Exclusive interview - Christian Klien 17 Nov 2006
Honda's latest recruit on his goals for 2007 and beyond
Being a Red Bull driver always had its advantages - the fashionable paddock image, the cool parties, the outstanding marketing events. No surprise then that some felt more than a little for a pity for Christian Klien when his relationship with the team suddenly ended earlier this year. Undeterred, however, the Austrian refocused his energies and secured a Honda deal for 2007 - a deal which may yet get him back on the grid
Q: Your target was obviously to stay in Formula One. You succeeded by signing a test and reserve driver contract with the Honda team. Satisfied?
Christian Klien: I am delighted to be working with the Honda Racing F1 Team. For some time it has been my goal to work with a manufacturer team and Honda has an incredible history of achievement in Formula One as well as being a team capable of winning the world championship. I had already decided that, whether racing or testing, the right thing was to move up the field and into a winning team. That has been achieved and I am very happy that Honda recognized my capability after three years in Formula One.
Q: The negotiations were going on for quite some time with the Honda management. What were the key reasons it took so long?
CK: Any negotiation takes time but in reality this has happened quite quickly because I only left Red Bull Racing in Monza and two months later I am with Honda. There were not really any issues, just the normal amount of time taken to understand Hondas priorities and of course present my capabilities to them. It has been a very positive experience and Honda has been extremely professional to deal with.
Q: Test and reserve driver might not sound so fantastic a job, but looking back at the 2006 season, the promotions of Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica, Pedro de la Rosa and Alexander Wurz have shown that this position is by no means a dead end. Is your long-term aim to win back a regular seat?
CK: Of course I want to race and to win for Honda at an important time in its Formula One programme, but I am realistic to understand that, whether racing or testing, the only thing that matters is to be with a winning team and to do the best job possible. If I do my job, the future for me racing in Formula One remains bright and I am committed to giving Honda my full support on a long-term basis. This is a fantastic opportunity for me.
Q: Hondas form followed a steady upward curve in the second half of the 2006 season, so frequent podiums may well be on the cards next year. Where do you see your contribution in the teams development?
CK: After three years with Jaguar Racing and Red Bull Racing I have a lot of experience in the car development work, including suspension, aero, engine, tyres and the other critical areas that effect performance. I also know all the F1 tracks so it means I understand the characteristics that the car must have if it is to be competitive. That means I am not a test driver learning about F1 - I am bringing my experience and speed to help to help push Hondas programme forward. We do not have time to waste!
Q: When will you join the team and how hungry are you to get back into the cockpit again after your enforced break?
CK: I will join the team immediately and of course I am looking forward to getting into the Honda F1 car for the first time and understanding how it performs. First, however, I have to concentrate on getting to know the team, to understand how it works and what they expect from me. Driving the car is only one part of the process.
Q: With Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, you will be working alongside two of the top names in the paddock. How familiar are you with them and the team management?
CK: I am looking forward to working with both Jenson and Rubens as they have a lot of experience and are very quick drivers. It will be a good opportunity for me to contribute to their programme by working hard in the testing and development areas that require my input. I know the drivers a little, but I am sure we will get to know each other a lot better in the coming months. I know some of the senior management at Honda, especially Gil de Ferran whom I dealt with during the negotiations, and I am really looking forward to working with them. I can already see how professional the team is so it will be great to start working with them.
Q: And looking back, your departure from Red Bull three races before the season end came as something of a surprise, especially as you have been with Red Bull for many years. What were the reasons for the frictions that finally led to your being released from your contract?
CK: My departure from Red Bull Racing was only surprising to outsiders. I was not released, I simply decided not to take their offer to race in America because I wanted to stay in Formula One, and so we agreed to part company. Mr Mateschitz and Red Bull have given me fantastic support over many years, but once it became clear that my only option to remain in Formula One was to move to another team it was not a difficult decision to make. I have a good relationship with a great many friends inside Red Bull, but now my allegiance is to Honda and to making their goal of winning the world championship a reality. Changes of team happen during any career and this one was no different. Its a normal procedure.
Q: Were any of the North American series ever an option for you?
CK: There was a proposal put to me concerning racing in America, but my career commitment is to Formula One and so it was never a serious consideration. I had so much support that I felt confident I would secure a drive. I know that I can do it, and thankfully Honda recognized my capability and determination.