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Spyker's Winkelhock on life as a reserve driver 27 Apr 2007

Markus Winkelhock (GER) Spyker Test Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The reserve driver may spend most of his time quietly in the background, but it’s important that he’s there if needed. It only takes one of the two race drivers to hurt his back after an awkward bump over a kerb - or maybe suffer a stomach upset - and the third driver will get the call.

Surprisingly, some teams still don’t bring a third driver along to Grands Prix weekends, but Spyker has learned from experience gained during the Jordan days. Over the years, and for a variety of reasons, the team called upon test drivers Ricardo Zonta, Timo Glock and Zsolt Baumgartner, all of whom got to race when they were not expecting to.

Markus Winkelhock joined Spyker last season, and was the Friday driver in Melbourne, Bahrain, Hockenheim and the Hungaroring. Those outings gave him a valuable insight into how a race weekend unfolds.

“I learned a lot,” recalled Winkelhock. “I learned how to work with the team and the engineers, and that’s really important in F1, to give feedback and so on. I learned how to handle the car, and what driving style you need for an F1 car.

“It’s very important that you learn really quickly, because you don’t have so much time. And I think I’m a driver who can learn very quickly to work with the car and learn new tracks, things like that. I only did four Fridays, but it was very valuable.

“And it confirmed that the place that I want to be is in F1. For sure the target for 2007 was to get a race seat, but it’s not easy to get a good package, and a lot of things have to be perfect. But I’m quite happy with the way things are at the moment.”

Of course, under the 2007 rules there is no longer an extra third car on Fridays, and while teams have the option to run a test driver on Friday in place of one of the race drivers, thus far Spyker has preferred to let Christijan Albers and Adrian Sutil maximise their weekend mileage. That means Winkelhock has had to watch every session from the pit garage. It’s a frustrating situation for any driver.

“It’s not easy for a race driver if you see the others running on television and you are standing in the pits,” he explained. “But at the end of the day I know what I’m doing here, and what my job is. I’m the spare driver and the test driver. Maybe I will get an opportunity to drive a bit more, and I hope that I will get some Friday tests this year, although we don’t know exactly which races yet.”

Winkelhock isn’t wasting his time on race weekends, however. When the cars are running he’s listening to the team radio communications, and after sessions he attends all team meetings and debriefs to listen to what’s being discussed. All the time he’s gathering data that will be useful if he races at the same tracks in the future.

“I’m learning quite a lot, as I’m in all the meetings,” explained the German 27 year-old. “I’m in the background, but I know exactly what’s going on, and again I’m learning how to work with the team. So if I would get an opportunity, I know how to work. It helps a lot.”

He can see that Spyker has made a step forward this year.

“Absolutely. The team is working really hard, and with Mike Gascoyne we have a really good technical boss. All the guys are looking forward. It will be a difficult year, because you cannot change a team over one winter, but we are going step by step in the right direction.”

Winkelhock hasn’t done a lot of driving this year, and thus far his only experience of the 2007 car was a run at Silverstone in February, although he expects to have another go soon.

Aside from his Formula One running, Winkelhock’s only race last season was a Porsche Supercup event at the Nurburgring, and inevitably he’s keen to get out and have another go in something. However, he currently has no firm plans.

“No, not at the moment,” he revealed. “I’m looking to do some races, maybe the Le Mans 24 Hours, or something like that. But I have to be at all the Grands Prix, so there is no time to do another championship.”

He might not be driving much, but he’s keeping fit: “I do a lot of fitness training, and I try to keep my body as fit as possible, but anyway driving and training are very different. But I don’t think there will be a big problem on that side if I was to get an opportunity.”

Winkelhock is part of a new wave of young German drivers to have come along in the slipstream of Michael Schumacher. Williams driver Nico Rosberg and of course Spyker’s very own Adrian Sutil have recently followed in the footsteps of Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher and BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, while Sebastian Vettel, Timo Glock and Michael Ammermueller are among those knocking on the door as test drivers.

“At the moment it’s quite a big fight for young German drivers to get into F1,” explained Winkelhock. “Michael (Schumacher) has gone, all the young guys are coming up, and there’s a big fight! I think it’s difficult now because the fans have enjoyed a lot of good results from Michael, and they’ve got used to having a winning German driver. But to win a race or a world championship is really something special - it’s not easy."

Meanwhile Winkelhock is in the strange position of getting his big chance only if one of the race drivers suffers a misfortune.

“It’s strange, because you don’t wish anything bad on someone,” he reflected. “But on the other hand I would be very happy if I would get an opportunity!”