• 5 minutes with ... Robert Wickens

'I'm trying as hard as I can to find a race seat'

Naoise Holohan
November 16, 2011

The Renault World Series champion Robert Wickens got his first taste of Formula One power on Friday in Abu Dhabi when he replaced Jerome d'Ambrosio for first practice at Virgin. He sat down with GPWEEK after the session.

Robert Wickens got his first run in an F1 car during Friday morning practice in Abu Dhabi © Sutton Images
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How did your first session in a Formula One car go for you?
It was alright. I didn't really know what to expect going into it. In the end half a second was the gap and from Timo - it's not horrible. Obviously I wanted to be closer, I wanted to be quicker. Looking at the data after the session I lost three tenths on one straight, because I got a bit of wheelspin on the exit of a corner that I didn't on my previous lap, which is a little bit frustrating because I could have been only two tenths off. On the same token when I've never driven the car before, Timo's been in the car all year, he knows it well, I'm pretty pleased to be only half a second off. Hopefully next time I'm in the car I'll be even better.

Is it realistic to be able to jump in the car and be quicker straight away than someone's been in it all year and in F1 for four years?
Anything is realistic. For example if Timo had more fuel than me I could have been quicker, or if I had ran less fuel. Everyone on the team kept everything fair, we had the same plan all the way through. He had a minor hold-up which is why he went out quite a bit later than me, but that's the only reason. Considering I did my time with three laps older tyres compared to where he ended up, generally I'm pretty pleased with the job I did.

How did you find the grip of the new tyres late in the session?
I didn't get a second set, I only got one set. We stayed on the prime the whole session, both myself and Timo. That's why the HRTs were ahead of us.

Did anything surprise you about the cars?
The thing that impressed me the most was the acceleration of the car, the power is really strong. Everything else was what I expected a Formula One car to be, it didn't catch me off-guard which was good.

How was it driving a racing car with power steering for the first time?
Every car I've ever driven up to this point, the faster the corner the heavier the steering. To go to a car all of a sudden that it doesn't matter if you're in the turn 7 hairpin or going through turn 2 and turn 3 the steering effort is exactly the same. That took some getting used to and I kept turning in too aggressively in the high-speed corners because I was anticipating it to be heavy and it wasn't and I basically turned too much.

Do you risk a spin when that happens?
I was creating quite a bit of instability, I wasn't close to spinning or anything like that. It definitely affected my confidence because the rear was moving around quite a bit, whereas if I had been smoother it would have been fine.

Robert Wickens on track in the Virgin © Sutton Images
Does it mean anything to you being the first GP3 graduate to compete in a grand prix weekend?
That doesn't mean anything to be to be honest. You just want to get there as quickly as you can. It is what it is.

Are you especially looking forward to driving the Renault at the young driver test after this grand prix?
Sure I'm looking forward to driving the Renault. They have a lot more experience as a team and with that experience the car is a bit stronger as well. My goal going into Tuesday will be to get into the top 3, I think it's a pretty realistic goal, but also a tough one to achieve. If I can get into the top 3 in the young drivers test I can be proud of that. When I come back here on Thursday I'll try and do the best job I can and do what the team asks me to do.

What's your situation for next year?
The goal is to try and get a race seat somewhere. Whether that's a reality or not we'll have to wait and see. I'm trying as hard as I can to find a race seat.

Do you have a back-up plan of GP2?
GP2 is always a possibility, but anything is on the cards right now. I'm not ruling anything out.

Would you consider an F1 test seat?
Absolutely. At the end of the day I want to do whatever is best for my career, whether it be doing a year in GP2, doing reserve driver for a year, there's a lot of possibilities for next year and I want to try and find the best.