MiD DAY caught up with him ahead of the Singapore GP to talk about his season, his future, next year’s sweeping rule changes and, of course, tyres.
It’s been a mixed season wouldn’t you say. You’ve certainly driven some great races on Sundays, but maybe some frustrations in qualifying and then after the new tyres were introduced, a slight dip in form for the team. How would you rate the season?
Yeah, definitely some very good positives in where we started this season. I think the qualifying issues obviously were just down to being a bit unfortunate. I think the decisions when the track was changing, we didn’t get it right as a team. And then obviously with the penalty in Silverstone, it was just a mistake we made and when you run that close to the limit, sometimes it catches you out.
You were linked with some of the bigger teams last year. You had discussions with McLaren, were linked with the Ferrari seat and the Lotus seat this season. So what are your options now and what are you aiming for the next year?
Obviously a lot of the speculation will change given that Kimi is signed with Ferrari, but (I want to) continue in F1 and continue relationships, and (want to) keep my reputation high.
But does it get a bit frustrating? Sometimes when you’ve been linked to the big teams and the call doesn’t seem to come despite your performances on Sunday?
It’s right time, right place. Sometimes it works for people, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m hopefully young enough, whatever that opportunity may be and whenever it arises. I continue to just keep doing what I love doing but equally giving the maximum for the team that I’m representing at that time. I’ve got a good bond with this team and it would be nice to continue the relationship further because I believe that next year would be a good season given what they’ve sacrificed, in terms of development, putting their resources solely on next year.
So the focus now is all on next year?
No, the focus is on the next seven races. The focus will turn to next year when it’s January 1st. I think you need to make sure you continue because that’s what we’ve signed up to do as a team and we’ll continue to give it what we can and we’ve tried to put extra effort in for this race especially to try and judge more where we’re right and where we’re wrong for the future.
As a team, you’ve obviously punched above your weight this season. Do you think you can carry that forward into 2014?
Definitely the strong thing is our reliability. And we’ve had an engine deal secured very early, so you know our design people moved on to the car very early and there’s a lot of work taking place. But obviously it’s a complete new generation of F1 and you would find that out come probably the second or third test next year.
Are you relishing the challenge of next year’s regulations, or are you concerned by the conservation formula we’re heading towards?
Listen, I’m all for noise and fast cars or whatever. But at the end of the day we need to keep the sport actively interesting for the public and for the automotive industry. That’s what keeps the interest, that’s where the future of the automotive industry is going — turbochargers, kinetic energy. As long as the fans get good entertainment, they’re the ones that solely keep the manufacturers’ interest in the sport and that’s what gives us all jobs, equally, from catering staff, to engineers, to mechanics to myself.
Obviously you spent a lot of your time over the winter trying to get the car right for the tyres. Post-Silverstone, it became a safety issue so tyres were changed but do you still feel harddone by the fact that others didn’t get such a good handle on the tyres?
From a team’s point of view, yes, I suppose we feel we definitely maximised what we could out of the tyre we were given. That was the tyre that was allocated for the year. But at the same point, the safety issues — you know we’re very much into the safety issues — and the tyres need to be safe for us to feel 100 percent confident with that and you know it changed for that reason. You can look at it being an unfortunate way, what’s happened, but hopefully we can continue to try and develop this car or understanding the car better to push and try and get the results back on track.
So like you said the focus is on the next seven races. Are you looking at targeting podiums, you’ve come so close this year?
I think podiums will be a bit unrealistic at this point. It may change, maybe not. You’re still being prepared for them but I think more to the point, getting back in the points on a regular basis would be the next step and slowly but surely we’re working our way further up the field.
Going ahead of McLaren in the constructors’ championship is also on the agenda?
It would be a massive goal. It’s a bit unrealistic, I think, at the moment given where they are, but they’re not untouchable. We’ll continue to give it the maximum, we’ll never give up until the last race I suppose.
Was it a surprise that you kept them behind as long as you did given the amount of resources that they’ve got?
We were just punching above our weight. We were doing a good job and credit to everyone around here at the team.
We’re winding down the season, what race are you looking forward to the most from the next run of races?
This (Singapore GP) is a great race. Obviously we’ve got some important Grands Prix coming up with the Indian Grand Prix given we’re Indian co-owned. It’s obviously a big day for us but I think the biggest thing is the results and we treat every race exactly the same, the same points up for grabs and we’ll continue to focus on race by race process and gain what we can out of each opportunity.
And would you say this race is one of your best opportunities, you went well here last year, Monaco was good too.
You could say, yeah, this would be definitely one that we need to try and have a good result at because it would be a good judge to see where we’ve differed from a performance point of view recently from here because we’ve arrived here and tried to replicate what we can from last year.
You said you have a strong bond with the team, but I think there were moments when a little bit of the frustration spilled over into the public domain, I think particularly after qualifying in Canada. There were some comments, critical comments from you after qualifying?
I don’t think they were critical in the sense that they weren’t critical of the team. I think it was more we as a team expected at that point to be making better decisions and in the position we were we should have been doing a better job. Unfortunately, a process slipped and at no point did I blame one individual. We knew at that point that we can have a very strong package and I think we showed that the next day. Whether it’s my driving — I made a mistake at the last Grand Prix — I’ll stick my hand up and say it was my mistake and I think equally the team are very good that way as well. We work as a unit and when we work as a good unit we excel. If we don’t work as a unit we obviously have issues that we try and resolve and I think the balance has been very good this year and we’ll continue to keep doing what we do.
So you are happy?
Yeah, and I think the team’s very happy as well with what we’ve achieved. Nothing has been negative about anything and you can look back and see it’s been an exciting year for Sahara Force India so far.