Robert Kubica had his first taste of the Renault R31 at Valencia today.
Afterwards AUTOSPORT heard his thoughts on both the car and the major regulations changes for 2011.
Q. For the last two years, the first day of testing for you have not been so good. How does this year compare?
Robert Kubica: I think last year's first day of testing was actually very good. It didn't look good on the timesheet but feeling-wise we were looking quite optimistic. Today was quite a different day because of a few car issues that we had this morning, and the main difference was the tyres. So it is very difficult to get the right feeling.
Feeling-wise it is not as good as it was last year but I hope it will be the same feeling for everybody. So we will see.
Q. How hard is it to work out if it is the car's performance, the set-up or the tyres that are causing you the problems?
RK: I think what you have to do is wherever the problems are, or wherever the issues are, you have to solve them. I think tyres are degrading quite a lot here, which has a big influence on the lap times. But today was not really ideal for seeing the lap time and performance, but of course it is always nice to have a good feeling and a competitive car. But we did many laps and we did operate KERS from the beginning, which was working perfectly, and also the rear wing.
So actually there were quite a few positive things where we did not have any issues - which is always good. We had a couple of issues with the car which we hope to solve, and actually we solved them and they could run pretty well.
Q. How did you find it with the new buttons?
RK: I thought I was better prepared! Or let's say, I thought it would be easier. As we don't have the simulator and things like this, I didn't know how it would work. Maybe because the winter was long, and maybe because it sounded quite easy - you have to press two buttons as well as the upshift and downshift and turning the car - but at some places it can be distracting.
It is difficult to combine full concentration on driving and operating with them at 100 per cent perfectly. During the next test and tomorrow it will improve, but maybe we will also have to tune a bit the steering wheel to make it more comfortable, so less concentration is needed to operate it.
Q. Last year the new Bridgestones were comparatively weaker and there was a lot of understeer. Has that characteristic changed with Pirelli?
RK: Last year with Bridgestones? To be honest, I was feeling perfect with it!
Q. But has it changed for this year?
RK: Yeah. This year with Pirelli, generally after a few laps you have very high rear degradation, at least in our case. So the car becomes quite a lot on the nose, and it is normal when you have rear degradation then the car tends to be really oversteery.
Q. Can you sense any potential in this car, with what your gut feeling is?
RK: Not really. Today was really important to find reliability and to see if everything was working well, and out of many things the two most important were rear wing and KERS. Fortunately until now, everything with those two things, they have run very well, so let's hope they will be the same for the test and the races. Then we can concentrate on the other bits.
Q. Do you sense the exhaust layout design is working in a different way?
RK: No, maybe just a different noise and that is it.
Q. With the blown diffuser last year there were issues in ensuring you stayed on the throttle through corners so the exhaust gases kept flowing. Is that required even more this year with your new design?
RK: Yeah. We can feel a bit. Normally after a long winter you go out and you sense you have a lot of power, but actually maybe it is just a feeling which is not right. I think power wise - I think there will be some disadvantages but I don't think they will be that big.
Q. What is your general feeling about the situation over the winter to do with the Lotus name in Formula 1?
RK: Well, I am driving for Lotus Renault GP. And the other team is a Lotus team. That is my opinion and I don't want to go too much into the details to be honest. And I don't know enough information, so that is it.
Q. Nico Rosberg said that with the rear wing it is quite a strange feeling you have when you go into a corner, because you need to trust that it has reattached. Have you had like that?
RK: If it fails, it will be painful.
Q. Can you feel when it has reattached?
RK: No. When it attaches, not really. When it is going or you switch it on, then yes. It is really powerful - I would say even too powerful maybe.
But it is not that power - just that you are doing too many things and especially if you are alone you lose performance if you don't manage to activate it, but if you are racing and in a close fight if, even for a short time you look you are pressing the right button, if something happens in front with the other car it is not good. Especially in the wet - although in the wet we will not be allowed to use it. But definitely, it is something which is distracting you a bit more.
Q. Did you manage to use it when you were behind another car?
RK: Once, yes. The other car was not using it, I was using it...
Q. And did you overtake?
RK: No, no chance. I was not even one second behind but I was using it straight away, so we will see.
Q. What is more powerful - the KERS or the rear wing?
RK: The rear wing, big time. The rear wing is much more powerful than the F-duct ever was because it is stalling the wing - reducing significantly the amount of drag straight away. And the F-duct was more relevant at high speed, but here it is even out of third/fourth gear corners you use it straight away. There will be a big speed delta between qualifying and the start of the race.
Q. What is your assessment of the opposition?
RK: I don't know. I haven't seen them a lot. We were concentrating on our job. We will see - it is really too early to say. I will repeat again the same story - but I still have in my mind 2008. We had the Valencia test at Valencia with some faces [at the team] like we know we will stop racing the day after, because we were really slow. And then one-and-a-half months later we were on the front row in Australia, so things can change very quickly - especially in Valencia.
The track characteristic can be quite strange here, so that is why I am not really looking really for the feeling, as it is really a special track. The many problems you get here you will never get them on 80 per cent of other tracks during the grand prix.
Q. Is the tyre degradation too excessive?
RK: Yes, it's too big. At least if you want to have a five or six-stop race then it is okay, but then we will need more tyres! I am joking.
It really depends on which compound but clearly the situation improves with the harder compound, but it is not a problem of graining it is wear. Suddenly the tyres are gone. You have to really watch because in the races there is always the tendency to stay longer and we have to watch out for safety, because if a tyre explodes that is the last thing you want to see.
Q. So we could have a few races like Melbourne a few years ago, where there were guys lapping five seconds per lap slower?
RK: Yes - it might be that we will have it every race like this! I don't think it will be so bad, and also as I said the Valencia track conditions can be strange. We have been in two extreme conditions - in Abu Dhabi with perfect conditions, after a grand prix and two days of young driver testing with tonnes of new tyres and huge rubber, which you never get. And then we are here with air temperature three degrees and track temperature six degrees, and you get a green track.
So I think the real first test will be Bahrain for the tyres. I hope the situation will be better, but if it is like this it will be challenging - and it will give you something more to think about set-up and how to make the tyres longer. It is something you have to consider seriously and work on it. There are many ways to make the tyres survive and work better with the car.