The 2018 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix sees promising young Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin make his Grand Prix racing debut with Williams Martini Racing.
Hailing from Moscow, the 22-year-old has some of the best racing qualifications as a rookie driver, and is a race-winner in every open-wheel championship he has contested on his journey to Formula 1.
Added to that, he has a degree in race car engineering from Moscow’s Automobile and Road Construction University, which he completed last year while serving as as the Renault F1 team’s reserve driver.
We spoke exclusively to Sirotkin ahead of his Grand Prix racing debut, and met a man who is truly excited to make his mark.
Congratulations on making it to Formula 1. How do you feel ahead of your Grand Prix racing debut?
Thank you! It’s different [to what I expected], to be honest. I got here on Tuesday and to see your name above the garage and on this table [where we are interviewing], it’s a bit different from what I’m used to. I still can’t get it completely.
You’re now the third Russian driver after Vitaly Petrov and Daniil Kvyat to make it all the way to an F1 race seat. What pressure and expectations are there back home and how do you handle this?
It depends on how you personally take it. I have a good support network behind me. The key point I learned last year is that there’s always pressure on you, but the way you enjoy it is much more important. That’s how I try to consider every part of the job I’m doing.
You’ve had success in every junior category you’ve raced in, and more recently gained experience in GP2 / Formula 2 and as a reserve driver with Renault. How important has this experience been in shaping where you are today?
It’s all step-by-step. I wouldn’t choose a particular [series] but they’ve all made me who I am today and where I am.
In pre-season testing the Williams ran reliably but didn’t really show its hand as far as the stopwatch is concerned. Where do you think the FW41 ranks in the pecking order of what looks to be a very tight midfield?
The midfield is really tight. We did our analysis – I wouldn’t say it looks mega but it looks about where we expected to be, really. Testing was not ideal with the weather but we squeezed the best out of it that we could. While we weren’t able to test every [new] part, we were able to see the car’s strong and weak parts.
What personal goals are you setting for yourself in 2018?
First of all, to get the best out of myself. The midfield is so close it would be silly to say ‘I want this amount of points, this and that’. Of course I want points, and [ultimately] I’m here to win. At the end of the day it’s not going to be correct to predict how much progress we will make given [it’s unknown] where the others are. We are going to be competitive. I know my level and what I can do, so I have to make sure I deliver.
You’re partnered with Lance Stroll and on paper you’re the youngest pairing in the field with very little experience in F1 machinery. How is your working relationship with him?
It’s all good, to be honest. It’s very standard [as a relationship]. It’s smooth, we have a good working group between us, behind us.
What does driving for Williams mean to you in your appreciation of its history and achievements in Formula 1?
It means a massive amount. Williams is such a strong name and team with its history behind it. Of course you would be excited just to realise you’ve made it to F1. But if I stop to think back a couple of years – knowing how good these cars are and the team’s name is – that I would be driving for them today, I wouldn’t believe it.
No one ever forgets their first race, everyone loves their home race. What other Grand Prix are you most looking forward to this year?
I wouldn’t say there’s a single event on the calendar that stands out. At the end of the day you’re always trying to deliver your best, regardless of which country or circuit. I’m sure I’ll find some circuits which I enjoy more, and others I like less!
The Albert Park circuit will have an unprecedented this DRS zone for this weekend’s race. What are your thoughts?
I think we won’t look at this as a sort of overtaking opportunity but rather it will help allow the drivers to get a bit closer to the car ahead to make the best out of the existing two DRS zones. We won’t go that deep into setting up the car [specifically for this third DRS zone] but it will give a little help.
Images via Ignite Image / MotorsportM8