Wickens Embracing F1 Reserve Driver Role Canada’s Robert Wickens has enjoyed a hectic July – kick starting the month with another double-header outing competing for Carlin in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, part of the ‘World Series by Renault’ event program, before going on to attend the British and German Grand Prix in his role as a reserve driver with the Marussia Virgin Racing team in Formula One.
A busy month draws to a close with this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the 11th round of the 2011 Formula One World Championship. Wickens, who currently sits second in the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series – just four-points off the lead, will again be attending as part of Marussia Virgin Racing.
The 22-year-old from Toronto took time out prior to heading to Hungary to review his season to-date and his opportunities within Formula One now that he is a reserve driver:
Q: With the ‘World Series by Renault’ enjoying a summer-break, what stands-out from your season to-date?
Robert Wickens (RW): “I think there have been a few moments that stand out for me. Being able to get my first win of the season in Spa was a great feeling while being on the podium in Monaco was pretty good as well. Nurburgring was very close to a perfect weekend scoring my second win of the year. I’d also say driving the Lotus Renault GP Formula One car in Budapest was good fun and a great prize for leading the championship at the halfway point.”
Q: With various routes to Formula One in Europe, how important is success in a series such as Formula Renault 3.5 to validate your open-wheel racing credentials?
RW: “This year is extremely important for me. I’ve finished second in my last two seasons – in the GP3 Series and F2 respectively, and now I have my foot in the door of Formula One being a reserve driver for MVR (Marussia Virgin Racing). I feel like I need to prove that I can win a championship again.
“A series like Formula Renault 3.5 is well regarded and can be traced as being a final step before Formula One. I’ve put myself in a good position to win and I just have to run the final six races the way I started off the season!”
Q: You were announced as a reserve driver for the Marussia Virgin Racing F1 team in June just prior to the Canadian Grand Prix. How was the news received in Canada and just what was it like for you attending that race in an official capacity?
RW: “Being named as an official reserve driver was a big deal to me. I’ve worked my whole career to be in Formula One, being the reserve driver has gotten me that much closer to a race seat. With the announcement being made prior to the Canadian Grand Prix just made the whole experience that bit more memorable. The Canadian fans are so enthusiastic for Formula One – it was great to take it all in as a fellow Canadian. Hopefully next season they can be cheering for a Canadian on track!”
Q: You’ve subsequently attended F1 races in Spain, Great Britain, Germany and now you’re heading to Hungary for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. What’s your key function during the course of a race weekend with Marussia Virgin Racing?
RW: “Basically I’m just there trying to take in as much information as possible. I sit in on all the debriefings to listen to what Timo (Glock) and Jerome (D’Ambrosio) have to say about the car. Being the reserve driver is a huge learning experience for me and I’m just trying to gather as much information as I can to ensure that I’m as prepared as possible incase I do get a chance to drive. I’m also kept busy with certain non-race obligations such as media appearances and sponsor visits.”
Q: How closely do you actually work with key team personnel and the race drivers throughout the weekend?
RW: “I’m very close to the engineers and directors of the team. I’m probably even closer with the race drivers. Both Timo and Jerome have been surprisingly welcoming to me and the whole team has really made me feel at home.
Q: Has anything surprised you with regards to the workings of a Formula One team during a race weekend? With the level of access you now enjoy behind the scenes, how prepared are you for potentially graduating into Formula One?
RW: “I think as every weekend passes I’m feeling more and more at home here in Formula One. At first it was definitely a culture shock, but I’m now confident that if I had to be put in the car during a race weekend I’m now much better prepared than if I had not had these opportunities as a reserve driver. There’s always the opportunity to learn though, so until I get my chance I’ll just try to make the most of the opportunity I have in front of me.”
Q: There have been stories lately of team’s interested in resurrecting in-season testing. For someone in your position, no doubt that would be attractive in potentially allowing seat-time and an opportunity to showcase your ability in Formula One?
RW: “Absolutely! I really hope they can bring back any form of in-season testing. Any chance you get to drive a Formula One car the better off you’ll be as a driver. These cars are incredible in every way. The cornering speeds and braking efficiencies are truly amazing and you simply want as much time behind the wheel as you can get!”
Q: What are your personal thoughts on this season’s Formula One championship? Are you a fan of the likes of KERS and DRS?
RW: “I think KERS is pretty cool. The idea of it is very interesting and that’s why I think it’s a good fit for Formula One. Personally I think that the DRS is a little artificial. It almost works too well. When you see an aerial shot of a car passing with DRS the speed difference is crazy. Sometimes it’s almost 20kph difference. Maybe DRS ended up working better than expected!
“At the end of the day though, they brought KERS back and DRS to try making more overtaking possibilities and it’s done just that. The best part of 2011 in my opinion has been the Pirelli tires. It’s made more overtaking chances than both KERS and DRS. It’s been putting people on the edge of their seats because some races have gone undecided until that last lap due to different strategies!”
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