The last time we saw you was atop the podium in Sao Paulo, what have you been doing over the winter?
“Yeah, winning at Sao Paulo was a really fantastic way to bring the curtain down on the season. It was such a demanding race – the conditions were always changing and you could never relax – and it was great to bring a great era of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to a really satisfying end. Now I’m busy preparing for the start of a new one.
“It’s been a fairly typical winter for me: lots of training, but in a relaxed way, and lots of outdoors work, too, which always makes it more fun. I was in Hawaii for part of the break – I managed to fit in running a marathon, doing a lot of miles on my new bike, as well as seeing friends, relaxing and eating well. I feel absolutely refreshed and ready to go!
“It’s funny, but the start of the winter break always feels so long and open-ended, but, before you know it, you’re looking at the calendar and making plans to get back to MTC and start working again. I have to say, I always look forward to the start of a new year – I’ve never lost that enthusiasm throughout my entire career – and I think we have a lot to look forward to during the year ahead.”
You’re teamed up with Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for 2013, will it feel strange having a new team-mate?
“I had three fantastic seasons racing alongside Lewis, but nothing stays the same in Formula 1 and people move on. It’s always interesting to have a new team-mate – there’s that inevitable getting-to-know-you period when you’re settling in, but I’m really pleased to have Checo at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. We all saw what he was capable of doing behind the wheel of a Sauber last year and I think he’s a very good addition to this team.
“The most important thing is that you have a good working relationship, that you can share ideas and information freely and that you’re working together with the engineers for the good of the team. That’s never been an issue at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and I think we’re going to work well together – Checo may only be 22, but he’s very sensible and he knows what’s needed to get the most from the car, so I predict it’ll be a very strong partnership.”
There’s a greater degree of continuity in the rules from 2012 to 2013, how do you expect to see that play out on the track this season?
“I think all the teams will go into this season feeling more assured about the Pirelli tyres. As you know, last year was a bit of an unknown as we all got to grips with the new rubber, but that’s less likely to happen this time around, so there’s more stability there. There are differences to the tyres – the shape and the compounds, but I don’t think they’ll be as fundamental to the overall car performance as they were last year.
“In terms of regulations, yes there is some stability, so I expect most teams will have continued to refine their car package over the winter. It’s always really interesting to see how the cars develop during a period of rules stability, because you watch the progress from year to year as the engineers refine and improve their thinking and ideas. You can literally see how the car has improved from season to season. It’s crazy.
“I hope there’s stability for another reason, too: I won the last race of 2012 so it would be perfect to win the first race of 2013!”
How eager are you to get behind the wheel of your new car?
“Always massively, massively motivated. As I said, I’ve never, ever lost that feeling of excitement and anticipation ahead of a new season. And testing the new car is always such an adventure, because it’s such a dense and complicated procedure; in fact, testing a new car is very much in keeping with the Bruce McLaren ideal. Back in the 1960s, I heard about Bruce endlessly testing his cars, chasing improvements and stamping out problems and reliability issues.
“Testing is where you see a racing driver at the opposite end of the spectrum to when we’re in a grand prix – it’s never really about raw speed; it’s about process, repetition, repeatability, about following your instincts but backing it up with good engineering.
“It’s an absolutely fascinating process, and you can see the fruits of your labour unfolding before your eyes, day after day. It’s a part of the job that I really enjoy. Can’t wait!”