not going to be as much of a story as some people are predicting. And it will make the races exciting too.
How beneficial for the team is the continuity with drivers?
It's definitely beneficial as we don't have to fret about any of the issues that we would have to with new drivers, such as seat fits and brakes; that's all long behind us. Our drivers are absolutely match fit and ready to go.
Can the E21 bring a title back to Enstone?
It's not beyond the realms of possibility. It looks like we're entering an exceedingly close season from the evidence we've seen so far. Our car doesn't look bad against the opposition from what we can deduce, and we have a good team and good drivers behind it. It's certainly closer than last year, but we expected this going into a second season of relatively stable regulations.
Will we see the DDRS 'Device' out in action?
We're a step closer to making it happen, but it's something which is still in protracted birth pangs. It's a very difficult concept to get right. It's a passive device so the strength on the fluid switch isn't very large. The difficulty is making the switch clean, repeatable, strong enough to trip the wing, but for the wing to be sufficiently robust. It's a very delicate see-saw to ride. Hopefully, everyone will be well aware when it's on the car and working at full strength.
There seemed to be something of a pre-season storm in a tea-cup about engine mapping?
As any good team we were pushing the limits to see what is possible and what is not. You have a set of rules, you want to find out where the boundaries are, you do this by asking questions. We were asking questions to the FIA about what's possible whilst simultaneously testing what we were asking about on the track. By the time the FIA had looked at it and said 'no you can't do that' we'd also found out we didn't much like it in any case!
What would comprise a good outing at Albert Park in your mind?
A good Albert Park would be a first row grid place from qualifying and a podium in the race. It's certainly possible.