The 2014 Formula 1 season has seen quite a big shift in rules, regulations and drivers. Included in those changes is American reserve driver Alexander Rossi, who made the switch mid-season from Caterham to Marussia.
The change saw an end to his tenure at Caterham Racing GP2. In an interview we had with him at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Rossi was fastest in pre-season testing and set his sights on the GP2 title. However things never seemed to go to plan for him and found himself in 20th position before he left the Caterham outfit.
We had the chance to catch up with him at the Singapore Grand Prix to discuss his transition.
How have you been, you’re in a different colour since we last spoke.
Yeah it is a different colour, but to be honest there was a timeframe around the July/Silverstone period where there was a lot of uncertainty. Obviously I left Caterham and I kind of fell off the map for a little bit, I think a lot of people thought we were finished until the announcement that we joined Marussia in Budapest. I’m very pleased that it came together and I’m very happy here, it’s kind of like Formula 1 has been re-introduced to me in the past couple of months, so it’s all going very well.
How have you found the change in environment? This is a team that’s achieved some results this year where the environment at Caterham wasn’t necessarily a happy place.
Exactly, like you said the environment here is much happier it seems and the moral is much higher. The big difference I noticed was that it’s run by racers, people that have run race teams in the past and who have raced themselves, whereas before it felt disconnected from the management to the staff and here it’s all one very fluid operation. They’re an incredibly efficient team, as you said they got some good results and Sauber who are a very good team haven’t been able to better it this year. So they’ve shown a lot of improvement especially in the last couple of years, where they were always kind of behind Caterham and now they definitely have the upper hand, we’re looking to progress that even more in the future.
So is the plan for you to get a few more outings this year? Obviously COTA [Circuit of the Americas] would be fairly logical.
Yes we’re trying to figure out a way to do as many as we can, but the difficult thing is because I joined the team so late and they didn’t have a reserve the race drivers kind of have their own programs that are already in place. So adding another driver kind of throws a wrench into the works, but at the end of the day we are trying to get Austin to be one of the FP1 outings as well as a couple of more before the end of the season. As you know there are so many things that change on a moment’s notice, so it’s hard to say when exactly I’ll be in until a Wednesday or Thursday before a race weekend, or in my case in Spa a Friday morning.
That was big news, you were making your debut then come Friday practice it’s not happening. You handled that very well, can you talk a little bit on your emotions from that day?
Yeah I found out right when they announced it, like 30 minutes prior on Thursday afternoon. That was a bit of a shock at that point, and then Thursday evening became much about trying to take on all the information I would now need for the race weekend instead of another Friday practice session. It change my approach to the weekend, Friday morning we were doing a lot of race preparation stuff a lot of starts and systems that I wouldn’t normally do in FP1, so it was trying to get an idea of what it would be like. Then when I got out of the car I found out that I wouldn’t actually be racing which was disappointing, but at the same time it wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be. I didn’t have two weeks to get excited about it, it was literally I found out 14 hours prior and then it went away so it wasn’t anything that I wasn’t expecting going into the weekend already. I was already planning on driving in the FP1 session so I did that and that’s where it ended, at the end of the day it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Tell me about driving in Spa and completing a few laps in a Formula 1 car.
It was very good, obviously my mind was on a lot of different things because it was a 90 minute session and there were a lot of things I had to take on board. It kind of went by in a blur because it wasn’t a normal session. There was a lot of in and out of pit lane, a lot of radio communication which was different, fuel management that I normally wouldn’t have known how to do so it was a bit of an odd session. My feedback in terms of driving an F1 car around Spa wasn’t probably what it would have been, but it was still a good experience and it was very clear that there were some areas where this car was quite a bit better than what I had driven in the past.
What are your thoughts on the pit radio clampdown and how beneficial that information is that the FIA has taken away?
What they stripped away was driving aids, which to be honest all through junior categories you never had someone telling you to brake four metres later because there’s no live telemetry feed so you wouldn’t know until after the session. So in essence it’s not all that different to what we’ve all grown up and been accustomed to, for me it would probably be easier to deal with that than someone who had been relying on that information for five to 10 years. The aspect of where they were going to take away the car-related performance messages was going to be a big hurdle to overcome for everyone because there are some things that you would just never know yourself. If the engine has ignition retardation or something how are you supposed to know that? So there would have been a lot of issues had they kept the rule in place which I don’t think is a positive thing. Cars might not make the end of the race just because someone wasn’t allowed to tell their driver to change their fuel mixture or something like that, so I think what they’ve come to now is a good thing. Whether it goes more extreme or not for next year we will have to wait and see, but I think as it is right now is perfectly fine.
What’s the plan for next year?
I don’t know, we’re doing everything we can as we have been for the past couple of years to be in a race seat but it’s no secret that we don’t have the budget to do it. We’re trying to do everything that we can, but there are many drivers in my position that will say there’s always that missing component, but we’re just trying to wait and see what happens over the next couple of months. We’re working very closely with the team and everything’s very positive.
With Haas F1 team making an entry into the sport in 2016, are you able to tell us if you’ve had discussions with them?
I’ve definitely had discussions with them, but the last thing they’re worried about is thinking about a driver line-up. They’re still a year and a quarter away from being on the grid and they have other things to think about like setting up a base. Gene is a very smart man he’s not putting the car before the horse, he hasn’t even entertained the discussion of drivers so there hasn’t been any sort of plan or suggestion yet.
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