Interview with De la Rosa

The appearance of Pedro de la Rosa's name at the top of the timing screens at the end of second practice in Melbourne did raise too many smiles in the garages of rival teams. They certainly didn't need such an obvious a reminder about the windfall McLaren have earned this year, thanks to finishing fifth in the World Championship last year.

The rule that allows teams to run third cars was designed when there was a 'natural' top four of Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault. Nobody really expected that any of that group would be able to benefit, but BAR's surge up the order last year - ironically assisted in part by Anthony Davidson's Friday efforts - contributed to McLaren dropping into the third driver comfort zone.

The new rules make the Friday driver even more useful than last year. The need to restrict engine miles of the two race cars is obvious, but changes to the tyre regs also mean third cars are priceless.

The team's choice of de la Rosa to handle the testing chores came as a surprise to some, and it seemed logical that old hand Alex Wurz would get the job. But unlike Wurz, Pedro was out running test miles in the 2005 car at an early stage, and the engineers were more than happy to have continuity and have him on hand at the races.

The chance to perform in a top team has come as a lifeline to de la Rosa, who had a frustrating career at Arrows and Jaguar. At neither team did things really fall in his favour, and twice he was left without a job despite having a contract.

Q. You took the quickest time from Michael Schumacher right at the end of the session. Was that a good feeling after two years of testing?

De la Rosa: "Yes it is. It's a strange feeling, first of all. It's nice to be here and have the opportunity to drive a competitive car on a Friday, because it's easier to do a good lap time. But nevertheless, you have to do it. It feels good, especially after two years without racing. The problem we have as test drivers is that you are always testing in the same tracks. You go in Jerez, Barcelona, Valencia, do thousands of laps, and you forget that there are other tracks and you have to adapt to them and learn them. You need to keep the feeling alive, otherwise you just know three or four circuits, and that's it."

Q. How did the day go for you?

De la Rosa: "I'm satisfied especially because we went through the whole programme. It was very ambitious at the beginning, but we actually worked very well on both sets of tyres, achieving two long runs at the end. It's the most important thing, doing a longer run when there's more rubber, and trying to figure out what the degradation on the tyres is. I'm here to help Kimi and Juan Pablo. My job today has been mainly doing long runs, and this will help them pick the right tyre for tomorrow. That's basically it - we haven't been able to do more. The track is changing a lot, it was very dirty to start with and in the first session we did didn't do long runs. We left them for the second session when it was more representative of the race."

Q. You had a moment with one of the Jordans. Was that a little worrying?

De la Rosa: "I thought that he let me go by. I was going and he closed the door, and we just slightly touched. I had to go off and come back. After that the car was OK. I was really worried, because there was a lot of traffic on my long runs. You have to push every lap, because there's no point in long runs doing one slow lap, cooling down the tyres, and pushing again. Then you are fooling yourself. That's why I had to overtake him, and I thought he was letting me by. It didn't work out, but it's no problem."

Q. Was it a surprise to you when Alex Wurz didn't get the Friday job, after all his years with the team?

De la Rosa: "No, I never assumed that it was Alex. I assumed that he was on pole position for the job, because he had been here for a long time. But at the end of the day it's a team decision, and at the end of the day if I get this opportunity it's mainly because I've done a good job in testing, otherwise I wouldn't get it. I'm sorry for him, but there's only place for one. I'm happy to be here and have the opportunity, but I honestly don't know how many races I will do. All I know is I will do the first three, and after that the team will take a decision. I just have to do a good job for them in these few races. And after if it's Alex, good, if it's me, it's better."

Q. Will doing the Friday job help to raise your profile?

De la Rosa: "It's always easier if you're on a Friday than if you're not. It makes you move closer, and they can compare you with other drivers. And all the team bosses are here, the media. I've had really good test days when nobody noticed my laps times. You're testing in a racing environment, and normally you're testing in a testing environment. Team bosses don't go to tests! Still, it's only Friday running, and we shouldn't get too excited about it."

Q. Are you frustrated that people will inevitably say that you're quick because you're on a different agenda?

De la Rosa: "They will always say that. I only have to do what I did in the second session today, which is two long runs on old tyres, and I think that's what we're going to do all year. It's always like that, there will always be guys who say he does more laps than the rest, but you still have to do the lap time!"

Q. How focussed are you on getting back to racing?

De la Rosa: "I'm really not thinking about racing at the moment. I just have to do a good job for the team. And my job cannot be evaluated on Friday, it has to be evaluated at 4pm on Sunday after the race, to see if I have picked the right tyre, and how quick were Kimi and Juan Pablo. If the team is competitive and wins races and wins the championship, I will be very much closer to a race drive, because then my job has been solid and good. But being quick on Friday doesn't mean anything, I wouldn't get carried away by that."

Q. You've driven some bad McLarens in the last couple of years. How good is this car?

De la Rosa: "This car has been quick straight out of the box, we really haven't done much set-up work, because we've been concentrating on reliability. I would say it's competitive. It can be more competitive or should be more competitive in the future when we do more testing. Let's see on Sunday. We shouldn't underestimate Renault, and especially Ferrari. If they're competitive with their old car, then we should be really worried. We're in good shape, but other teams are also. I think it's very open at the moment. I think the only thing we have to do is concentrate on ourselves, pick the right tyre, don't make stupid decisions, and get on with it."
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