Exclusive interview with Robert Wickens
30 November 2011 – Robert Wickens was the quickest driver for no less than two teams at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver test, making the most of his track time after becoming World Series by Renault Champion. The 22-year-old Canadian chats exclusively with GPUpdate.net.
How did the Young Driver test go for you?
Everything went very well, in my opinion. I had goals for myself to kind of tick off: I wanted to be in the top three with Renault, and I did that, and I also wanted to be the quickest driver on each of the teams and I did that as well. So, all in all, I think I should be proud of what I achieved.
Could you feel a clear difference between the LRGP and Virgin cars?
Every car is different, but there are definitely some subtle and smaller differences between them. To be honest it was what I expected it to be, in terms of differences in performance.
You have some incredible statistics to your name: third in Formula BMW USA in 2005 and Champion in 2006, third in the Champ Car Atlantic series in 2007, runner-up in Formula 2 in 2009 and runner-up in GP3 in 2010. How much of a difference has it made to clinch another title, in Formula Renault 3.5 this year?
I think your latest championship is always the most important one. But something I didn’t really realise until mid-season this year is that the World Series by Renault is the first championship that I have actually returned to for a second season, albeit two or three years later; it was the first time since Formula BMW that I’ve done a second full season in the same series. For all we know, maybe I could have been Champion a lot more if I’d had the opportunity to stick in the same championship for multiple years, like you see some of these drivers do. But the World Series is a very important achievement and, hopefully, I can come off the wake of that and try and get something good for next year.
You have recently been able to enjoy some added publicity, such as contributing to the BBC Radio 5 live commentary team during free practice sessions. Have you enjoyed that?
I’ve had a blast! It’s something I’ve always wanted to try and, from what I’ve heard, I’m not making a fool of myself! I have had a lot of great opportunities along the way. For sure, my career path hasn’t been ideal, but I’ve been lucky to be racing in every season so far in my car career from 2005 onwards – there are some drivers who can’t say the same. I think, if budget was never an option or if I have stayed on with Red Bull (backing, which was terminated at the end of 2009), my career path would have been different. But at the end of the day I’m still on the doorstep to Formula 1 and I think that is all that matters.
Whether backed by Red Bull or Marussia, your career has generally been very impressive thus far. So how do you now go about planning 2012?
To be brutally honest, my goal is to get a race seat in any Formula 1 team. I feel like I’m ready, I’m 22 and there are now a lot of drivers on the grid who I have actually competed against. So I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to join them there. Some things have to come into place to make that a reality, but I’m also working on some other things to make sure that I will be doing something in 2012.
On the last day of the Young Driver test, it very much looked as though you were thrown out of the morning session because Marussia preferred to run Charles Pic. Is that how it felt to you?
I guess the brutal facts are: yes, that’s the case (laughs). I guess they had their own contracts to oblige to and, whatever the reason was, Charles ended up getting my morning, because I was meant to have the full day on Thursday. It kind of just made me work even harder with the running that I had in the afternoon. I think I only did 33 or 34 laps in the afternoon so, considering I didn’t really get out of the car that often – I think I only got out for about ten minutes, once or twice – it was a busy afternoon and I was stuck doing a lot of the Pirelli tyre testing, so we couldn’t really change the car or do that much to it. So the car wasn’t ideally to my liking, in terms of balance, but once in a situation like that all you can do is adapt and try to do the best job you can.
Charles Pic has now been confirmed with Marussia Virgin for 2012, which forces yourself and other drivers to look around at other teams now…
I just focus on my own thing, there’s no productivity on worrying about others. If you just do a better job yourself, you stand a better job of getting something, so I’m just keeping my head down and doing everything I can to try and secure a Formula 1 seat.
The driver market is and has been saturated for a long time this year. Is it best to be in the F1 environment, such as with a reserve drive, or to continue racing in another series?
To be honest, that’s what I’m not sure about right now (laughs). It’s one of those things. I think, if you can get a Formula 1 reserve driver deal with a (race) option on 2013, that is a very good-looking option. To take a year out of racing and being a reserve driver…at the end of the day, I’ve been racing since I was seven years old in karting. I’m pretty sure that, if I have to take a year off racing a car to just driving cars and going on the simulator and stuff, I wouldn’t lose my racecraft.
But, definitely, the more seat time you can get, the better - and you don’t get more seat time than when you are racing. It is definitely a tricky one but there are some options on the table for me, so we have to evaluate some and try to see what the best deal is for 2012.
If it is any consolation, most of the others who took part in the Young Driver test find themselves in a similar situation: trying to squeeze onto a tightly-packed F1 grid.
Yeah, for sure. From what I’ve heard from other people, it’s definitely not the best market to be getting into F1 right now! But I guess that, if it’s an easy fight, it’s not really a fight worth fighting for (laughs)!
The season is now over – do we have a case of train, train, train up to 2012?
Absolutely. I was pleasantly surprised that my fitness was good enough with the Young Driver test, but at the same time I’m not an idiot; I understand that the Yas Marina circuit is probably one of the easiest, as physical fitness goes. But I was pleased that my neck was not a problem anywhere because there are some fairly heavy braking zones – the back of my neck was good under braking during the whole time with Renault and also with Virgin, it was very good.
I was very encouraged by all of my hard work over the winter and this whole summer, getting ready for the opportunity of an F1 test if I won the Formula Renault 3.5 title. I think it went well but on the same token I think I know that my training is working, so I am just going to keep going in that direction and work as hard as possible.