De Nederlandse versie van dit interview lezen? Klik dan hier.
There is no doubt that this driver belongs on our list of Future F1 Talents. He managed to win three championship titles in three consecutive years. Both friend and foe agree that he deserves a race seat in Formula 1. However, this season he has to settle for the role of test and reserve driver with Caterham. But this nice Dutch guy is up for more, much more. Carla Schot spoke with him about the past, the present and the future.
How and when did you start racing?
My family is not active in autosport. They love sports, but mostly soccer. Although myfather did sponsor a Belcar Race Team in the past. So as a kid I got to go to Belcar races with my dad. I remember attending a sponsor event once where they had kart races. I wanted to participate, but I was only seven years old at the time, so that was impossible. It wasn’t long after that when I first sat in a kart and I just never wanted to get out again.
You have achieved quite a lot in fifteen years.
I started in karts in 1999 and made my racing debut in Formula BMW Europe in 2009 with Josef Kaufmann Racing. That first season I ended up being third in the championship and in 2010 I actually won the championship.
In 2011 I joined the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and won the title on my first attempt. With the prize money I was able to compete in the World Series the next year. And as in 2011, I managed to win the title on my first attempt.
Last year I was a test driver for Sauber. And I also joined the GP2 Series with Hilmer for a few races. Hilmer needed someone to set up the car. It was in Bahrain that I first got to drive that car, but it sure wasn’t a success story. I finished last. But after some hard work with the team, I did win the next race. After that there were a lot of problems with the car and I also had a crash with Sam Bird. In Spa I couldn’t finish the race due to a failed drive shaft. It was a very disappointing weekend, since I had the speed. It was just bad luck.
Facts & Figures
|1999||Indoor Championship Maasmechelen, Belgium|
|2000||6th GIRS Mini|
|2001||Debut GKS Team with Pol Lemmens|
|2nd VAS Championship|
|2002||2nd Belgian Championship Mini|
|1st VAS Championship|
|2003||Promotion Kadet Class|
|9th Belgian Championship|
|3rd VAS Championship|
|2004||Belgian Champion Kadet Class|
|1st Club Championships|
|2nd VAS Championship|
|2005||Promotion Junior Class|
|2nd French Championships/ Best Rookie|
|2nd Belgian Championships|
|2006||French champion Junior|
|2nd Belgian Championships|
|2007||Debut French and European Championship|
|Unlucky year; broken arm and ribs, appendicitis, so very few races that year because of that|
|2008||2nd French Championship|
|3rd European Championship|
|World Championship – starting P34, finished P12|
|Invited by BMW for License Cours in Valencia Aug. 7/8, 2008|
|Entry in Scholarship Qualifying for Formula BMW Europe on|
|Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2008 in Valencia|
|2009||Rookie Champion 2009|
|3rd in Formula BMW Europe Championship 2009|
|2010||Formula BMW Europe Champion|
|6 wins, 13 podiums, 3 pole positions|
|2011||Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion|
|5 wins, 9 podiums, 1 pole position|
|4th in Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup|
|1 win, 7 podiums, 1 pole position|
|2012||World Series by Renault 3.5 champion|
|3 wins, 8 podiums, 4 pole positions|
|Red Bull Racing & Sauber F1 testing|
|2013||Test driver Sauber F1 Team|
|GP2 Series with Hilmer (6 races)|
|1 win, 2 podiums|
|2014||Test and Reserve Driver Caterham F1 Team|
Have your parents always supported your wish to become a Formula 1 driver?
My mum is always afraid that something might happen. Of course, I had a few crashes in karts and she had to follow the ambulance to the hospital. However, she and my dad have always supported me as much as possible. I would not be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for them.
This season you are a test and reserve driver with the Caterham F1 Team. What is it that made you decide to sign a management contract with Timo Gans and Thilo Damm?
I had been with Werner Heinz for three years and was unable to make the progress I was shooting for. Apart from that, the communication was not that great and he mainly focussed on Nico Hülkenberg. It just did not feel good anymore. I had known Timo Gans for a while already. When he worked with Nico Hülkenberg at Williams, Nico always paid a visit to our team because he had driven for Kaufmann in the past. That is how I met Timo. When I was competing in the GP2 series last year we met again in Spa where we had a good conversation on a private level. A few months later, after I had split with Werner, we spoke about a possible co-operation for the first time and later we gave it a go. I am glad to say that I am really happy with the choice I made.
Wouldn’t it have been possible to get a race seat in Formula 1 this season if you had made this move a few months earlier?
I honestly do not know. That depends on so many things. A lot of it comes down to money, which I do not have, so it is hard to say.
Some say it is all or nothing now; this could be your last chance to get a race seat in Formula 1. How do you see this yourself? Do you expect to get enough chances from Caterham to be able to prove yourself?
I do expect to get a few chances from Caterham. I will be doing some Free Practices. I will test a full day in Bahrain. Last year I was a test driver for Sauber. This year I will be a test and reserve driver for Caterham. I do not plan to continue as a test or reserve driver after this season. I will be turning 23 this year and the older I get, the harder it gets. So I might have to consider this as one of my last chances. I am very happy to have Caterham giving me the opportunity to drive that car to show what I am capable of.
Tony Fernandes said he wants to give it a try for just one more year. He does not wish to continue to drive at the back of the grid. You signed a multiple year contract with Caterham. Are you not afraid of the consequences in case he decides to quit or would that perhaps create new opportunities?
I do think about that, of course, but in case he decides to quit, I am confident that there will be someone else who takes over who might also have great plans with me. Anything is possible. I try to focus on this season and the things that are happening right now. As I said before, anything is possible this year.
In the past something you allegedly said about Red Bull Racing caused a lot of commotion. The media surely were all over it. Do you think that incident harmed your career or do you think the whole thing was blown out of proportion?
The latter, for sure. The story that was published contained quotes that were not mine, things I had never said and I was not happy with it at all. It is unfortunate that there are always people who want to take you down by writing things you never said. The journalist who wrote it even was a Dutch guy!?! I was glad to hear that Helmut Marko from Red Bull confirmed the story was completely false.
Do you get media training from Caterham or from your manager?
No. I like to decide for myself what I tell the media. Although I do realise that I have to be careful with that at times. I do not wish to pretend to be someone I am not, but sometimes that it is challenging. Maybe media training is something to consider in the future, but not right now.
Last year, did you ever think: ”This is it. Enough, I quit?” or did you always keep the faith that things would work out for you?
I could never leave the autosport. That is just not an option. Last year when the team couldn’t let me drive due to lack of funds, I did consider driving in the GT series in case I would be unable to live my Formula 1 dream.
What is your training programme like off season and during the season?
There are a few changes coming up, so there is not a lot I can say about it in detail yet. In general, I train less during the season, because as a driver I need to feel good when I get into that car. We train a lot in the winter to stay fit and maintain a certain level. This season the cars are easier to drive. There is less downforce. However, it will be harder mentally, since there is a lot more to do in the car which requires absolute concentration for two hours. Every person and every body is different. Some people have to train 300 days to reach a certain level while others need a lot less time to reach that same level. I am not that tall and mentally I am pretty strong, so that sure is an advantage.
This season you will fully focus on your role as a test and reserve driver of the Caterham Formula 1 Team. You will not be driving in any other series at all. Will you be able to drive enough kilometres? Do you spend a lot of time in the simulator at the Caterham factory in Leafield?
I think I will get in quite some track time. It is hard to say at this stage if it will turn out to be enough at the end of the season. Only time can tell.
I will spend some time in the simulator, of course, but honestly, you cannot compare that to real laps on the track.
Who is your all-time favourite Formula 1 driver?
I watched the movie ‘Senna’ several times. I admire him because he did not shy away from voicing his opinion. He spoke his mind. I like to do that myself, although I have come to be a bit more careful with that. Honesty can cause a lot of trouble, so sometimes it is better to mince words a bit. I know that Bernie Ecclestone also thinks it is a shame that drivers are restricted in what they say because of team orders.
And among the current drivers on the grid, who is your favourite and why?
I think Alonso is the best. It will be interesting to see what will happen at Ferrari this season between Räikkönen and Alonso, because Räikkönen definitely is a very good driver as well. However, I think Alonso is the best both in qualifying and during the race itself as long as he has the right car.
Famous names from the world of Formula 1 expressed their worries on what is going on in Formula 1 nowadays. Money has always been important in Formula 1, but we now hear about pay drivers more and more. Obviously, money was a key factor for several teams in their choice for this season’s driver line-up. It is no secret that you do not bring any money to a team. Every now and then renowned drivers say it is a shame that there is no seat for a talented guy like you. Both Mark Webber and Allan McNish have supported you in the media. How does that make you feel?
It is very nice to hear, especially from people who drove in Formula 1. I consider Mark Webber as one of the legends of Formula 1. He never won the World Champion title, but he drove at the front of the grid for many years. It is great to hear a guy like Webber say good things about me, especially since he is trying to help an other driver, Mitch Evans.
Unfortunately, it does not really help me, because the money issue is always there. It does ruin the sport somehow. People who hardly performed in single seaters do get a seat in Formula 1. If you are a talented soccer player, you will reach the top based on talent and skill. What if I paid EUR 20 million to Barça to get selected. That would be considered wrong, would it not?! Hopefully things will change in Formula 1, but it will not be very soon, I’m afraid.
Which circuit suits you best?
I always perform well at the Hungaroring near Budapest. It is hard to explain why, but I am always on pole there and for some reason I drive really fast on that circuit.
What is the greatest moment of your career so far?
There have been several great moments:
– When I became World Series champion out off all the big names competing like Magnussen, Bianchi and Bird;
– The famous clash with Bianchi;
– The race in Barcelona in the GP2 that I won.
What I really like is controlling a race, so that when in the lead, I get to sort of play with the guy behind me. That is not possible in Formula 1, but in single seaters it is. To pretend that you are on maximum speed, which you are not, of course, and to show them what you have left in that final lap. That is fantastic!
Can we interview you again once you are a Formula 1 world champion a few years from now?
Of course! In case I manage to become a Formula 1 world champion, I hope to remain the same down-to-earth guy I am now.
(Images: Caterham F1 and F1only)