Exclusive Q&A with Toro Rossos Jean-Eric Vergne 23 Feb 2012
French drivers seem to be like buses - you wait ages for one and then three come along at once. One of the three on the 2012 grid is Jean-Eric Vergne, the promising Red Bull protege who was promoted to a Toro Rosso race seat last December. Vergne has been considered a hot prospect for some time and his showings at the pre-season tests so far have been impressive to say the least, especially given his limited Formula One experience. Winning is, of course, his ultimate goal and hes determined to avoid the distractions that inevitably accompany the F1 lifestyle along the way
Q: Jean-Eric, is it fair to say that landing the Toro Rosso race seat was a shock promotion? Tell us something about that day?
Jean-Eric Vergne: Ha, shock-promotion is good way to put it. And of course it was the best day of my professional life so far. I remember every single detail of that day. Helmut (Marko) called me on the morning of December 14. What a wake-up call! (laughs) I knew that they were evaluating the data of the current drivers and, of course, you always hope that a situation might arise where suddenly you are in the picture. And voila, it happened - the best phone call Ive ever received. I had that one day to really understand what had just happened because the next day I was already at the Red Bull Racing factory to work with the simulator.
Q: Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has made it very clear that the task of Toro Rosso is to breed winners. Is that something of a mountain to climb for you? A high-pressure situation?
JEV: I dont need anybody to put any pressure on me - I do that all by myself! (laughs) Because in the end I want to be a race winner - and more - so pressure coming from someone else doesnt have any more weight than that coming from me.
Q: Fact is that youve arrived in the highest category of motor racing
JEV: that is true, it is the highest level of racing that you can reach. But when, like me, you have been dreaming of getting there since you were a kid - and youve proved to be successful in lower categories - then Formula One in a best-case scenario is the next logical step. Of course, a lot of things can go wrong on the way to F1 that have nothing to do with talent or passion - just adverse conditions - but so far such conditions have shunned me! (laughs) Ive made it now and it is not so different to anything Ive done before: the target is to do well and to win.
Q: If all goes according to plan, then drivers from Toro Rosso will one day sit in the cockpit for Red Bull Racing
JEV: that is dreams of the future. Right now I want to do my job at Toro Rosso - learn as much as possible and show them that I was promoted for a reason. And I havent done a race yet so it does not make much sense to think about 2013. First things first, and the first thing right now is doing a good test season and then taking that to the Melbourne grid. And then to take it race by race.
Q: You have now done three full days in the new Toro Rosso. Whats your impression?
JEV: Well, I think we have a good basis to build on, but what will make the real difference will be the improvements that we will be making during the season.
Q: For your first two days in Jerez you were probably the driver with the least mileage in a Formula One car - and yet you did a pretty good time. Could it be that experience is overrated and that you cant keep a good man down?
JEV: Probably it is so. (laughs) But to be clear, you need both - talent and experience - if you want to be successful in the long run. In testing its basically about giving good feedback to the team and racing is something completely different. You have to build your weekend from free practice to qualifying and then the race, so doing one fast lap in winter testing has to be put in the right context.
Q: Franz Tost has an excellent reputation for breeding rookies, but of course he is also always looking for the next Sebastian Vettel. Is that a pressure point for you, always being compared?
JEV: No, because I feel it is helpful if you have high objectives in your career. And, of course, it would be fantastic if one day somebody would call me the next Sebastian Vettel. For me hes the best driver on the grid right now. But then again I dont want to be anybody else - I want to be myself: a driver who is winning races. I dont need anybody to tell me to win as I am the first one who wants that.
Q: Its been quite a long time since French drivers graced the F1 grid - now we have three. How is the feedback in France about this fact?
JEV: It is good - and will be even better when a French driver wins races. France has a long history in racing and I think we should have a Grand Prix in France soon. Why not next year?
Q: You have now had a real taste of Formula One. What has been the most surprising thing for you?
JEV: Believe me, I have been prepared quite well so far as a Red Bull youngster. I was connected to Formula One well before the past two weeks, so the level of surprise level has not been that high. (laughs) What is definitely a difference is that [in the past] I have been with a team with 40 people in total. Now around 60 people are working just for me on a race weekend, so that is indeed way above what I knew. But as the objective is to be fast, these are all fantastic aspects of Formula One.
Q: You have been thrown into Formula One at the deep end - and now you are expected to swim
JEV: Exactly - and I am not thinking about the sharks everywhere! (laughs)
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