One thousand grands prix – that’s quite a number. From May 1950 at Silverstone to April 2019 in China, Formula One has seen an incredible transformation. What’s it like to be a part of this sport and a participant in such a milestone event?
“It’s great. I’ve been following Formula One for a long time – not since the 50s, obviously – but I’ve been in love with the sport since the early 90s. Reaching 1,000 races for Formula One is very impressive. When they started, I’m sure they didn’t think it would come this far. It’s pretty impressive. It’s going to be a great grand prix in China. I’m looking forward to the event and, hopefully, some good luck.”
What was it about Formula One that first made you a fan of the sport, and how old were you when you began following Formula One?
“I was around seven years old when I really began to follow Formula One. I was watching Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna racing. It was great to watch. My dad was passionate about racing cars, but as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with the sport. It was the look of the cars, the sounds, the speed – I loved all of it.”
When did you transition to just being a fan of the sport to wanting to actually be a part of the sport?
“For a long time in my career, I was driving because I loved it. It was more for fun than thinking, ‘I would make it to Formula One.’ When I won the GP2 Asia Series, that’s when I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ If I could win GP2, which was just one step below Formula One, I knew there could be a good chance there. That’s really when I realized I could make it to Formula One and have a chance.”
There are only 10 teams and there are only 20 drivers. How hard is it to stay in Formula One?
“It’s a tough sport. You need to be on top of your game every year. There are youngsters winning Formula Two every year, and they want to step up to Formula One. Experience is not something you can buy, which is great when you have some. It’s one of the most unique jobs in the world.”
Rich Energy Haas F1 Team is still the youngest team in Formula One, and the Chinese Grand Prix marks just its 65th grand prix. Yet in just four years, the team is battling at the top of the midfield with the Formula One establishment that has decades more experience. How are you doing it?
“The team is doing really well. I remember from day one when we started, I thought we were up to speed. Now from where we are, I see we weren’t up to speed at the time. The team’s been growing year-on-year and we’ve established ourselves as a very strong team. Once again, this year we have a very strong car. We’re here and we’re ready to fight. People have got to count on us because we’re fast.”
How do you see the Haas VF-19 performing in Shanghai following a weekend of two parts in Bahrain, with strong qualifying pace but slower than expected race form?
“Bahrain wasn’t our best showing in terms of race pace. Unfortunately, that was the feeling I had from the Friday of the weekend. We didn’t quite manage to get on top of it. Saying that, I didn’t do much of the race, so it’s hard to judge if what we had done on my car was good enough. I think China’s going to be great. It’s a very different circuit. I think we’ve got some good tools to get ready for China and our testing in Bahrain has been another good opportunity to learn a bit more about what happened in the race there. It has to be tire-usage related because the car is the same as we had in Melbourne and in preseason testing, where we were fast and we were fast again in qualifying in Bahrain. We’ve got the downforce and we’ve got the balance, we just need a little bit more cooperation on the tires. If we can process the information from testing, we should be fine for the race.”
You’ve had three point-paying finishes at Shanghai and all of them came from a top-10 starting spot. It shows how important qualifying is, but it also seems to showcase your talents. Is there something about Shanghai that plays to your strengths?
“Shanghai is a tricky track because it’s very different from the early stages in the year. It’s a front-limited circuit, meaning that the car needs to work well with the front tires. If it doesn’t, then it gets very tricky. Overtaking in Shanghai is not impossible. There’s the long backstraight with DRS helping overtaking maneuvers. In general, if the car is good in qualifying, the race should be quite good too. If not, then in the race you’re going to struggle. If you qualify in the top-10, you should finish in the top-10. If you’re not, then it’s harder. I’ve had good cars in Shanghai, therefore I’ve been able to score points.”