Have you had a good break since the end of last season?
Do you feel physically and mentally prepared for this year?
I’m really looking forward to racing again. I feel I have a much better understanding of what I have to do than I did a year ago, I know how to prepare in order to perform well. I know what my weak points are, I have all of my experience from last year to build on and I have been working hard to be ready. Last year, if anything unexpected or unusual happened, I could not adapt quick enough to deal with the situation, which is why I struggled in a lot of races. I ended last year well, with a fourth place in Abu Dhabi, so I want to carry that momentum into this new season. I feel more pressure to perform now than I did last year, but it’s a good pressure, which is motivation for me when I’m training.
Have you already had the possibility to test the new car in the simulator?
Yes, I have. The team is still adapting a lot of the data for the sim from the wind tunnel, so even if it’s not the full specification, it gave me a similar feeling to the car we used at the Abu Dhabi test at the end of last season. Obviously, the downforce level is lower than last year and I could feel that through some corners. Overall, I got a good impression from the simulator work, so now we will see at the Barcelona shakedown how the car moves on track.
Will the new 18-inch wheels make a big difference to how the car feels?
The car generally feels a lot sharper, with sharper movement and over a long run, the bigger wheels give you a completely different feeling to that on the old 13-inch tyres. I’ve experienced this feeling before, because when I raced in Formula 2, we made the same switch to 18 inches and I felt the same difference there. It felt like a similar step, so I think I can use the experience I had in F2. But it’s not just the tyres that change this year, the new car means there are lots of changes for 2022 to learn about and adapt to.
You came to Formula 1 through the Red Bull Junior Programme, but you are seen very much as a Honda driver. How does it feel to know Honda will no longer be in F1 this year?
It’s been so important to have had Honda’s backing throughout my career so far. I have had many opportunities I wouldn’t have had without Honda and I have learnt so much. I owe them a lot and together with Red Bull, they are an integral part of my development as a driver. I will give my best to reward them with a good performance. I will be missing some of the people we used to work with but I’m sure we’ll be able to benefit from the same reliable and powerful PU we had last year. I’ll also be missing the Honda hospitality in the paddock, I won’t be able to enjoy a nice Japanese breakfast there! It was part of my routine to start the day like that and motivate myself.
What are your goals for your second season in Formula 1?
I want to improve my pace and the consistency in the way I drive. I know what I have to do to achieve that. If I can work the way I did at the last three or four races of last year, that will be a good way to start. It won’t be easy, but I am confident that I can achieve that.
If the calendar goes to plan, you should get to race in Suzuka in front of your home crowd for the very first time in F1.
Yes, I’m really looking forward to that. Driving in Suzuka will be special. It has always been my dream to drive in F1 in front of Japanese fans and it would be really good to get an extra special result there. For now, I just want to concentrate on producing a better overall performance than last year. I feel I’m better prepared.
You are an AlphaTauri brand ambassador and regularly wear their clothes, what’s a must-have item that everyone should own?
It’s difficult to single out just one item when there are so many nice pieces in the collection! I’d say Pierre and I have very different styles, he likes more sophisticated outfits whereas I’m into more streetwear, oversized t-shirts and jumpers. AlphaTauri have some great sweatshirts and hoodies that I often wear to the track, they come in some really cool colours too, so I think I’d definitely have to pick one of them.