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Exclusive Felipe Nasr Q&A: Sauber must capitalise in early races

26 Mar 2015

Sauber’s Felipe Nasr experienced a debut Grand Prix like no other in Australia two weeks ago. From not knowing whether a court ruling might keep him out of the cockpit, to scoring a spectacular fifth place in his maiden F1 outing, it was a rollercoaster ride. That Nasr coped with the uncertainty of it all in such calm, confident fashion hints at even greater things to come. Could they come in Malaysia this weekend? We caught up with the Brazilian at Sepang to find out…

Q: Felipe, Sauber were the surprise of the Melbourne race, with both cars finishing in the points - and you in a sensational P5. Can you talk us through your first ever F1 race?

Felipe Nasr: The race was, of course, something special. This is something of a dream come true - from the start to the very last lap. I honestly didn’t expect things to go so well, but I think I had prepared myself enough to deal with any situation. It was a track that I didn’t know and had to miss the first free practice, but once in the car I was able to put myself together and concentrate on my job. Sitting on the grid I focused to get through that first corner as I anticipated that this could be a potential trouble spot - and luckily we made it through. After that I was able to hold out to the pressure of the Red Bull from Daniel Ricciardo, whom I was able to keep behind me the whole race. I have to say the team did an amazing job with the strategy in the race - and getting me prepared for this first race. Then crossing the line in P5 with all the points that come with it… oh boy, that was super special.

Q: It was a remarkable weekend, not only for the result, but also because you spent time in a Melbourne courtroom. How was that situation for you - not knowing if you have a drive for 2015?

FN: The whole weekend was the biggest exercise for myself. Mentally it was the biggest thing of my whole career. Of course I knew that all these things were there, but I tried to treat the whole situation like a normal weekend. I was able to keep calm and not bother too much about these goings-on. Driving the car was somewhat of a relief and eased my nerves in this situation.

Q: At least you have been in the car. It could also have gone a different way?

FN: Yes, it was good to be in the car and simply do what you can do best - this helps staying calm. It was a big relief. There was so much work I have done over the winter and to think that you might have to let all that go wasn’t a comfortable feeling, believe me. So it was actually only in the car that everything felt right.

Q: When you say you’d done so much work over the winter, was it much different to the pre-season preparations of previous years?

FN: It was more in every aspect. I have learned a lot in the past years about racing, but I know that there is always a bit more to do when you’re in F1: physically, mentally, technically. So I knew what to do in my first race - I didn’t have to ask anything from the pit wall.

Q: Sauber had zero points after a long 2014 season and now after the first race of 2015 they already have 14. Can you explain that? Has the team really made such a huge leap forward? Was it about the chassis or power train? Or even the drivers?

FN: It was a combination of many things. Definitely the chassis improved over the winter. The team knew where they struggled last year and sorted that out. But I think the biggest gain was on the power unit: Ferrari did an amazing job to develop the engine so quickly. And it is a reliable engine as we’ve been able to do so much mileage during the winter tests - and that gave us the opportunity to try so many things on the car set-up wise, and getting myself comfortable in the car. So yes, it was chassis, power unit and drivers!

Q: Many media wrote after the race that you are considered a pay-driver no more. How does that go down?

FN: That of course goes down well when people now think about you as a talented driver and not one who is bringing money. Fact is that I have never paid to race. My family wouldn’t have the money to ‘buy’ a cockpit - and I myself never had to put one penny on the table to find a race team. On the other hand there have always been companies that believed in my talent and they started to support me early on in my career. When I was 16 years old I was able to have my own salary and my own house, so I can only say that I have worked for all that on the track with my results. And they are as happy as I am as I showed in Melbourne that I deserved all their support. I was a bit surprised that a ‘pay driver’ story popped up, as going back to 2009 I had all the opportunity to pick a suitable project for me, including Red Bull or Gravity - you name it, they all wanted to invest in my career. So what is the difference between Red Bull paying for my career or Banco do Brasil supporting me?

Q: Results like Melbourne will make you hungry for more. How have your objectives changed after the Australian Grand Prix?

FN: Definitely such a result makes you hungry for more. No, my objectives have not changes: it is scoring points - as much as I can. And the early races are the best opportunity to do that as there are still some teams struggling with the reliability of their cars. So the time is now!

Q: What’s the plan for this weekend? Pull something similar out of the hat like Melbourne?

FN: You cannot plan something like that. You can only let it happen. All I can say is I feel prepared. It is a track that I know and that helps as I don’t have to take time to learn it and can concentrate more on the set-up. On top of that, the conditions are always unpredictable so I will take any chance that comes my way - I am ready.