Speaking at the Williams pre-season media event, drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima talked of their hopes for 2009, the new FW31 and why the massive regulation changes for this season have boosted their expectations.
Autosport.com was there to hear what both drivers had to say on a host of subjects including why they believe Formula One will be closer than ever this year.
Q. What are you expecting from Williams this season?
Nico Rosberg: First of all, the rule changes are a fantastic thing for us, definitely. A really good thing for us. There's no copying to do, nothing. It's just your own ideas. You start from zero, from scratch, like every other team. You have this set of rules and you need to make the best possible car for it. More so than ever, the most important thing is to have creative ideas, to be ingenious, to come up with some fantastic things. Using the grey areas - in a new set of rules there are always grey areas where they haven't been clear enough to specify certain things, which some teams won't realise. You've got to make sure that you don't realise that there's a possibility to do something special. That's the most important thing with these new rules and that's the reason why it's a really fantastic chance for us as a team.
Over the years at the aerodynamic department there are a lot of new people who have come in from different teams - we have ex-Ferrari people, from Renault in their world championship years, who are now with us in the aerodynamic department. I think they've become a very strong and personally I have a lot of faith in their ability. I'm talking so much about aerodynamics because it's the main things nowadays that decides the performance of an F1 car and I really have faith in the aero department and the rest of the factory also, and I think it's a great chance for Williams as a result.
Kazuki Nakajima: Yes, I think it's a big chance for us. At the testing tracks, everybody looks very close and it's still too early to talk about performance comparisons. But at the moment everything is very positive for us and I'm just really looking forward to the new season.
Q. How different are the new cars to last year's cars?
NR: We have 20 per cent less downforce, more or less, and 17 per cent more grip from the tyres so lap time wise it's going to be very similar I assume at the beginning of the year. Driving-wise, it's pretty similar, it really is. What has changed is the balance of the car. Relative to last year the main difference is that we have more oversteer in slow speed corners and that is the one place where you can make a difference - if you have less oversteer in slow speed corners because you have more grip from the aerodynamics or whatever else, that's where you're going to make a big difference. A lot of oversteer is the main problem for us, and that results in you needing to drive a bit differently, you need to be more cautious because once the oversteer comes you've lost out in that corner. You need to stay within the limits, so that means you need to drive differently, more cautiously going into the corner, even more so than in past years where you already had to be very careful. It really requires an adaptation from the driver. That's really the main difference.
Q. Have you followed another car closely to get a feel for how that will be?
NR: I did in December and I was pretty impressed. It was good. There's a guarantee that it will be better. The question is whether it's going to be enough to make a difference that will see more overtaking. I think there will be. How much is the question mark.
Q. Did you notice a difference when you adjust the front wing?
KN: There is definitely a difference. We can change from zero to six degrees, which is really big. I'm sure it will help when we are following other cars. It can be a factor for overtaking or balance adjustment. It's very interesting and useful to us.
Q. This is a team with an illustrious history but it has been in the doldrums. Do you feel any pressure to get Williams back on top?
NR: I feel it, yeah, because it's a team that breathes racing. It's quite amazing how every single person in the factory, even if they're building screws or small pieces of bodywork or whatever, they work and they put their effort in in order to have success on the track. That's a nice thing to see when you're walking around the factory.
It's a team where they put their expectations so high in what they expect of themselves. It's really a team where you see the pressure when they're not at the front, because they feel that's where they belong. It's a good thing.
Q. What is your expectation about remaining with the team for the future?
NR: For me it's a crucial year this year. Mainly because I want to have success in my sport, that's what I'm racing for. I hope that I'm going to have a car to have good success this year - it's very possible so I hope so. If not then I need to see, because at the latest in 2010 I want to be in a really top car. I wish it could be with Williams, that would be fantastic. Really it would be something special for me to have success with this team. I really get along well with all the people and it would be great to have success together. It would be a great feeling, so I hope it's with Williams.
Q. Kazuki, this year you're the only Japanese driver, can you show your ability in your second year?
KN: As it's my second year it's also a crucial year for me. At the moment it's too early to talk about the car so I just need to concentrate on myself and my performance. I need really to put in a better performance in terms of all the aspects. There will be more pressure, but after a full year of experience I'm sure I can do much better than last year. More consistency, more understanding of the car. Most of the tracks will be a second time for me, so that will be even better.
Q. In all sports you get chances to score results, last year you managed to take some chances but not others. What did you learn from that experience?
NR: What did I learn from that experience? The most important thing is to learn from mistakes that you make and to progress. That's it. I had four big chances last year, of which two didn't work out and two did. I need to do a better job on that in the future.
Q. What were the differences between those days where you took those chances and those when you didn't?
NR: The only one that frustrated me was Monaco, which I have to say was very difficult conditions, but that shouldn't be an excuse. That was just frustrating because it was a race where I messed up where I could've done very well. But I'll make sure I do better in future.
Q. Nico, have you developed your preparations in any way this year?
NR: I'm really determined to get the best out of myself, so I'm always constantly improving my training and all the rest that's involved in becoming the best possible racing driver. This winter that also required really watching the weight. That's always been an issue in F1, but particularly this year because of the KERS - all the weight is in the back and with this year's rules it's beneficial to be a bit further forward. So that's definitely something where the weight has become more important than ever, so I've watched that over the winter.
Q. Can you put a number on how many kilos you've lost?
NR: I don't want to put a number on it, but it's a whole new area that you have to put effort into - food-wise, and also muscle training so that you don't bulk up. There's a whole science behind it.
Q. Nico, you talk about the enthusiasm and motivation of the people in the factory - how much time do you both spend at the factory?
NR: I live in Monaco, so I would say once a month I'm at the factory at the moment. I always try and make it a bit of a longer visit when I am here. So for example yesterday I wasn't supposed to be here, but I combined it with an afternoon of walking around the factory and trying to meet everybody, so I definitely put an effort into it. It was nice yesterday, there is a very, very positive feeling in the whole factory. I ask people where they're positive and they say 'I don't know, I just have a good feeling'. They don't all know the numbers from the windtunnel, which is what counts but still there's a very positive feeling that filters through the whole factory at the moment. It pulled up my own hopes actually, it was really nice.
KN: I'm living in Oxford, which is very close to this factory, so I actually spend a lot of time in here, mainly because of the testing ban I think we can use the simulator more here, and I'm using it quite a lot of the time. So in those two weeks I came to the factory nearly every day. The nice thing, like Nico said, I can feel the atmosphere in the factory is very positive at the moment, and when I speak to the engineers or to the mechanics or the truckies, they feel quite positive and excited for the new season. It's always nice to come to the factory.
Q. How useful is the simulator?
KN: Because we have at the moment nearly all the tracks, I'm actually preparing for Malaysia and Australia now. There is a bit of work for this year because of the regulation changes, the cars being changed, so we had to optimise the numbers in the simulator. Now the car in the simulator is pretty much like the real car on the track, so I can use it for set-up work or race simulations, or whatever we want.
Q. How will the 5pm start in Australia affect your preparations for the race?
NR: I didn't know that so that's new to me. Good to know, thank you! I don't think it will change anything at all really. I hope it will make it a bit cooler for us possibly, because last year in Australia it was ridiculously hot for the grand prix. Tomorrow it's supposed to be 36 degrees in Australia, so it's looking pretty hot there at the moment too, but we still have quite a long way to go until then.
Q. You've know got lots more buttons to press and adjust behind the wheel, how much more mental capacity do you now need to get the most out of the car?
NR: That's one of the biggest changes this year. You have a lot more to do on the steering wheel. KERS you don't have to think about when to use it, you use it every lap - it recharges every lap, you use it every lap. It doesn't matter if you have a guy in front of you or not.
Q. But when to use it?
NR: Just on a long straight, I guess. But it really does give a driver a lot to do every lap. Let me just list a few of the buttons: there's the diff, there's the KERS, there's the (front wing) flap, there's brake balance which you need to be checking and changing from one lap to another...
KN: We need to check the number on the flaps, the radio...
NR: The radio, the drinks... there's a lot going on. And I just sat in my father's car downstairs, and there's the steering wheel and a gear lever, and that's it!
Q. Nico, going back to your contract and the need to be in a winning team in 2010, that doesn't give Williams a lot of time to show what it can do before you start to hammer out your contract? Presumably Williams have to convince you pretty quickly?
NR: I don't really want to go into that at the moment because I'm not thinking about that at the moment, I'm just really focused on getting the best out of the beginning of the season, making the best of the new car, and also because it's a fascinating time - I'm very interested in technical things - and with the new rules there are so many possibilities coming in, and things you need to understand and give ideas to. It's a really interesting time, so that's really my focus, and then we'll see about the rest. But I'm confident that they're going to give me a good car.
Q. Who will be at an advantage thanks to the rule changes?
NR: I don't think it will make a difference so that one driver will be more happy than another. The importance of the driver is still very much the same as last year, it's not become more important or less important.
Q. But it sounds like intelligence and versatility are going to be more important with all the different things you've got to do in the cockpit?
NR: Intelligence has always been a part where you could make a difference as a driver. It's not the most important thing, but you could really make a difference. What is intelligence? Awareness of what's going on, quick thinking, having good thoughts and being creative when you're driving - that's what you'd put under intelligence, I guess. It definitely helps and it helps a little bit more this year because there's a lot you can do. If you have an aware mind, you can make a difference.
Q. So if intelligence isn't the most important thing, what is?
NR: Talent. The combination of hand-eye co-ordination, feeling what's fast and what's not fast, and understanding what is the fastest way to get from A to B and how to make that happen.
Q. That sounds like intelligence...
NR: No, it's an ability. You don't say Federer is intelligent because he plays tennis well, do you? It's a capability.
KN: I think we need everything as a driver, including intelligence.
Q. Is feel still as important with these cars?
NR: Feel is always important when driving a racecar, definitely.
Q. Some drivers have said that the width of the front wing is going to see more of them flying off at first corners. Will that change how you race wheel to wheel with people? Will you have to be more cautious?
KN: I think we just have to get used to the difference. I'm sure at the beginning of the year the accidents can happen more. We need to be a bit more cautious in the beginning, but I'm sure everybody can get used to it. I don't think we'll need a long time. Hopefully...
Q. How's the car in the wet with the reduced downforce?
KN: I didn't really drive the car...
NR: He tried to...
KN: I just did one lap.
NR: I managed to spin on an out-lap so that was my most successful moment of the winter... Driving in the wet was a disaster because the tyres didn't work. But the temperatures were very low, so we just have to wait and see how they do work once we get to better temperatures.
Q. Nico, I appreciate that you're committed to Williams, but it's also clear that there's an impatience in you to get back to the front and racing with people like Lewis Hamilton again.
NR: I'm not impatient. It's the way it is, you make the best of it, and the time will come. Some drivers take longer than others to get to the top. You also need to be in the right car at the right moment and have a bit of luck, and at the same time show that you're good enough to get a top car.
Q. Have you ever questioned your ability while in uncompetitive cars?
NR: Last year was a good experience for me, for example. Because it's not an easy thing - you come to a racetrack and you know that you can drive as fast as you want and as good as you can, and you're nowhere. That's not an easy thing to come to grips with. But it was another important learning curve for me, to understand how to handle that and not let it pull you down, so that every time you go out there you still get the best out of what you have. And I think I managed to do that pretty well last year. I'm going to give it my all to get there as soon as possible.
Q. What is your position on the superlicence debate?
NR: I'm sure that Kazuki would love to answer that...
KN: That's a difficult question. I'm part of the GPDA and I agree with all of what they are doing and what they were doing. The last time we decided to sign the superlicence and that's what we had to do. I will follow (the GPDA). That was all the drivers' agreement. Nothing more than that. No comment.
NR: Don't underestimate the strength of us drivers all sticking together. The sport needs us. All of us. Don't underestimate us.
Q. Kazuki, as a Japanese driver, what do you feel about the potential absence of Honda?
KN: For the Japanese Formula One fans it's really a shame and everybody will miss Honda because they had really big achievements in the past. But I think because of the situation it was an unavoidable decision. Maybe they will come back later on, who knows. It's really a shame but we can't really change anything.
Q. Do you have any concerns about Toyota's commitments?
KN: I think Toyota has got really strong aims. They are the new people in F1 so I hope that they will not finish Formula One before they achieve something. That's my opinion as a fan. But with the situation at the moment, I think it's really on the edge. You never know what's going to happen.
Q. If you beat Toyota, you won't be doing them any favours...
KN: Yeah, but I just do my best. That's what I can do. I cannot care for anything else.
Q. What are you going to do with all these extra days when you're not going to be testing?
NR: I have applied to university because I don't know what to do with my love, so I'm going to study. No, I'm just kidding.
Q. Would you like to be in the car more?
NR: The funny thing is I've come to this sport I want to drive racing cars, and that's the smallest part of my job - driving racing cars. For the whole season I'm only driving on race weekends, and on race weekends there is no driving. We have two little practice sessions on Friday, a very small one on Saturday, a couple of laps in qualifying, one lap on each run which makes for four flying laps in the whole of qualifying, and then the race. That's it. That's all I do driving-wise, even though I'm here to drive racing cars. But that's the smallest part of my job. Which is not really great, but anyway.
Q. Have you talked to the team about the financial situation?
NR: The current news is the Royal Bank of Scotland thing, which has opened many people's eyes and made them say 'woah, Williams are in trouble'. I didn't know anything about it until this morning when I read it in the paper, and it says that the contract was finishing in 2010 anyway and they're not going to renew. So for me it was like 'where's the problem?' We have two more years of great sponsorship from them and then we have loads of time to look for a new sponsor. It's a normal thing in F1 that sponsors come and go. They've been with us for a long time and then after that - which is miles away anyway - there'll be a new sponsor on the car. I don't see it as a concern at all.
Of course it's unfortunate for us because RBS was a great sponsor and we had a great partnership with them. But it's not a huge concern at all. And also I think the team is financially very healthy at the moment. It was even before the rule changes came in to save costs, and it's now definitely more so since the rule changes have come in. So there's no concerns at all from that point of view at the moment, which is something that's very positive for us. You can see that when you walk around the factory. Yesterday I was in the aero department and it was absolutely packed - at 6.30 in the evening there wasn't a single seat free in this huge building, everybody was working flat-out. I don't think money is going to be what stops us from having great success this year, that's the fundamental point. Of course if you have more money available the chance that you can produce that winning car is going to be a little bit higher. But it's not going to be what stops us this year from making a winning car.