GP2 starts: 35
GP2 wins: 4
Current team: DAMS
2016 championship position: 9th
F1 affiliate: Williams
Sum up your career so far in no more than a minute…
“My career… As soon as I got into car racing I found my feet, I feel. My first year of car racing I won the rookie championship of Formula Renault. Second year I dominated the championship, record amount of wins, beat a certain Lewis Hamilton in wins per year. After that I went into British Formula 3, I had quite a good season and ended up with a pole position and a podium at the Macau Grand Prix. Then I went into European Formula 3, finished third in the championship, second in the Zandvoort Masters and won the Macau Grand Prix. That I would say transformed my career. 12 months later I won GP3 as a Red Bull driver, a few months later I was signed by Williams and here we are today.”
You’re racing in GP2 but what has been the toughest challenge so far to get you to this point?
“I would say there’s days that define your career. That day in Macau defined my career and changed the path where I was heading forever, and I knew it that morning as well when I woke up that ‘today is the day that could transform my life’. So that day I think is my most important day.”
Is that the best racing win of your career as well?
“For sure. I had scored the most amount of points in the second half of the Formula 3 season but I’d lost too many at the start of the year to [Raffaele] Marciello and [Felix] Rosenqvist at that time. At that time my career was heading towards staying with Mercedes and probably a career in DTM, but I was in small conversations with Helmut Marko at the time going in to Macau and I had a really good race there last year and I knew I needed to win it. So I sent him an email literally on the day of first practice saying ‘I’m going to beat your boys this weekend’, which at the time was Carlos Sainz and Antonio Felix da Costa. Four days later I did, within a week I was signing a contract to join the Red Bull Junior Team.”
He must have liked your confidence…
“He likes confidence, especially when you back it up!”
You’ve just won the final GP2 race before the summer break, what is the importance of winning on the F1 undercard in front of all the people in the paddock?
“I’d say winning is the main word in that. Throughout my career I’ve been very happy, I’ve won championships at national and international level, I’ve won big races such as Macau. GP2 I think has by far been the biggest challenge of my career because by nature it’s a very difficult championship. This year has been a bit of a struggle but nothing beats the feeling of winning, no matter if it’s a sprint race, a feature race, a win’s a win and they’re always hard-fought. Winning is important.”
At the start of the season you were aiming for the championship, after the latest win is that still your target to win the title this year?
“Do you know I think a few races ago we took the opinion of we weren’t quick enough to win the championship so we’re not even going to bother thinking about it. We need to improve our pace first and get back to where we belong. Budapest I do think was a big step forward, even though we didn’t show it. Germany was a big step forward again, shown by the win, but we could have had a podium in the feature race. It’s been very difficult for sure this year, but my mentality and my team’s mentality is we want to be go in the same direction, we want to be on pole and we want to win Saturday races. That’s where it stops.”
What’s the difference between winning on a Saturday and winning on a Sunday in GP2? Is it really noticeable the way people look at you for those wins?
“I don’t know if it does, you know more than me how the Formula 1 world perceives you. It feels much nicer to win on a Saturday because that’s the real race isn’t it? A win’s a win, but Saturday… I’ve won one feature race before in Budapest last year and that was right up there with good days.”
We’re sat in the Williams motorhome, you’re a Williams driver, is there an added pressure on you when you’re part of an F1 team and you know they’ve been watching you?
“Oh, massively. I think that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Delivering under pressure and feeling the pressure. I’m always a believer of the fact that you’ve got to be quite lucky to feel pressure because it means that people expect something of you, you expect something of yourself and people rely on you to produce something. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what I love about racing. Delivering under that pressure and this year turning things around when people are asking you questions like ‘what’s going wrong?’. You’ve got to soak it all in, change the result and keep moving forward.”
Speaking of moving forward, are you targeting a seat on the F1 grid next year?
“Of course, that’s what it’s all about. Definitely, that’s what I want. All I’ve ever wanted since I can remember is to be a race driver in Formula 1 and then one day being World Champion. That’s why I’m here, to prove I can do it.”
Williams is a big team historically but is the team big enough at the moment to place you elsewhere or is your only shot going to be here?
“I don’t know. I really want to stay within Williams, whether they loan me out to another team and keep me under contract, I’d be really happy with that but my main goal is to be promoted to the main team, that’s what I’d love. British driver, British team, I’m young, fast, hungry. For me I think it’s a great fit. Whether or not it happens, I don’t know, but I’d love to stay with this team and if they put me somewhere else in Formula 1 to show what I can do and learn the ropes then OK that’s great for me as well.”
Mentioning a British driver and team, is there an internal rivalry between yourself and the other British GP2 drivers as you’re fighting for coverage and sponsors to get to F1?
“I think it’s a bit more difficult being a British driver than many other nationalities because there are so many of us that are very talented. I really respect Jordan and Ollie, they’re great drivers in their own right and I do think it’s more difficult being British to try and make your way through because there are so many of us that are talented.”
We’ve been talking about an F1 seat, is there anyone on this grid who is an inspiration or someone you look up to?
“Not on the current grid. I’d say Michael Schumacher is my biggest hero and has been ever since I remember watching Formula 1. I suppose there’s loads of guys in Formula 1 now or even in GP2 or GP3 that have got the same hero, but for me he really was for my generation the icon. He won no matter what and he wanted to win no matter what, for me that’s what made him such a great champion. Even sometimes when he overstepped it, it was only because he wanted to win and there’s something so pure about that I love.”