Giedo van der Garde was a man hotly tipped to step up into Caterham’s full-time driver line-up for the 2013 season after a year spent as the team’s reserve driver, as well as winning races in its brand-new GP2 Series outfit.
Having earned the call-up as part of a wholesale driver change during the off-season, the Dutchman spoke to RichardsF1.com during Thursday’s build-up to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix…
Appointed as the team’s official reserve driver in 2012, the Dutchman earned plenty of time behind the wheel during Friday practice sessions at several Grands Prix.
Consistent performances in Caterham’s CT01 and in their GP2 Series team helped secure the deal for 2013, but it wasn’t without a little bit of stress along the way.
“The negotiation period wasn’t easy; it was quite a tough time,” he told us yesterday.
“At the end, I got the drive and that counts. It was a fairly tough winter for me because we wanted to lock the deal in as soon as possible so I could prepare for 2013. But in spite of the delays, the good thing was that I knew the team anyway, so the late confirmation didn’t make a huge difference.
“They have supported me for the last 12 months and have supported me step by step in my journey to becoming a Formula 1 driver. I am very happy here.”
The lanky 27-year-old had a busy time of it in 2012, simultaneously juggling his Friday practice duties with outings in Caterham’s new GP2 Series team on several weekends during the European leg of the Formula 1 season. He acknowledged that his performances in both were a factor in helping secure the deal to graduate to the team’s race line-up this year.
It was a good project I did last year,” he nodded. “The GP2 Series programme wasn’t easy in a start-up team, but nevertheless we made a very good car one of the quickest in the field and won two races.
“It was a good season; it was a lot of work and it gave me great satisfaction. To then jump in and do Friday practice with the Formula 1 team was also a good experience, particularly in helping me learn some of the tracks we will visit this year. It is vital to have that experience under my belt.”
Van der Garde has had time to get up to speed in the new Caterham CT03, which has largely sat at the bottom of the timesheets with fellow new outfit, Marussia. Does he expect to be competing with them again in 2013?
“Yes, I think so,” he answered. “The team is working very hard in the background, and so far they’re pleased with what the wind tunnel testing is telling us. At the moment, the car is feeling quite good, but we are lacking a bit of downforce at the moment. If we can find it, we’ll close the gap in lap times.”
Despite its downforce deficiencies, the CT03 is still a step up on its predecessor.
“It’s difficult to compare the two because of the changes in the Pirelli tyres between 2012 and 2013. The car feels much stronger at the front end, but the degradation in the tyres means that the handling characteristics change quickly over a single stint,” he continued.
At this stage, it would appear that the points finish the team so desperately craves will not be a realistic prospect in the early rounds.
“Don’t expect us to be in the top-ten,” he warned. “We’re still a young team. The first four flyaway races will be using the same car design we ran in the final pre-season test at Barcelona. But when we return to Europe, we will have our first major update and I think then you will be able to judge our performance much better .”
One challenge the team will face is in developing its package without having the insight that a more experienced driver could bring to the table. In signing van der Garde and team-mate Charles Pic (who had his debut season with Marussia last year) – both of whom bring significant financial support to the team – the team had to do away with its more experienced pairing of Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov.
“Charles has an advantage of a year’s racing under his belt with Marussia. He had a very experienced team-mate last year [Timo Glock] and learned a lot from him. That will be important,” van der Garde added.
“He and I should have a nice battle together over the season and we’ll see where it ends up. But the most important focus should be to build the team together to improve and make progress. But of course you still want to beat your team-mate!”
As the first Dutch driver on the grid since Christijan Albers raced for Spyker in 2007, the support from his homeland is intense. The country has never had a race-winning F1 driver, with Jos Verstappen’s two podium finishes in 1994 the best Grand Prix result for a driver from the Netherlands.
“There has been quite a lot of interest at home,” van der Garde smiled.
“The Dutch media have covered me very well, and the fans are very happy to have another local driver on the grid. They know not to expect podiums or even top-ten finishes at this point, but they’re still very proud to have another Dutch driver and I am proud to represent my country in F1.”
We extend our sincerest thanks to the Caterham F1 Team for their assistance in making this interview possible.