If you wanted an example of a ‘hard luck’ story in 2013, then Robin Frijns would be a case in point. Having rocketed through the junior ranks, Robin landed a competitive drive in the GP2 Series and a reserve driver role with the Sauber F1 Team in 2013, only for both opportunities to fall to pieces as better-funded drivers came knocking.
Robin’s story is typical of many up-and-coming drivers whose abundant talents can be overlooked at the expense of what inexplicably little commercial support lies behind them.
But the Caterham F1 Team was quick to recognise that Sauber let a red-hot property slip through its fingers, and promptly signed up the Dutchman as the team’s official test and reserve driver for the 2014 season.
Back with a team that is showing faith in his clearly evident talent, Robin is hoping to make the next step to Formula 1, as he told RichardsF1.com during the Australian Grand Prix weekend…
How much of a vindication was Caterham’s decision to hire you for the 2014 Formula 1 season? How do you feel to be one step closer to your dream of a Formula 1 drive?
It’s quite important for me to sit in the car and show what I can do in the car; I didn’t have the chance last year it [the reserve driver role at Sauber] was just a name I had. Yes, I got an opportunity at the Young Drivers test and that went OK, but you can’t really compare yourself to the others if you’re driving alone on the track.
It wasn’t an easy year for me as everybody knew, I didn’t have any money to drive GP2, even though I did a couple of races without a budget, but the GP2 team which I drive for, Hilmer, wanted to have a good driver to make the car quicker and be at the front which I did, then I ran out of money and they found somebody else.
I’m feeling way more attracted to the team than I was last year. I’m here in Melbourne so that’s saying enough. I drove in Bahrain and in Jerez which also means a lot to me that they believe in me, and that’s important for me as a driver.
If I were in this position where I am now 20 years ago, I would have a seat somewhere like Ferrari, but that’s not the case now, these days it’s all about the money, it’s sad but you have to live with it.
Obviously last year – losing both your GP2 Series and Sauber reserve driver roles – was tough on you. What have you learned about yourself as part of your return to Formula 1?
I’ve been patient, I have to. I’ve had tough years before last, it’s not like it came easy to me, it’s a lot of work you put in. For example, in GP2 [I drove] with a new team and after a couple of races where you had so many unlucky moments – for example, the car breaks down – you can’t do anything about it.
When they just say ‘You ran out of money so we will just take somebody else’, it’s painful because you do all the effort for nothing.
You make the car quick for nothing.
It’s not like I learned anything from it that period about how to drive. You just have to do the best you can do every time you sit in the car and that’s what I do.
Did you seriously consider or explore opportunities to race in other championship series’ after your troubles last year?
I didn’t actually have any offers from GT or whatever, but I wasn’t looking for it either.
But of course you think about it and ask yourself the question: ‘Am I going to have a chance in Formula One still, or is the chance gone?’
Following on from your being dropped from the GP2 Series and then by the Sauber F1 Team, you opted to change your management. How important a decision was this for you and how have you found the change that your new management has brought about?
The end of last season I changed my management, and I am really happy with my management now [Timo Ganz and Timo Dahn].
They are working really hard. I was stuck with my old one, and they didn’t improve anything. So I wasn’t really happy with that anymore, so that’s why I changed and that’s why I’m sitting here and I’m really grateful for them.
While Caterham have enjoyed the best mileage of the Renault runners, it still seems to be off the pace relative to some competitors. Given you’ve had some outings behind the wheel of this year’s CT05, what are your impressions of the new car and how competitive do you feel it is?
It’s hard to say, we don’t have the quickest car that’s for sure. I don’t know and – for that matter – you don’t know what the other teams are doing in pre-season yesting..
We also are struggling with the Renault engine and the power and I think we didn’t even run at full power at the tests.
There’s lots of factors that have to be right, if they’re not then we’re off pace. And I think with the first couple of races like Australia and Malaysia we don’t have those factors on the line yet, so we have to work on that first before we can claim ‘OK, we have a complete car now’.
You’re paired alongside drivers – within Caterham and the other teams – who you regularly beat in the junior categories. How do you integrate yourself into the team, and can you apply pressure to those around you in the hope of landing a full-time seat in 2015?
It’s still OK; I mean I’m quite an easy guy to work with, it’s not like I’m an asshole.
Everybody knows I want to have that seat. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s why I’m here, to maybe put some pressure on Marcus [Ericsson] or Kamui [Kobayashi], but they know that, it’s not like they’re just hanging around either.
But it’s alright with these guys, we have some fun – that’s important, but still we have a calling to do as a team and that’s to score as many points as we can get, and we have to do it all together.
Image via Corbis Images