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Felipe Nasr Q&A: I want to get Sauber back in the points

20 Feb 2015

Having caused a stir when he topped the timesheets at the opening pre-season test of the year in Jerez, Felipe Nasr was back in the headlines on the first day of running in Barcelona when he was involved in a rare on-track clash with Williams’ Susie Wolff. In an exclusive interview, the Brazilian explains the incident, discusses Sauber’s promising early form, and reveals why returning the Swiss team to the points is his primary target in 2015...

Q: Felipe, you had an interesting first day of testing at Barcelona that included a collision with Williams’ Susie Wolff. What happened?
Felipe Nasr:
I was on a push lap, I’d just crossed the start line and I saw Susie coming out of the pits on an out lap. So she was leaving the pits when I was approaching Turn 1. As we came to Turn 4 I approached her quite quickly as I was going quicker than her, and by the exit of Turn 4 I saw her pulling to the right, going off the line. I thought to myself that she was giving me room to overtake her so I committed into the braking zone at Turn 5 on the left side and she was on the right side. Then halfway through the braking area I felt a big hit on my rear suspension, and that was it really. I don’t think she ever saw me coming to be honest.

Q: But up until the accident it had been a positive day for you?
Yeah, I think it was a very productive morning. We ended up doing 68 laps (before the accident) and completing most of the morning programme, so the day was going pretty well. Coming from Jerez I noticed straight away an improvement in our car in a few areas. Everything felt more consistent and also more balanced. So the morning went pretty well to start the first day of testing. Then our programme was hurt in the afternoon because of the accident, but no drama at all. In the end the team did a great job to put the car back together and I was able to do two last runs at the end just to check the car was fine. 

Q: The Sauber was one of the slower cars on the grid last year, so were you surprised by the pace of the C34 at the first test in Jerez? 
Yes, I have to say I was, considering the situation the team was in last year. For sure you wouldn’t expect something like this. So it was good to see from their data that there’s definitely a step forward on the chassis and the engine side for 2015. So I think it was a good beginning, but still I felt the car had many areas to improve. Firstly, I wouldn’t say that that lap time was really the best we could do, and secondly, I don’t think it was very representative because we don’t know what the other teams were doing. We cannot say what the full potential of the other teams is. So on our side I feel there is still room for improvement, and I can already see some positives from the first day of testing in Barcelona. 

Q: Having spent three years in GP2 you must surely be better prepared for F1 racing than someone like Max Verstappen who only has one season of car racing behind him. Could you imagine entering F1 competition with that little experience?
I would say that the team he (Verstappen) is racing for wouldn’t have put him in their line-up if he wasn’t ready to make it. So I believe the team have the experience enough to make that call and believe the driver is ready. For sure he’s talented, for sure he has good things to show in Formula One, but from a driving point of view I think experience is really important. Accumulating mileage in different cars on different tracks, like for example Monaco - this is a circuit you can only drive in series like GP2 or World Series. And driving a car that has more than 600bhp, it does feel a lot different. So maybe this inexperience could hurt him, but as I say, if the team is ready to make the call (to promote him), I don’t see a problem with that.

Q: There are only nine teams at the moment and that means only 18 seats on the grid. How hard is it to get a drive at the moment, and how much difference does it make when you have solid financial backing?
It’s difficult. To arrive in F1 is something all drivers try to achieve. Some of them don’t make it, for different reasons. Nowadays all I can say is that the mentality has changed a little bit. I don’t think talent is always enough to get into F1, you need to have some investment behind you from someone. I’m happy that since I started my racing career, since karting, since I moved to Europe and won Formula BMW and Formula Three, I’ve had sponsors since then that believed in this dream for me to arrive in Formula One. We were able to come in together to Formula One. It’s something they planned many years before. I’m not arriving in F1 from nowhere - this is something that has taken effort, work and dedication. I’ve won championships, I’ve won races, but it takes much more than that to arrive in F1 I would say. But considering the financial side of F1, I think there are many teams that struggle for that and they need more backing, so that’s the situation we have in F1 right now.

Q: This is a hugely important year in your career - your rookie season in F1 racing. Who will you turn to for advice?
The first option I would always say is the team because they have worked with many drivers in the past, especially rookies. Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen - many young drivers have started at Sauber. So I’m really happy to join a team that has the experience and the knowledge to teach me as a rookie. So that’s the first option for sure. Secondly, Steve Robertson (Nasr’s manager) has been around for many years in F1. We’ve been together since 2009 and he’s quite experienced in the business side of F1, so he’s another person I trust a lot. He’s a really good friend of mine so he can give me some advice. Also my uncle, he’s been following my career since I came to Europe. He hasn’t missed one single time I was on track, whether testing or racing. He’s very experienced as well because he has a race team in Brazil and was a race driver in the past. So he’s another person from my family that I can rely on. So these are the options I have, but for sure with time I think you start picking up more things and getting used to the environment of Formula One.

Q: What’s it like as a Brazilian racing for a Swiss team? Are there any differences of mentality?
It’s working out well. I have to say that since the first moment I met them before Christmas I started my relationships with everyone; getting to know the engineers, the mechanics, the people from marketing and all the other staff. Again, it’s a team that is able to give me all the information I need to start a Formula One season from zero. I have good support, so I can say it’s a great opportunity to be joining them. I have to say, I feel comfortable here, I feel happy. We have the same goal, which is to get the team back in the points this season. I’m going to try to do my best.

Q: Is it a different atmosphere to Williams, where you spent 2014 as the team’s test and reserve driver?
Yes, I would say it’s a different place, a different team. The culture is a bit different, as are the people and the language. Sometimes I find it quite difficult that the words used in some procedures are different to what was used at Williams, but these words and procedures will be different in every team you go to. I feel already much more comfortable in Barcelona than I was in Jerez. 

Q: In terms of the coming season, what are the things that you want to achieve, and what are the things that your team wants you to achieve? 
The only thing I’m really aiming for is to get the team back in the points, and of course to score my first points in F1. This is what I want to achieve. But I think it goes beyond that. The knowledge of races, how to understand races in F1, the strategies - there’s so many things I’m looking forward to experiencing. It’s all new for me. There are a few tracks I don’t know throughout the year, so I expect to go through the season completing as many races as I can, getting the best from the car I can. I also want to develop as a driver - it’s my first year in F1, so I still think that there is a lot that I can develop throughout the year. I’m looking forward to gaining experience, race by race.

Q: There are five world champions on the grid in 2015. Did you look up to any of them when you were coming up through the sport?
I don’t need to mention them (by name), but when you see world champion drivers and different styles of driving, I always like to appreciate different qualities in different drivers and to take those for myself, either on or off the track.

Q: How do you think you’ll feel when you’re sat on the grid in Melbourne, about to compete in your maiden Grand Prix?
For sure it will be something special. When those five lights go out, then I will know the feeling!