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Felipe Nasr Q&A: Brazil likely Sauber’s best chance of points

27 Oct 2016

Last year in his rookie F1 campaign Felipe Nasr scored 27 points for Sauber. This season things couldn’t be more different. Neither he nor team mate Marcus Ericsson have finished in the top ten - and neither have confirmed drives for 2017. Ahead of this weekend’s Mexican race, we caught up with Nasr for an exclusive chat about the Swiss squad’s prospects for the remaining rounds - and the Brazilian’s chances of staying with them…

Q: Felipe, being one of just five drivers to have not scored a single point so far this season must fill you with an element of despair. How can you survive this year?

Felipe Nasr: Ha, difficult. But we are surviving, still. Yes, it is tough - especially when you had a pretty promising rookie season last year. But there are always two sides of the coin: last year I got the golden side, this year the (bad) side. (Laughs) In my first year I could really feel how it is to be fighting in the top ten. And that is an awesome feeling, when you come freshly into Formula One and are in such a privileged spot, scoring points - on six occasions. And that felt like a good reward for all the hard work of breaking into F1. This year it is different. With only three races left I am still giving all I can - especially at my home race in two weeks. I am putting all my hopes there to score a point. And even if it doesn’t happen, it has been a very challenging season - for everybody in the team - so it is sad that we don’t have points as a reward, because as a driver you still do progress in all areas - even if the results left you hanging on.

Q: With this tough season almost over, tell us about your personal highlights - those that probably went unnoticed by the outside world?

FN: I definitely did have personal highlights. Take, for example, Austria. I was running most of the race in P7, but then the safety car caught us in the wrong strategy window and there you go. Take Budapest: that was another highlight. For a moment I was first in qualifying - for a moment in the rain. Imagine if it had been a wet race - that could have been a completely different story. Baku was also a good race. We’ve finished in P12 with not many cars retiring. Also Silverstone: when the track was still wet and slowly drying up we did the fastest lap at some point in the race. These are the little things that keep me going - even if the outside world might not see it. But it is there. And these examples were really down to the driver and how he is reading the conditions.

Q: The teams not doing so well this year are all pinning their hopes on the 2017 rule changes, but do you really think it will get better for Sauber next year? The new team owners - and the resulting improvement in finances - perhaps arrived a little late to have a huge impact on your 2017 programme?

FN: Probably, yes. But - and that is with a capital ‘B’ - anything is better than what we had this year. The situation that we got in this year was really unexpected. We really went down to the bottom.

Q: So, Sauber and the new owners - do you feel that the trend is definitely going upward?

FN: Yes, the team has undergone restructuring, so that all looks very serious. The team is hiring new people at the factory and is still looking for more people to join. So definitely the focus in the 2017 car will be a different story than the 2016 car. This I can tell. Yes, it will take time before that all becomes visible. Give them another two years. But as I said, anything is better than what we have now.

Q: It is no secret that you would love to try your luck somewhere else in the future…

FN: …of course. As a racing driver you always have to think of your career. Time is crucial. Right now I am still under negotiations and have nothing confirmed yet.

Q: What are you looking for - what kind of team? And what can you offer?

FN: No matter what team, it has to be competitive - to give me the chance to show my potential.

Q: And what do you have to offer? What would you write in your application as your strengths?

FN: That I will bring the car into the points. Isn’t that what teams are looking for? (Laughs)

Q: There are still several seats unconfirmed for 2017, among which Force India is arguably the most competitive package. What do you make of that?

FN: Ha, I could imagine that the Force India seat is pretty attractive to many drivers. But so far - as much as I am aware - I haven’t had any links to the team. Nothing that I can confirm from my side that I have spoken to them.

Q: When do you think your situation will be settled?

FN: It would be nice at my home Grand Prix in two weeks.

Q: So are you confident that you will stay in F1 and there is no need for a plan B?

FN: I am pretty confident that I will stay in F1.

Q: Under what circumstances would you stay at Sauber?

FN: Well, I told them that I am looking for solid developments. I want to see progress. And from the changes that I have seen so far it gives hope. But as I just said, by the time of the Brazilian Grand Prix it would be nice to have news.

Q: With Felipe Massa retiring at the end of the season, that leaves you as the only Brazilian driver on the grid. Historically Brazilian drivers have always done well, so the expectations are all on you now. Is that pressure?

FN: Not pressure - but in a nice way it is a responsibility. The history that Brazil has in F1 is amazing, with so many world champions. And, of course, it would be great to keep this legacy going. As I said, I have seen the two sides of the coin in the last two years, so I am ready for the golden side again. I want to follow the path of all the successful Brazilian F1 drivers - nothing more and nothing less.

Q: Your team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said that Sauber finishing in P11 overall is not an option. Is there any chance of advancing to P10 in the remaining races?

FN: Well, myself, the team, my team mate Marcus will do anything to make it happen. But realistically we don’t have the car to be in the top ten, so we need all possible factors coming together. Given the three opportunities that we still have, my feeling tells me why not in Brazil? Because if we had to choose a track preference, I would say Brazil. The changing conditions that we very often have there could speak for it. But if we don’t achieve any points, we also have to leave it. Yes, we also have to think about this possibility.