Alan Permane: After four flyaway races the team has scored 46 points. Did you expect such a positive start to the season?
I think it’s been a very encouraging start to the year and we’ve definitely maximised all the opportunities that have come our way, which is very important. We know that our outright pace is still behind the four fastest teams, but with our strategy from the pit wall and the performances of Robert and Vitaly, we have come away with more points than we might have expected.
Vitaly impressed in China with the maturity of his drive. How rewarding has it been to see his progress so far this year?
He deserves a lot of credit for the way he has tackled the start of the season. We’ve made no secret of the fact that he hasn’t had the easiest introduction to Formula 1, especially with the lack of dry running over the winter. He’s also missed out on race mileage with the car letting him down a couple of times already this season. To deliver such a strong performance in China was all the more impressive and shows how quickly he is learning about Formula 1.
Finishing his first race and getting points under his belt will surely have given him a big confidence boost…
He was very happy after the race and it’s a nice first reward for all his hard work. It will certainly give him a confidence boost, but more importantly he now has the experience of how the car behaves over a race distance. In particular, we saw how he managed to look after his intermediate tyres in Shanghai, passing more experienced drivers like Schumacher and Webber, which shows that he’s already racing intelligently and thinking his way through the races.
Robert continued his strong form in China with another outstanding drive. How much are you enjoying working with him?
His performances so far this year have been faultless and he’s squeezing every ounce of performance from the car on every lap. Just as impressive is his work ethic and dedication outside the cockpit, which is the most I have seen from any driver. He spends an enormous amount of time with his engineers at the track going over data, doing video analysis, and just trying to improve the car in any way he can. Seeing such commitment is a big motivation for the entire team.
Looking ahead to Barcelona, are you confident the problems the team experienced during the winter test have been put to bed?
It’s true that we didn’t look great during the Barcelona test and completed limited mileage, but the issues we had during the test were not circuit-specific and I’ve no concerns about going back there. Barcelona is one of those circuits where you pay a heavy penalty if you’re lacking aero efficiency, but we’ve added an enormous amount of downforce to the car since winter testing, so we shouldn’t be out of position. We won’t run the same set-up we used during the test because the car has evolved since then and the races have taught us a lot about how to get the most from it.
Is Barcelona still the ultimate test of a car’s aero package?
It’s certainly used to be the ultimate test, but since they slowed down the final sector, it’s not quite as aero-dependent as it used to be. However, the first part of the lap remains very high-speed, and turns three and nine are quick, challenging corners where good aero performance counts. Even turns four, five and seven are relatively quick corners by the standards of most circuits and, if your car has aero deficiencies, there’s nowhere to hide.
Most of the teams are expected to introduce big updates in Barcelona – are you anticipating a big shift in the pecking order?
I don’t think it will shift massively. Mercedes may move away from us a little bit but we’ve got a new front wing and some other new aerodynamic parts that should help us make another step forward. It’s not the biggest update we’ve had this year, but it continues our approach of adding new parts at each race. It will be very interesting to see how the situation shakes out between the different teams.