Canadian Champion looking ahead to Abu Dhabi and Formula One Test
Canada’s Robert Wickens hasn’t had much time to reflect on his title-winning campaign, where he raced his Marussia Motors-backed entry to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series title, but prior to heading out to the Indian Grand Prix this weekend with Marussia Virgin Racing, the 22-year-old Formula One reserve driver reflected on his first European open-wheel racing title, the competition he faced and his upcoming Formula One test in Abu Dhabi in November.
Q: You’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on your title success now. What does winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Series mean to you?
Robert Wickens (RW): “It means a lot to me personally! I really wasn’t keen on finishing runner-up in a series for a third year in a row. This was the most important year of my career, being so close to Formula One, so it feels great to be a champion again.”
Q: What was your mindset heading into the season finale having seen a 34-point advantage at the head of the Driver Standings erorded down to just two points after the penultimate weekend at Paul Ricard in France?
RW: “I felt fairly relaxed. I felt it was going to be as simple as ‘what happens, happens’. That said, I think the championship was playing on my mind. I might have lost a bit of the aggressiveness, which helps me be as quick as I am. I realized that after I got the puncture there in the second race at Paul Ricard. After I’d pitted I was able to go out and obliterate the fastest race lap times, I think I ended up being almost a second faster than anyone else. Before that I’d been struggling for speed all weekend. Once I freed up a little I was back on it!”
Q: With five wins and numerous podiums, looking back what was the highlight of the season?
RW: “The highlight for me was definitely the Silverstone weekend where I won both races from pole. It was Carlin’s home race, which was obviously special, and it was really the closest I was going to get to a home race given I was living in an apartment up the road from the track in Milton Keynes. The crowd added an extra element to the weekend with around 120,000 people there taking advantage of the free admission offered by the ‘World Series by Renault’ race package.
“It was a great feeling just to be fastest throughout and come away with two more wins. To be honest we’d had other weekends, such as Spa, where we had the potential to sweep the podium but it just didn’t work out for whatever reason. At Silverstone everything clicked but for a few minor differences in some other events we could have experienced a few more weekends like that.”
Q: How did the level of competition rate in your mind in comparison to some of the other series you’ve competed in during your time in Europe?
RW: “I think you only have to look at the number of drivers with some affiliation to a Formula One team this year to see the strength that was in the driver line-up in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. There was myself, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne, Alexander Rossi, Jan Charouz, Brendon Hartley, Kevin Korjus and Fairuz Fauzy all enjoying relationships with F1 teams at various levels. The way I often look at competition in a championship is not to look at the drivers that season but to then see where they’ve gone following that season and how well they’ve raced further up the ladder.”
Q: You won an F1 test with Lotus Renault GP for winning the championship. What do you hope to gain from that outing in Abu Dhabi next month?
RW: “It’s going to be a competitive car and I think my goal would be to try and get up there at the top-end of the timesheets. It’s a great opportunity for me to prove myself. At the end of the day I want to make an impression. Whether that’s through consistent lap times, if that’s what the team wants, or if they want to go for the fastest time of the day, either way I’ll enjoy the experience of participating in a full-blown F1 driver test.”
Q: You’re currently a reserve driver for Marussia Virgin Racing in Formula One. Are you expecting to test with them before the season’s out – either in Abu Dhabi at the ‘Young Driver’ test or perhaps in a Friday morning Grand Prix session?
RW: “I would certainly like a day with Marussia Virgin Racing at the ‘Young Driver’ test in Abu Dhabi. I’m hoping we can work towards something. As far as doing the Friday morning sessions, the team has its plans and they know what they want to accomplish during those outings. We haven’t had any discussions about it yet but it would obviously be nice to be involved if the opportunity arose. If it happens, great, if not then I’ll still be working with the team in my reserve driver capacity, doing the track walks, attending meetings and continuing my F1 education.”
Q: You’ve become a familiar face around the Formula One paddock this season. How important is it, do you think, to deliver on-track but also to be visible in the F1 paddock to secure a full-time ride?
RW: “It’s huge. Just showing your face consistently in the F1 paddock shows how close you are to the situation, reminding people you’re there and involved. I think it also has an impact on the people on the outside looking in. I’m hoping that my involvement with Marussia Virgin Racing this year in F1 helps attract partners who want to be associated with my career and its progression, with the goal naturally being a full-time F1 ride.”
Q: You’ve obviously been observing this season’s F1 championship from within. Can you please share your thoughts on what you’ve witnessed?
RW: “Sebastian Vettel’s simply been in a league of his own. His record really speaks for itself so you have to look behind him to see who else has impressed in light of his dominance. I think Jenson Button’s put together a terrific season and he’ll probably help guarantee that we have some additional excitement in the last couple of races.”