The new car gives you some very different sensations to the previous one, but in some ways, it’s not so different in terms of what you feel when driving. The car is heavier so you slide a bit more and the tyres are bigger, which changes visibility from the cockpit. The car is also stiffer, but it’s still a Formula 1 car that you have to drive on the limit and that feeling stays the same.
Every area of the car has changed in terms of what you have to get used to: on the aero side there’s a lot to understand, how the underside of the car performs now and the new tyres. So, it is very complex and at this stage there are still a lot of questions concerning how to make the car work as well as possible. These are things we will continue to work on at the first few races of the season, starting this weekend.
I think with the new cars, it is easier to follow another one closely. At the Bahrain test I had a nice little fight with Lewis for six laps and it was interesting to see how the car behaved and also how the tyres felt while following another car, how much you slide. Overall, I think it will be easier to fight and to overtake than in the past, which is a really good thing.
Within the team, the atmosphere is very good but there’s a lot of work to do to understand these new cars and there’s lots to learn. Our mentality is still the same, to do the best we can, but it’s too early to say if the car will be good enough to give us as good a season as we had last year. This year, Yuki will be able to bring a bit more to the team as he has more experience, he will contribute more in terms of technical feedback and so we have a strong line-up. It will be up to the two of us to get the job done and bring home as many points as possible for the team.
We start the year in Bahrain, where I have gone well in the past. I’m ready and excited to get going. Of course, we have to be open minded in terms of what we can expect. One topic of winter testing has been the “porpoising” that affected all teams. From our side, the situation regarding this was already much better in Bahrain than in Barcelona, so it’s one thing we still need to work on, as it’s definitely not a nice sensation and it shakes your head around, but I’m not too anxious about it. We seem to be working in the right direction. In terms of the track, we know what to expect after three days testing there last week and so we have a clear idea of what we need to work on to have a good race. We have only had six days on track in total and so there is going to be a lot to do, a lot to learn, with the aim of developing the car as quickly as possible.
Yuki Tsunoda: I am looking forward to the season and generally feel much more prepared than Bahrain a year ago. My overall fitness improved a lot from last year and now, just before the start of the season, I feel very different. Last year I didn’t expect anything and I wasn’t fully in control of all the situations. Now I know much better what I have to do to improve myself. I have a clear target and I am more relaxed. I am happy and my mentality is good and ready for the first race.
It’s true that I have to deliver more and reduce the number of mistakes I make compared to last year, but I don’t feel any pressure. I am convinced I can achieve that and I’m not worried about making mistakes. I am just focussing on developing the car through the season with the team and giving them good feedback. I have the confidence to achieve those things now. I will know most of the circuits this time, apart from Singapore and Australia and even though I have driven at Suzuka, it was in Formula 4, so 45 seconds per lap slower than an F1 car!
The car is very different to last year in so many ways, car shape and tyre size. In terms of driving, I’d say the new tyres make the biggest difference, something I’d already noticed at the end of season test in Abu Dhabi. The switch from 13 inch to 18 means the car feels much sharper, snappier in high speed corners but with a bigger range of control through those corners. In the slower corners, with the increased weight of the cars, you are slightly slower. I remember driving the Formula 2 car on 18 inch tyres and I think that experience could be useful now.
It’s still too early to get a clear idea if it will be easier to follow another car. During testing there were a couple of times when I followed another car. I’m not sure what I could say about how much the dirty air was reduced but it did feel easier to follow another car at high speed. But that won’t be the same situation as in a race when you can have a few cars ahead of you and you are surrounded by cars immediately after the start, so we must wait and see.
We did have some porpoising which was one of the limitations in terms of developing the car at the tests, even if it was not a major problem. We know what we need to do to reduce the effect and I’m very happy with the way we are going now. I think our car has potential, but after just six days of testing we can’t say where we are. We will see what happens in Bahrain, where we must just focus on ourselves. I’m in better shape I know how to adapt to a track as quickly as possible, staying calm at all times. I finished ninth on my debut in Bahrain last year, we’ve just had three good days testing at the Sakhir track, so now I’m excited to see what we can do in the race there.