Pre-season testing has been a low key affair for BMW Sauber and Robert Kubica. But the team have racked up more miles than anyone else and, like current pacesetters Brawn GP they’ve had a head start on development too, however much that frustrated Kubica’s title hopes last year.
Can they go one better in 2009 and topple McLaren and Ferrari for championship glory? The man Lewis Hamilton fears most is giving nothing away, but if his excitement about the new season, KERS, and overtaking is anything to by expect him to be right up there…
Q: Robert, how has testing gone with the F1.09?
RK: Winter testing is always important. This year it is even more important because of the drastic changes in the regulations. It is hard to say if the direction is right because every team starts with a completely new package from zero. So there is a lot to do in testing. For example, on the last day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona I covered more than twice the distance of a Grand Prix.
That is pretty demanding on the car and on the driver. Neither the BMW Sauber F1.09 nor my body had a problem with that. That shows my fitness training during the winter was as perfect as the work on the reliability of the car. In addition to the race simulation, we evaluated a lot of different solutions for the mechanical set-up and the aero configuration of the car. We were able to make up some of the time we lost the week before in Jerez due to the unfortunate weather. So overall it was a very productive test.”
Q: Will you miss having opportunities to test during the season?
RK: “This is something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I’m pleased that there will be a bit less travelling and I’ll maybe have more time for myself. Having said that, over previous seasons testing has played a very important role in pushing forward the development of the car and setting it up for the next races. I can’t be sure yet whether we will be able to be as effective during the testing permitted on Fridays of each race weekend.”
Q: How do you see the various technical modifications for 2009?
RK: “All in all, the F1.09 is totally different to drive compared with our 2008 car. The reduced aerodynamics make the cars have less downforce. This will be counteracted partly by the slick tyres, which build up much more grip – particularly at the front axle – than the grooved tyres we’ve been using in the past few seasons.
This imbalance between the front and rear axle means the cars oversteer more. Personally, I think this is quite fun, although I would prefer to have greater aerodynamic downforce. I’ve got used to the larger front wing now. The tricky thing about it is that you can’t see its outer edges from the cockpit because they are hidden by the front wheels.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the first corner at the Australian Grand Prix. I can imagine that we will see a lot more damaged front wings than in the past when things get tight. Regarding KERS, I have mixed feelings. As I am a tall and relatively heavy person I have disadvantages regarding the weight and consequently the weight distribution of the car. But on the other hand KERS could be a big advantage because of the boost.”
Q: Will the new variables make the car more complicated to use for the driver?
RK: “Not really. Using KERS and the adjustable front wing is not particularly difficult. Once you’ve worked out where to use KERS to optimum effect at each track and in which places you adjust the front wing, it happens pretty much automatically.”
Q: Do you think it will be easier to overtake this season?
RK: “KERS definitely helps on a straight when you want to overtake somebody who doesn’t have the system. I think the picture will not change dramatically. But I really hope there will be more opportunities to overtake, because fans and drivers miss overtaking in Formula One.”
Q: Will the teams be more closely matched?
RK: “It’s difficult to say. There was very little between the top teams in testing. Whether that will also be the case in qualifying will doubtless depend very much on how well the teams are able to prepare for each race track – and that’s become harder with the restrictions on testing. When it comes to the races, a major factor will be how effectively the car and driver work with the tyres. There is some uncertainty here as well; the new tyres mean we can only use data from the past to a limited degree.”
Q: What is your aim for the 2009 season?
RK: “To get 100 percent out of myself and the F1.09 in every race. Only then we can have the chance to beat the other top teams and still be battling for the title in the final race of the season.”
Q: How do you think the BMW Sauber F1 Team is shaping up compared to its rivals?
RK: “As always testing can only give you ideas on where you are. And it can also mislead you. Our goal is to be best prepared for Australia. And I think we are on a good path. But we have to wait until Melbourne to really see where we are. The Qualifying will give all the teams a first impression about the balance of power.”
Q: How did you spend the winter?
RK: “The winter was, as always, very relaxing after a long and exciting season. As usual I prepared for the coming season, worked a lot on fitness and strength for another very demanding season.”
Q: How did you focus your winter training?
RK: “My overall fitness level was good so I concentrated on keeping this level for the new season. A lot of drivers focused on losing weight because of KERS. From my experience in 2008 I know where my limits are in this respect.”
Q: What was your goal in setting up Robert Kubica Kart?
RK: “I have been karting for many years and really enjoying it. Karting was my world. Now being in Formula One I am just karting for fun as often as I can. So my basic idea was to set up a karting team and develop my own brand. Once it has started properly I am sure it will give me some satisfaction and also good results.”
Q: Are you happy with the development of RK Kart?
RK: “Yes, but we are still at a very early stage. We worked a lot before we managed to get the homologation for our first self-developed racing kart. And we need to keep working to improve. I am pretty confident it will be a good project.”