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Exclusive Jean-Eric Vergne Q&A: Finishing '14 on a high the aim

18 Sep 2014

Around this time last year Jean-Eric Vergne saw team mate Daniel Ricciardo beat him to the much-prized Red Bull Racing drive for 2014. Twelve months on and he’s having to deal with being replaced at Toro Rosso for 2015 - by a teenaged rookie. Is Vergne managing to remain philosophical about it all, and what are his plans for next season? We caught up with the Frenchman ahead of this weekend’s Singapore race to find out…

Q: Jean-Eric, how difficult is it still to digest your sudden departure from Toro Rosso?

Jean-Eric Vergne: It wasn't, and isn't, easy - but it is how it is. Toro Rosso are a Formula One team that exist to promote young Red Bull drivers, and after three years you are no longer a rookie or a young driver. So it would not have mattered if I had won races - my place would not be in this team any longer.

Q: It was thought that Toro Rosso would give up their role as ‘rookie testers’ and transform into serious midfield contenders - at least that was the message at the beginning of the season. Why has that changed?

JEV: I believe Toro Rosso had no choice. I think I have a very good relationship with everybody in the team and we did work very hard on next year's car - but in the end Red Bull makes the decision. They have a young driver program that they need to promote; that's how it is.

Q: Franz [Tost, Toro Rosso team principal] has always spoken highly of you, and he always gave the impression that he would want to keep both his current drivers for 2015…

JEV: Yes - and when you look, my departure has nothing to do with my results. Take Budapest: I was second for half the race - in front of Nico Rosberg, who couldn't pass me - and next thing I get a phone call telling me that I will no longer drive for Toro Rosso next year. It is how it is.

Q: Until what point in the season did you believe that you would have a future with Toro Rosso? Had there been indications of your departure beforehand?

JEV: I did not believe anything, because you never know what could happen with Red Bull.

Q: But you must have had hopes of staying? From the outside, there had not been any indications of you having to leave…

JEV: Yes, of course I hoped [to stay] because it's true, there have been no real indications. I feel that this team is my family now, so of course I wanted to continue with them - and go further, as this year has been really difficult with a lot of bad luck.

Q: It is fair to say that the Toro Rosso car is underperforming. Was the idea of staying with experienced drivers and trying to move the team up the pecking order abandoned because of that performance - and maybe a belief it would be difficult to catch up next season?

JEV: Not at all. Toro Rosso is one of the teams that invest most into research and development, for this year's car and for next year's car as well. Unfortunately the results do not show our efforts. We should be in a much better position than were we are now.

Q: We will have a 17-year-old driver - Max Verstappen - in F1 racing next year. We hear people lamenting a supposed lack of personalities among drivers, but where should personality come from when they enter the sport so young? How do you see that?

JEV: Again it is as it is. I wouldn't have the right opinion about that I am afraid. It is not up to me to say what is good or bad.

Q: But it does make a driver your age - 25 - already look ‘old', and a driver over 30 almost a pensioner…

JEV: Funny, isn't it? Now it becomes clear that we don't need all these other series before breaking into F1; now we know that you can jump almost immediately from go-karting to F1. And you better start go-karting before six years of age.

Q: Now you have to have a plan B. What does it look like?

JEV: I hope to stay in Formula One. If you compare me to Daniel [Ricciardo] then it was always very close. He was better in qualifying - but there I have improved a lot - and I always made good in the race and many times finished in front of him, so I would say with even equipment that we would be again fighting for podiums. So I hope that I get an opportunity to show my abilities - that people trust that I can do it. I'm focusing fully to finish this season in a good way, and then I hope the chance comes my way to show my potential.

Q: Red Bull manage drivers in the Red Bull family for as long as they are a part of that family. But when drivers drop from their scheme, negotiating new options - and getting proper management - can be difficult. Is that what you are facing right now?

JEV: True, I have no management right now. I am alone right now to sort out my options. I know I probably should get somebody, but right now 99 percent I am on my own. That's how it is.

Q: It is likely that in the next few weeks most of the 2015 drives will be decided. Are you going up and down the paddock, speaking with teams?

JEV: These are things that I do, but I don't want to talk about it. But there is no help from Red Bull. My paramount focus right now is to finish the season on a high.

Q: What are your chances of achieving that?

JEV: There have been issues at the last two races, but I think we should have a good car here. We also looked quite strong in Monaco. So it should be clear to finish in the top ten this weekend - regardless of the radio ban. We are race drivers after all.

Q: Of course you want to do well at the remaining races - this is your ticket for a future seat. Will you and Daniil Kvyat be treated equally?

JEV: Yes, I believe so. I have a really good relationship with the team and I am sure they will help me to finish in a strong position.