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Exclusive Bourdais Q&A: the car feels good, but is it enough? 10 Mar 2009

Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 9 March 2009. Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 9 March 2009. Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 9 March 2009. Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 9 March 2009. Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4 is bought back to the pits on a truck. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 10 March 2009.

With the comparatively late arrival of the new Toro Rosso, it has been a quiet few months for Sebastien Bourdais. All that changed, however, on Monday when Bourdais got his first proper taste of his charge for the 2009 season, the STR4. And after running 85 laps on the opening day of this week’s test at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, the Frenchman was pleased to have escaped any major teething problems…

Q: Sebastien, how does the new car feel?
Sebastien Bourdais:
Well, brand new. Although it’s quite close to the RB5 it’s not a Red Bull, so we are doing all the usual things that you have to do when discovering a new car, like evaluating set-up options and so on. There’s a tonne to do - and we’ve got four days! The pace feels quite strong, and it feels good to run in front of your buddies. But in the end we don’t know who is running on what fuel load, so it is hard to judge. It feels good. But the question is - is it good enough?

Q: The STR3 was a very difficult work place for you. Is the STR4 easier to handle?
SB:
It’s not meant to be easier. With the slick tyres, the cars are meant to be difficult to drive. They increase the front contact patch by 20 percent and the rear by 10 percent, so mechanically the car is the loser. It is not worse than last year, but in terms of its characteristics - between the way the car feels in the high-speed corners and the way it feels in the low-speed corners - it’s still understeering in the high speed and oversteering in the low speed - for the moment at least. From time to time I could even pull it off with the STR3, it‘s all a question of staying within your window. If you do, you’re looking good. If you’re out of your window and feeling really uncomfortable, then you are looking poor. With the slicks there is a little bit more of a margin because these tyres behave better than the old ones. Overall, and with only one day under my belt, I would say that the STR4 is not as difficult to drive as the other one.

Q: It is a little over two weeks before Melbourne, so time is in short supply. Over the remaining test days you cannot run through all the programmes that the other teams already did weeks ago. You obviously have to concentrate on the essentials. What are they?
SB:
As far as the engineers and drivers go, we need to balance the car. We need to optimize the set-up and to make the best use of what we’ve got. Obviously if we get some updates from RBT (Red Bull Technology) then good, if not then we go racing without them.

Q: Are you confident that all the pieces will fall into place and the car will be competitive in Melbourne?
SB:
I am confident that we all are giving our very best, and then let’s see if it is good enough!

Q: It was your first time today with the wide front wing. What was it like to drive with?
SB:
You never see your front wing anyway so it’s no problem. You see 20 metres ahead of you - that’s all you look at. It has no influence on the driving characteristics.

Q: Toro Rosso tested slick tyres quite extensively with the old car during the winter. How did they work with the new car?
SB:
They behaved as they were supposed to. The soft tyre is the one that almost everybody is not that happy about. But it is not the race tyre. They will change it for Malaysia where we will use it for the first time, so there is no point in running it. I think everybody is quite happy with the medium tyres in terms of consistency, so definitely we will see it when we use it in race conditions.

Q: After running for the first full day, did you discover any teething problems?
SB:
We discovered many things - and I’m not supposed to talk about it. We have tried many scans in terms of front wing. Actually the usual things that when you get a new car you use to see what’s working and what’s not. We have run 85 laps, so in the end it was a pretty decent day.

Q: You will be running again on day two. It will be your last try of the STR4 before Melbourne. Will you be working on race set-up before you hand over to your team mate?
SB:
We’re trying bigger things rather than trying to fine tune. I don’t think that I will come to that fine tuning stuff. I guess that at the end of day two we will still be scanning.

Q: Last year Toro Rosso had a very impressive season. Will you be able to repeat that?
SB:
The team and the drivers hope so. At least that is the target. But if you look at who you need to beat - that is really tough. But clearly it’s the target; otherwise you must not go racing. If we want to stay in the standings where we are now, we need to score a lot of points and for myself, I need to score quite a bit more than I did last year - that would be a good thing!

Q: What are your biggest concerns at the moment?
SB:
That I don’t get the car to my liking. If you don’t like it, then you have a problem because then you cannot perform properly. I think that everybody will be on a steep learning curve this season. The only concern that everybody has right now is catching up when you’re behind. As there is no testing during the season I predict that everybody will show up with new parts every race weekend - and the question is how quickly you can implement them.

Q: How much will the in-season test ban hurt a team that unveils its car so late?
SB:
It is for sure. But it will be more of a problem for those who are playing catch-up, as there is not time to investigate things. It’s always been hard in Formula One to catch up, but if you’re playing catch-up on Friday, then good luck.

Q: You have seen all 10 cars today. Who is your favourite for leading the pack?
SB:
I haven’t got a clue - and I don’t care!