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Exclusive: Red Bull's Vettel on testing, KERS and 2009 19 Dec 2008

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 18 November 2008. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 18 November 2008.  
Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB4. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday, 17 December 2008. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB4. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday, 17 December 2008. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB4. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday, 17 December 2008.

Red Bull have enjoyed a fantastic series of test sessions over recent weeks, with their drivers consistently topping the timesheets, despite the absence of veteran racer Mark Webber. One was the team’s new star signing Sebastian Vettel. The German youngster was satisfied with his form, but remains well aware that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the 2009 season…

Q: Sebastian, Red Bull Racing enjoyed excellent form at the year’s final Jerez test, although on your first day you went off track twice and tester Sebastien Buemi clinched the top spot twice. What happened?
Sebastian Vettel:
Well, actually my first test day was a bit rough. Nothing special happened, but we were just struggling a bit to find the right balance all day long. It was not a case of black or white, meaning we haven’t been able to pinpoint the problem to a specific part. It was just one of those test days when things do not work out the way you would expect. But overall, when you look at the latest tests - Barcelona, the first Jerez test last week and now this week’s session - the Red Bull cars are running a slightly quicker configuration than the others and, yes, Sebastien Buemi did a good job. Of course he had a lot of practice last week with the Toro Rosso car and I was probably a little bit rusty - but obviously my second day put the record straight again.

Q: How much of the 2009-spec has been on the car this time? In Barcelona it was just slick tyres and more downforce?
Again it was the slick tyres - that was the most visible ’09 attribute. Apart from that, we had some little parts for next year, but nothing big. Our philosophy is to wait for next year’s car to be completely ready. After we have launched it, we will test it. Downforce-wise we were running something similar to what we expect to have next year, but we are definitely not testing new wings like BMW or Williams are doing.

Q: What is your experience of the slick tyres - especially the soft ones? Some drivers have reported that they lose grip too quickly…
At the moment it is difficult to take a proper reading. For sure it will be challenging as the grip next year will be slightly higher, especially at low speed, but then you are cutting down on aerodynamics. We will have to wait and see. The last tests were done under uncommon conditions for Formula One. At the last Jerez test, we had four degrees ambient and three degrees track temperature - so the experience didn’t really tell us that much.

Q: What is the KERS situation at Red Bull Racing? Some months ago, there was an issue at the Milton Keynes factory, but since then it has become quiet regarding this new technology…
The people back home are working very hard - not only for KERS, but for the development of the whole ’09 car. Obviously, this year we will not be able to run it anymore - so we will start to test it in over the forthcoming weeks. We get our engine supplied by Renault so we will also get KERS supplied by them.

Q: What is your opinion of KERS? The heavier drivers say it is a disadvantage for them weight-wise, some see it as too cost intensive and others fear it is not safe…
I don’t know. I don’t know how it feels, as I have no experience with it at all. I spoke to Nick (Heidfeld) and to Christian Klien and it seems quite funny the way it works and the way it reacts. I was quite surprised listening to their stories. For next year, my personal concern to be honest is the safety aspect of this system. Will it be safe enough to race? For a team racing with KERS the expectations are clear - it has to be quicker and it has to be one hundred percent reliable. But I think there is one thing that people underestimate at this stage: is it safe enough? We are a little over three months away from the start of the season, and now we are heading into the winter break. Then the teams will bring out their new cars and start testing again - and time is running short. My concern is that so far no one has had a real thought about safety. As I said, it has to be quicker, it has to be reliable, but under any scenario it has to be safe for us drivers - and all the people working around the car. Safety is the one thing I am afraid of the most right now. Hopefully the teams will improve that safety aspect and the FIA will take care of it as well.

Q: As a driver, what’s your opinion on the new cost-saving measures for 2009 onwards?
Well, it is not the easiest time we are facing right now, but everybody is sitting in his box trying to race and get the most out of it. The biggest impact for a driver I would say is the in-season test ban, as you will be able to change things only during test time on a race weekend. We will be much more reliant than now on simulation and R&D. How efficiently you use all your programs off track will become more decisive, as will how good you are as a driver in listening to the engineers. For sure there will always be a gap between big teams and small teams, that will not change.

Q: Red Bull Racing will not test in January and that will leave a little over six weeks before you depart for the Australian Grand Prix. The saying goes - if you don’t get it right in winter, you have to learn it on race weekends…
Yeah, the time that you can spend on the track will obviously become much more important, as it is very limited. So Friday and Saturday will become even more important than they are now as it is the only time to try something new on the car. It is too early to judge how this will work out and how we will look next season.