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Jolyon Palmer Q&A: Difficult start to F1 life now behind me

07 Jul 2016

After a superb maiden race in Australia, things haven’t gone precisely to plan for Jolyon Palmer in 2016, culminating in a crash in Monaco that prompted a wave of speculation that he was set to be replaced at Renault. If the pressure is on, though, Palmer isn’t fazed. Indeed after a ‘complete reset’ following the Monte Carlo malaise, the British rookie believes he’s on the up once more - perfect timing approaching his first ever home Grand Prix, as he explained exclusively to

Q: Jolyon, let’s start at the obvious place: how do you feel your season has gone so far? Your 11th place in Australia remains your best result so far…

Jolyon Palmer: Australia started off almost on a perfect note. To be so close to the points was really unexpected, a real high note. But then Bahrain I didn’t start the race due to a problem, and China was a really difficult weekend, I had the car nowhere near where I wanted it.

Q: How about Monaco? You have form there, being a two-time winner in the Principality in GP2, but your F1 debut didn’t exactly go to plan...

JP: Monaco was very tough; I had an engine deficit of a couple of tenths [Kevin Magnussen was given an upgraded Renault power unit], and I was not only over-driving a difficult car to try and make Q2, but also compared to my team mate, to try and find a few tenths that weren’t there. I was making too many mistakes. Obviously having a crash and finishing in the wall was the end to a pretty bad weekend, so then I needed to have a complete reset, and focus on the remaining races. Rather than look back, I feel like I’m in a more positive situation now.

Q: Has there been anything specific you have changed, or that you could point to as a problem?

JP: After Melbourne, I think we got set back to reality. We are behind at the moment, and as a driver when you’re in a car that’s quite difficult and fundamentally not very quick, you always push to try and find something that’s not really there. So especially early on I was making a few more mistakes, and that makes it hard.
For me personally I was also having various problems in practice sessions, which was really hurting me by the time I got to qualifying basically. So it’s about putting the whole weekend together, and that’s what I feel I’ve done better lately. There is nothing specific. It’s trying to find a bit more pace in the car, try to always get the last few hundredths, and then put it together on Sundays.
But after getting my head around that, especially after Monaco where I had a reset, the last few races have been more focused on what is actually possible with the car, rather than what isn’t. I’d say since Canada I’ve really been on the up. I feel more and more comfortable in the car, got the car more to my liking, more consistent. Austria to be 12th again I think is clear progress. I feel I’m in a good place at the moment.

Q: How about the rumours that you might lose your seat, for example to Esteban Ocon, who drives in FP1 tomorrow? Five races into your career - how does a driver handle something like that?

JP: I take it with a pinch of salt to be honest. I’m in for the year, I have a great opportunity with Renault, and they can see the job I am doing now. I have a team mate who is highly rated, who has been on the podium, and who matched up well with Jenson Button, so he is a good reference. The fact I’m pretty much matching him is positive, I think. Ultimately I am getting in the car and needing to do the job, so I need to blank the rumours out. Especially the last few races have been much more positive I think, and the better the job you do the quieter the rumours get. It’s just about focusing on what I can do myself rather than anything else.

Q: So they don’t test you mentally?

JP: They’re unfounded. I speak with the management here, I know the situation. They reassured me anyway early on there is nothing behind it. We’re not in a great position with the team, the car is not great, but I’m here to try and make an impression and be here for the next few years when the team gets better. I have 12 more races to show what I can do, and if I do a good job then I know it is in my hands to stay.

Q: Talking about the job you are doing - do you feel you have had an unfair amount of scrutiny? Or does that just come with the territory of being in F1?

JP: It’s a high-pressure environment, there is massive scrutiny on everything you do. You make any mistake anywhere and people are quick to jump on it. A lot of older guys are making mistakes too, but they can look back on past successes and get excused for them. When you come in as a rookie and make mistakes early on people are quick to jump on it, and you don’t really have past results to back them up. I just put that to the back on my mind - I don’t worry about it, I just focus on the job I can do.

Q: And what job can you do? Can we expect Renault to make significant progress this year, or has the attention already turned to 2017 and beyond?

JP: We’re still pushing to move forward this year. We had a lot of upgrades that came to the Barcelona test, and they didn’t work as we hoped, but there is still a big push. We have testing next week that will be very busy. Even though it looks difficult at the moment we’re not writing off this year; things can turn around very quickly. But definitely at the factory as well there are people looking heavily for 2017. That’s a chance to make a leap forward with the rule changes, but even so we’re not ready to write off this year. And anyway, there are things to carry over to next year as well.

Q: You’ll be contesting your home Grand Prix for the first time this weekend. Silverstone has been kind to you in the past, so what are your expectations - and how will you handle the occasion?

JP: I know this place so well, I raced here when I was 15 I think and I’ve been on the podium in everything I’ve raced here since - even if my last win was back in F2 in 2010, as sadly I didn’t win here in GP2. I think the track is awesome, I really enjoy the challenge of it, and obviously the home support is huge. There are so many Union Jacks, so many people in general. You can see it on track. Maybe not when you’re flat out trying to overtake (laughs). But you can definitely see it during a race. It’s a great feeling knowing people are supporting you.

Q: Your compatriot Nigel Mansell used to say that home support was worth a few tenths per lap. Is the same true for you?

JP: You try your hardest anyway, but to feel that support, you want to try and find something for them. Even just for your mental approach, it’s really helpful. I wish two-tenths is possible though - we'll find out on Sunday…