The day after he was confirmed as a Scuderia Toro Rosso driver, we caught up with Daniel at his home in Perth, Australia.
Dan, congratulations on getting a drive with Scuderia Toro Rosso. How does it feel?DR: It feels amazing! It’s nice coming into next season knowing what I’m doing and being able to focus solely on that. I am looking forward to working with a good group of people that I already spent a lot of time with this year. So there’s plenty to look forward to in 2012.
How did you find out you had the drive?DR: I was actually at home, it was after dinner and the phone call came. It was short, sharp and to the point, but it contained all the news I wanted to hear. It was an awesome Christmas present and a big relief. I was with Mum and Dad at the time and I came out of my room and told them the news and it felt pretty special.
Since the last race of 2011 in Brazil, were you ever concerned you might not have a drive for 2012?DR: Until something is done you are always going to be a little bit concerned, but I know everyone at Red Bull is looking after my interests and I felt I had done a good enough job this year for them to try and find me a seat for 2012. I had faith something would come through.
You’ve had a busy year, starting out driving Free Practice 1 for us and then actually racing in the last eleven Grands Prix from Silverstone onwards. What are the main lessons you learned this year?DR: Looking back at the whole year, I did more travelling than ever before in my life and I found out it can be really tiring and can take it out of you. So I learned how important it is to be on time and to manage my time as efficiently as possible and to rest when I can. There was so much to take in this year and from the driving point of view, as a reserve driver you can see everything the job involves, but until you are actually racing, you do not realise the demands it puts on you, so that was another important lesson. I learned to get my priorities right and not waste my energy elsewhere.
How well do you know your new team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne?DR: Pretty well. We were signed up as part of the Red Bull Junior team on the same day and we were team-mates back then, in the Renault 2.0 series. I spent some time with him at his house in France, going karting together. We had a pretty good relationship by the standard of racing driver team-mates. As we progressed, the rivalry got stronger between us, but the important thing is that we respect one another. We both want to beat each other more than anyone else and it’s been like that since we first raced together. It’s a good thing and means we will get the maximum out of the equipment we are given. Next year will be a proper test for both of us.
When will you be coming back to Europe?DR: I have spoken to Laurent (Mekies, Chief Engineer) and we are putting together a pre-season programme now. I imagine that very early in the new year I will have to abandon the beautiful Australian summer and head for freezing Italy and get down to business, making sure I am as well prepared as possible.
It means you’ve got the best incentive to push hard on your winter training.DR: Yes, my trainer told me I could take it easy until Christmas, but once I heard I got the drive I wanted to go out and bash myself up in the gym.
Having signed up now, does it mean you can actually have an input on the technical side of next year’s Toro Rosso car?DR: Yes, there are some areas where we can start early. For example, there are different options for my position in the cockpit and the layout of the steering wheel and the team has already asked me about my preferences for this. It means that coming into testing I should be comfortable and feel the car is mine.
One day after being announced as a race driver for Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2012 F1 season, “Jev” is already hard at work.
Jev, we see you’re celebrating your drive by working in the simulator. Must be a good feeling knowing you will be getting the benefit of all this work yourself next year?JEV: I think it’s a good thing to be working today, just a few hours after hearing that I have the drive with Toro Rosso next season. It helps me keep my feet on the ground, but in any case, I love the work, driving either the real car or in the simulator. It also makes a difference knowing that the work I’m doing in the simulator is now for my own benefit on track and not just for other drivers.
How did you get the news that you were a fully fledged F1 driver?JEV: I was at home in Paris when I got the call. I was very excited and keen to tell everyone, but I did not dare phone anyone until the team told me that it had put out the official press release. Once I knew it was out there, I started calling my parents and my family of course and my trainer and others who have helped me along the way. After that, I could not make any calls because people were ringing me nonstop.
You mentioned that a lot of people have helped you with your career, so this might be a good time to thank them.JEV: Obviously, Red Bull is top of the list and without them I would not be in Formula 1; maybe I’d still be in college. After that, I have to say that the FFSA, the French motor sport federation has been a great help, backing me ever since I was racing karts. Then I won a Federation championship called the Autosport Academy, so they got me on my way before I became part of the Red Bull programme.
Did you have any other plans in place for 2012?JEV: I think I might have been the third driver for the team, running in Friday practice again and maybe tackling another season of World Series. But now I don’t have to think about that because my plans for next year are fixed in the best way possible.
After finishing in the silver medal position in the Renault 3.5 championship, you then had a busy time running three practice sessions with Scuderia Toro Rosso and doing the Young Driver Test for Red Bull Racing. Were they very different kinds of pressure?JEV: It’s all the same for me, because, whenever I am behind the wheel, whatever the car, whatever the formula, I always enjoy myself and do not feel any pressure. I just try to always give my best and to be as professional as possible.
Daniel Ricciardo has been your team-mate before, so how do you think the two of you will get along together this time?JEV: I think it’s fantastic for me to be team-mates with him. He’s a great guy and I like him as a friend. We joined the Red Bull programme together so we have known one another for a long time, working together in other series. In Formula 1, you only get one team-mate, so you have to make the best of it, working together to do as good a job as possible for the team. We have similar driving styles and we get on well and that will be a positive factor for us next year. Dan could probably have a slight edge over me at first as he has done eleven races this year, but let’s see how it develops, as we have all the winter testing ahead of us before we start racing. I know that I have a lot to learn, so I hope I can do that quickly. I am conscious it could be very tough, but I also know that in general, I learn and I adapt very quickly: certainly that was the case in every category that I have raced in so far. Formula 1 is different, tougher than all the rest, but I feel confident.
What are your plans between now and February testing?JEV: After some time in the simulator, I will spend Christmas with my family and the rest of the time will be spent training, because it will be important to be as fit and as well prepared as possible for what will be a very long and tough season.
Having signed up now, does it mean you can actually have an input on the technical side of next year’s Toro Rosso car?JEV: Over the past couple of months, when I have been working with the team, along with the engineers, we have already looked into things like my position in the car and other areas. Of course, in the next few weeks, I will be going to the factory in Faenza to meet with the engineers and also to try and get to know everyone in the team a bit better, even if we established a good relationship when I was with the team in the last part of this season. I’ve got quite a few questions going round in my head, so it will be good to get to Italy and discuss everything calmly before it’s time to get in the cockpit again.
Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal
Franz Tost, talks about the team’s 2012 driver line-up
Q) Franz, when was the decision taken to appoint Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne?Franz Tost: Our driver line-up had been under discussion for a long time as it is obviously a vital component of the team’s performance. The final decision was taken in a meeting at Red Bull headquarters in Austria on 13 December 2011.
Q) Do the drivers have a one year agreement or is it longer than that?FT: We do not wish to discuss our driver contracts, but let’s just say that it is their performance level in the car that is the deciding factor and if they do a good job, this will help their cause in terms of how long they stay with us.
Q) Will Ricciardo be the number one driver in the team?FT: No, although given that he has some actual F1 racing experience, it would be natural for him to settle into the job more quickly. However, Jean-Eric has shown he learns rapidly so I expect him to be on the pace quite soon. It will be important for the team to ensure we give them as many kilometres as possible in winter testing.
Q) Why did you decide to replace Buemi and Alguersuari?FT: Sebastien has been with us for three seasons and Jaime for two and a half. Both of them worked hard for the team, doing their very best and achieving some good results. However, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s ethos has always been that of the “rookie training school” and with over two seasons under your belt, you are no longer a rookie. In an ideal world, drivers would move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, but there are no vacancies with our sister team right now. It might be seen as a harsh decision, but Formula 1 is a tough environment and Toro Rosso has always been very clear about the principles behind its driver choice.
Q) Was the decision to change drivers taken purely on the basis of needing to give new Red Bull Young drivers a chance in F1?FT: No, because we had to be sure they were ready to make the step up. With Daniel the decision was easier, because, like I said, he has actually raced in F1 already.
Q) Is it not frustrating to have to use young and inexperienced drivers? Without the Red Bull Young Driver programme, you could choose more experienced drivers who have already proved their ability in F1.FT: No, it’s not frustrating, in fact quite the opposite. It is a very interesting experience for everyone in the team to work with young drivers and it means you can educate them the way you want. Everyone, from the race engineers to the communications people can try and give the new drivers good habits, which they can use for the rest of their career.
Q) In a couple of months, testing starts again, so how important was it to decide on your driver choices now?FT: It is always good to know who your drivers are as early as possible. For one thing, weeks of speculation are usually disruptive to the work of a team. Although we know our two new drivers quite well, it also means they can already start working with the engineers, assimilating information and even having some input into minor details regarding the new car. It also means I can be sure they are taking their winter fitness training very seriously!