Di Grassi Q&A: Chance to race in F1 is a dream come true 15 Dec 2009
After competing in GP2 for four seasons and regularly testing for Renault, Lucas Di Grassi has been a familiar face in the Formula One paddock for a number of years. In fact, ever since he won the prestigious Formula Three Macau Grand Prix back in 2005, Di Grassi has been on the radar of many team principals as a young talent to watch. It may have been a long wait but next season the Brazilian will finally make it onto the Formula One grid, racing for the newly launched Virgin team alongside former Toyota driver Timo Glock. Here the 25 year-old discusses his new team, his new team mate Glock and his prospects for 2010
Q: Finally you are a Formula One driver...
Lucas di Grassi: Yes! There has been a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work over the past years and to finally get a race seat this year is a dream come true. It is amazing. I've been in GP2 for a lot of seasons, have had good results and have also tested for Renault for two years. And now I think I am at the best point in my career. At least as best prepared as I can be. So I think to start in such a solid team and with such a good team mate in F1 is a great opportunity for me.
Q: Did you ever doubt this day would come? You were in the Renault family for such a long time
LG: I think the opportunity slipped away a couple of times. I think sometimes for good reasons and I think sometimes for bad reasons. I don't think doubt is the word. I have always worked as hard as I could in every single aspect of my career to try to get the best chance for this day to happen. I always believed. I never stopped pushing. So it has finally arrived. Now it's just at the start of a new challenge for me. So I'm going to be even more motivated and will work even harder to try to cope with F1. Formula One is a different level to GP2. It's a different level from F1 testing. So I have to adapt and Ill have to prepare myself as best as I can to have a long and successful career in F1. That's what I'm aiming for.
Q: Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, has said he doesn't want to spend too much money. Does that make you a bit nervous?
LG: From my perspective, Formula One is getting to a different stage, where a lot of private teams and new teams are coming into F1. And there's the idea of limiting the budget. Also I don't think money and success are completely related. We have seen many teams spend an awful lot of money in F1 and have no results. And at the same time we have seen teams with less money have great results, like last year. And now the regulations are little bit tighter, making parts a little bit more standardised and making the cars a little bit more equal, I think the difference between teams will be smaller between the first and the last place.
Q: What do you think Richards hopes are for next year? Is he expecting Virgin could come in and do a Brawn?
LG: Richard knows what he's doing, and we know it is a big challenge to build a Formula One car from scratch. I think Richard's plans are to enjoy huge success in F1 in the medium to long term. But to be realistic and to be optimistic are two different things. So I think Richard is very realistic on what we can achieve next year. It's very difficult to know until we put the car on track, but to have a huge success in the first year is going to be very difficult.
Q: There are 13 teams in Formula One racing next year, what convinced you to choose Virgin?
LG: Firstly, I think that Virgin is a very solid, multinational company that's not going to come in to the sport to do a bad job. They are entering the sport to do a good job in the medium to long term and they have a solid background. They have built a solid relationship with John (Booth) and with Nick (Wirth). But its not only on the technical side, in every area the team is very, very well structured. So that was the main reason, as well as knowing John for a long time, and knowing Nick. That is the main reason why I chose to come to Virgin, and I hope my relationship with them goes as well as it has already started.
Q: How do you think you will perform against the other new teams next year?
LG: I think our biggest reference for next year will be the new teams that are also building their cars from scratch. But as I said, we have to put the car on track to have an exact measure of where we are. But I'm very confident that Nick can deliver very high standard work.
Q: What's your reference in terms of your driving ability for next year? We had lots of rookies last year - Sebastien Buemi, Romain Grosjean and Jaime Alguersuari - and now youre going to be one. Did you speak to them at all in the paddock?
LG: I've had quite a few team mates, and also people I was fighting with, that have succeeded in F1. I had Buemi as my team mate at ART in 2007, I fought for the title in 2007 with Glock, I fought with Kubica and Vettel in Formula Three in 2005, I fought with Kobayashi in GP2, and I fought with Lewis Hamilton and with Rosberg in F3. So for many years I have at least been at the same level, or had better results, than the guys who are in F1 now. If I had been in Formula One maybe five or four years ago, I would not have had the same chance to have a long career in F1 as I have now, because I'm much more experienced and much more mature than I was three or four years ago. An example of this is Massa, who is a great talent and a great driver. He came into F1 very young and he almost lost his seat in F1 after a year. He went back to be a test driver and after getting more prepared, more mature and more experienced, he came back to be one of the top drivers today. So my aim is to take my career in Formula One step by step, independent of which team Im with. I think I'm starting in a good position to do so.
Q: Have you had to bring backing with you to get this drive?
LG: No. It was never about backing. I'm trying, of course, to bring more companies from Brazil, because as I said the sport is entering a new era. Its an era less about manufacturers and more about companies. So the marketing side is very important. I already have one company coming with me next year - Unilevers Clear. Ill be their ambassador in Brazil. We are working very hard to get as many companies as possible. I still have to do a good job. Ill be in F1 because of my results.
Q: You will be paid a salary?
LG: Yes. I have been hired by Virgin.
Q: You fought against Timo on the track in GP2, how do you feel about working with him now?
LG: Timo finished in the top ten in the championship last year, hes had great results in the past and he is considered a good driver in F1. So hell be a good reference to have. Its much better to me to have a team mate who is considered more experienced than I am in F1, so I can learn from him and I can push myself to try to beat him all the time. I will try to take time to improve the team and to work as a team mate, and I will try to beat him every time we are on the track. So I think it will be a healthy relationship. We will push each other and together we will push the team forward.
Q: Do you think Virgin has a chance if Michael Schumacher comes back next year?
LG: I don't think it has anything to do with Michael coming back or not. I think there are teams that have been there for 50 years building Formula One cars. It's going to be a great challenge to build a car that is very competitive. To build a Formula One car is very, very difficult. And at the same time it is completely relative to what the others are doing. So it's very difficult to know at this stage how the car is going to behave next year. I know the chances of Virgin Racing succeeding will be in a medium to long time, so maybe in three to five years. I think that's the timeframe for a new team to start winning races but we never know. Next year could be a surprise and the best we can do is to prepare ourselves in the best way possible.
Q: How big a risk is it building a completely digitally-designed car?
LG: It is hard for me to say anything. From what I've seen the car looks really good and I hope it's as fast as it looks. But it's difficult to tell until we put the car on track. I believe Nick has done a great job with the LMP1 car that he designed. He produced a very competitive car. F1 is a different level but I think, with the experience and effort he is putting in, he will be able to produce a good car.
Q: You have talked about the teams goals, but what are your personal goals?
LG: As I said, I have a very good team mate. So I will work as hard as I can to match his results. That will be a baseline for me. I will try to improve myself as a driver and learn as best as I can.