Exclusive interview - Christian Klien 23 Nov 2007
Having been a Formula One regular since making his debut for Jaguar in 2004, it is easy to forget Christian Klien is only 24 years-old. After leaving his test and reserve role at Honda, Klien is ready to move back to racing and is one of several drivers vying to grab a cockpit for the 2008 season.
Following his successful test with Force India in Barcelona last week, we caught up with the Austrian to discuss his hopes for the coming year
Q: Christian, after one year as test and reserve driver with Honda, you are now seeking a regular cockpit for 2008. A difficult task?
Christian Klien: Being the test and reserve driver for the Honda Racing F1 Team was a great experience. But when I realised that Jenson (Button) and Rubens (Barrichello) would continue as race drivers in 2008, I decided to focus on finding a race drive elsewhere. Not because I do not regard Honda highly, but because the new testing regulations severely limit the mileage the third driver can do, and that means after two years of testing, you will have done so little driving it makes no sense for me. One year of testing was enough - I need to race. Honda is a great company and the team has enormous potential, particularly given the talent there - which now, of course, includes Ross Brawn. Honda deserves to win, and I would like to race for them in the future if the opportunity arose.
Q: With most of the 2008 cockpits gone, where do you see your biggest chances?
CK: There are only 22 F1 race drives available, so there are always more drivers than seats. But because I am only 24, yet have three years of F1 racing and one year of F1 testing behind me, I am fortunate in having youth and experience on my side - so I am talking to all the teams with opportunities. I know what I can do and so far, I have the opportunity to test for Force India - and that went well.
Q: How many teams are you hoping to test for over the winter?
CK: I do not have a target to test for as many teams as possible - I only have a target to focus on racing and having the support of a team that will allow me to show my ability without restriction.
Q: At your resent test for Force India in Barcelona, you achieved the best time of all three drivers testing for the team, even going faster than Adrian Sutil, who is very familiar with the car. That must have gone down well!
CK: The Force India test in Barcelona was satisfying, and naturally the lap times told one part of the story. But even more important is the fact that I enjoyed working with the team and believe I can bring them more than speed - I have four years of experience including two years with manufacturer teams, Jaguar and Honda. I also think that while being quick on one lap is important, it is only one part of the equation - consistency over race distances is vital and on the longer runs I was competitive too. That's where the results can come from. At Jaguar and Red Bull Racing, for example, I had strong race performances, such as in 2006 in Monaco where I was running in front of DC (David Coulthard) and heading for the podium before the gearbox broke. A team like Force India needs performance, yes, but also finishes and points. You need speed and reliability in both the car and the driver.
Q: How relevant was the time? Were the three of you on different programmes?
CK: The lap times achieved during the Force India test were relevant, of course! We had fixed numbers of tyres, the correct opportunity to show what we could do. It was very professionally run, and I enjoyed it a lot particularly as the car was running to 2008 electronics regulations - my first chance ever to drive an F1 car without traction control. It means you have to concentrate more, balance the car exiting corners to get the right grip, but that comes naturally. It's not an issue.
Q: Force India co-owner Dr Vijay Mallya was present at the test and was so impressed by your performance that he invited you for another drive in Jerez
CK: Vijay Mallya's presence at the test was good to see - he seems to have great determination to work with the team management to make the right decisions for the future and to properly evaluate drivers. The team's decision to invite me back to test in Jerez is good news, but I don't read anything into it other than the fact I have done a professional job so far. The team is at the start of a new chapter in its history, and I am happy to be part of the new story. I think we'll surprise a few people in F1 if we work together - a young, motivated team with fresh investment and determination to show that it can continue the good work it started in 2007.
Q: With cockpits a scarce commodity, Force India can hold a real shoot-out to try to get the best available driver. Former Toro Rosso racer Vitantonio Liuzzi and ex-Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher are just two of the possible contenders. Is it a stressful task?
CK: If Force India chooses to develop a shoot-out I will do whatever I am asked to do, give it my best and not worry about the other drivers. When I was winning in karting, Formula Renault and Formula Three - against other current F1 drivers - I never worried about them, just the challenge of making the car work properly and racing well. So much in racing is about the equipment you have and the people in the team supporting you, so when you have an equal chance it's easier to show what you can do
Q: If a regular Formula One cockpit is not available for next season - what is your plan B?
CK: I am not thinking about a plan B, just a plan A - to race in F1. There are drivers in F1 at the end of their careers, other drivers at the start, others in the middle. Times have changed. Teams need young quick drivers with a future in the sport, and preferably with good experience too. I have raced drivers like Lewis (Hamilton) and Nico (Rosberg) and I feel we represent the new generation of F1 - so that's my plan!
Q: When do you expect to hear about Force India's decision? Have they indicated a time frame to you?
CK: The management at Force India will make their decision when they are ready, and I am sure there are several factors involved. I do not know their deadline, but in the meantime, I am very happy to be part of their programme and to have the opportunity to work with the team at an exciting time in its development. My job is to give 100 per cent to whatever task they set me, and that's all I can do.