A few days after Fernando Alonso won his sixth race of the season in MontrÃ©al, Robert Doornbos took time for an extensive talk with his website while on his way to the next Grand Prix at Indianapolis. With nine race weekends behind us, the...
A few days after Fernando Alonso won his sixth race of the season in Montr?al, Robert Doornbos took time for an extensive talk with his website while on his way to the next Grand Prix at Indianapolis. With nine race weekends behind us, the Formula One season 2006 is exactly halfway. The perfect moment for the Red Bull Racing driver to discuss what went on in the first six months of this year and to take a glance at the upcoming Grand Prix and 2007.
Q: Robert, we're already halfway through the season. What is your impression so far?
Robert Doornobs: It really went fast, didn't it? For me it feels like these six months passed by even quicker than they did last year. But you know what they say: 'Time flies when you're having fun'. It actually all started for me when testing kicked off in early January. As we experienced some difficulties in the first two months, we could not make as much mileage as we hoped unfortunately. But it was also the period I noticed the difference between Red Bull Racing and the teams I've driven for in the past.
The team decided to introduce an update on our chassis straight away, they planned more pre-season tests and really got on it. I'm in a very professional team now which has eye for all details. We were happy to score our first point in Bahrain immediately which motivated everyone in the team. After that, we improved the car bit by bit and this is exactly where I fit into the story.
At Fridays during Grand Prix weekends I'm responsible for our tyre evaluation programme and I have to find out how the car is performing on both a high and a low fuel load so we can decide which direction to go on Saturday and Sunday. Outside these weekends I'm scheduled to do most of the team's development work during tests. A pretty busy job, but you won't hear me complain!"
Q: Can you tell us something more about your job in the Free Practise sessions during GP weekends?
RD: As we only have two sessions of one hour each, it's very important to get the max out o f this. Depending on which circuit we are we try to find a suitable basic set-up first, after which we start our programme. The reason that this differs sometimes, is that we test more at certain circuits than on others. Also the grip level on each track differs. In Monaco and Montr?al for example the track is barely used, and so we have to adapt our car to the ever improving circumstances.
Next to our set-up work we mainly focus on our tyre evaluation programme in this first session. Michelin and Bridgestone can bring two types of compound with them for each race, a soft and a hard one, which I have to analyse on Friday. Usually I do two long runs of 8-10 laps each in which I also look after several electronic gadgets we've got on our car. After lunch I continue with again two stints of eight laps each, but this time on a high fuel load. This takes us about 30 minutes. Normally we schedule one or two 'speed comparison runs' afterwards to test out our qualifying pace.
If we still have any time left, I also practise some starts, put down some rubber in front of our pit box during some pit stops and this kind of thing. No way, as some people might think, that a testdriver is just there to do drive some laps and try to finish as high in the timesheets as possible."
Q: And afterwards? You speed towards the Formula Una girls who are invited every weekend by Red Bull?
RD: Haha, I wish that was the case! No, to be quite honest actually, that's the moment the day really starts. Once I've stepped out of the car, I have a quick chat with the media before David, Christian, our engineers, the Michelin engineer, the Ferrari people and I go to our 'threehut' for the debrief. Like I said, I'm responsible for our tyre choice and this is one of the most important issues in a weekend. Therefore this requires an excellent feedback from me.
As my driving style is similar to that of David's and Christian's they fully rely on my experiences. If I'm positive about a specific new part for example, David will use it without any hesitation. To achieve this, you also have to get respect from your teammates, or better said, earn it. David is in F1 for over 13 years now, so he really won't copy something he is not sure about. We have a good relationship, as with Christian. The two of us call DC 'uncle David', haha!"
Q: Okay, you have given us a good insight view on your job during Grand Prix. But what exactly do you do in between the races?
RD: In the winter months I did a lot of PR activities for the team, as our car was not that reliable yet. Because we could not make the mileage we hoped for, David and Christian mainly did the driving in January and February in order to get acquainted with the RB2 and to get ready for Bahrain. On from the start of the season, I took over from them and have done the majority of our tests. Contrary to my job during a GP weekend, I mainly focus on development work in these test sessions.
I evaluate Michelin's new tyres for the upcoming Grand Prix, test our new software or try to find out how we can optimise our weight distribution. The last few months the team also entrusted me to develop our new gearbox. I feel like my technical skills are improving continuously. And that, of course, does not only help me but also the team. For these reasons they assign me to do all the tests. Sometimes I visit three countries in the same day! I wake up in the UK, I take a flight to Monza to test and afterwards I travel to Monaco to get a good night's rest.
But just to make sure: I like to do this. I do my utmost to improve the team because this looks also great on my resume. To only top the timesheets n Friday does not impress the team bosses. They'd rather see the entire picture. As a driver you have to be mega quick and consistent, push your team forward technically but also have to do a good job PR-wise. I'm working on all of these aspects."
Q: On which results are you proud the most?
RD: Pfoehh, difficult question! Of course I'm proud if I see my name at the top of the lists at the N?rburgr ing and Monaco for instance. Please don't forget our car is not as quick as the Hondas or Renaults yet. So if I want to finish right in between these guys, I really have to get the max out of the car! But what I'm also proud of is that the team trusts me to do very important development work for them. This might not get the headlines in the newspapers, but if I do a great job for the team they will enjoy this even more than if I set the fastest lap time on a Friday. For sure!
Q: You have now driven on all Formula One Grand Prix tracks. Which are your favourites?
RD: Mhh, well Spa-Francorchamps is obviously my 'home circuit'. I've always been succesful there and it's just an amazing track with corners such as Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Pouhon. Unfortunately, Spa is not on the calender this year. If I only look at the circuits we race on this year, I have to say I prefer Melbourne, Monaco and Montr?al. Call it the three M's, haha! At all these three tracks you drive so close to the walls, you really feel the speed.
If I take a glance at the upcoming events, I'm looking forward to go to Hockenheim. I made my Grand Prix debut there last year with Minardi and there are always a lot of Dutch supporters. But I also enjoy Istanbul, Sao Paolo and Suzuka, which also seems to fit me very fine. In other words, I like them all! What was your question again, hehe?!"
Q: About a year ago you made your GP debut. Do you miss racing?
RD: Yes, of course I miss it quite a bit. Racing in Formula One is the highest level in motorsports, and so I keep focussed on that. But read my lips, I'm very satisfied being the test- and third driver for Red Bull Racing. We were handed this chance last year, and it gave us the opportunity to move up to an enormous ambitious and highly regarded team. It just feels good if you enter the paddock and you can walk some doors further.
We decided to grab this opportunity with both hands, so I can show what I'm capable of. And so far I'm doing a good job, aren't I? Of course I woul d very much like to get into action on Saturdays and Sundays next year and we're working hard on that to achieve this. But you will never hear us making much fuss about it. Just keep your fingers crossed, I would say!
Q: Everyone expects a wild 'silly season', as many drivers see their contract end at the end of this year. How do you feel about this?
RD: You're right a lot of contracts expire this year, but does this automatically mean that drivers will leave their teams? During this time of year everyone talks with everyone, that's true. But it would not be smart not to do so. But I think if you look closely at these articles, you will also find a lot of messages of teams and drivers who would like to continue their cooperation. At least, I very much enjoy it here at RBR. Like I said earlier, we prefer to work in silence and not to make much fuss about our plans.That's just not my style."
Q: Ninth and last question. Who do you think will win this year's championship and what can we expect in the second half of the season?
RD: Though I'm still pretty busy on Saturday and Sunday, I'm always watching the race in our pit box or in our Energy station. Of course my interest goes out to David's and Christian's performances, but I also follow all the action around Fernando, Michael and Kimi.
I think Fernando is in a similar situation as last year. He does not have to win all the remaining races, as long as he stays close behind Michael and Kimi. At least, That's the way he won the crown last year. But, if Fernando retires once or twice and Michael wins these races, the situation can change totally. I hope it all goes down to the last round in Brazil!