Sebastien Buemi begins his second season in Formula 1 now firmly established in the Scuderia Toro Rosso squad, and the Swiss believes that with 17 races behind him, he and the team are much better prepared for the 2010 opener than they were 12 months ago. Speaking to the media ahead of first practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Buemi gave his views on STR's potential and the team's return to being a full-time constructor.
Q. What are your expectations for the season?
Sebastien Buemi: From what we saw during winter testing, it looks quite good. We are looking forward to it.
Q. After testing what is your feeling?
SB: We know more or less where we are and who we are going to fight against, but we need to wait until Saturday night to know exactly where we are. There are three groups at the moment – the big four, the midfield with Force India, Renault, Williams, Toro Rosso, Sauber and then the new teams. We need to see what happens on Friday and Saturday as to whether anyone has put some new updates on the car and jumped.
Q. Toro Rosso has had a full preseason testing program for the first time. How much further ahead are you with understanding the car than you were at this stage in 2009?
SB: We are a lot better prepared. It doesn't mean that we will get better results, but myself and the team understand the car a lot better. We have a very clear picture of what we can do with the car and what direction we should go to improve it. It's completely different to last year. I would not say that we were lost in Australia; we were lucky to have a competitive car at the beginning of the season but we didn't know how to use it. With the same understanding that we have now, last year would have been a different story. We feel good. We have been with Ferrari for many years, I know the group of engineers very well and we are confident that we can have a good start to the season.
Q. Is tire degradation going to be a weakness for STR this year?
SB: We don't actually know how big it is until we've done the first few races and we see how the tires react. We have only been testing when it is cold so far, so we don't really know. We have an idea, but degradation could be an issue at some circuits. We'll have to see how the car develops and how degradation affects the racing.
Q. You were worried at the end of last year about the team having to build its own car. Are you surprised at how good it is?
SB: I was worried, but now it looks quite good. The team did a very good job and worked really hard – especially with Giorgio Ascanelli, who had to set up a completely different team and strategy. In the past, we used to get the design and build it to put on the car. Now we have to do it a in a completely different way using the wind tunnel and our own design. At the moment, we are confident and quite competitive. Now we need to see how we develop the car. I don't know at what speed we will be running and what we can achieve during the season.
Q. Sebastien Bourdais used to complain that because of the way the team took its updates from Red Bull he wasn't able to develop the car to suit his own style. Have you been able to make the car better suited to what you want now STR is designing the car in-house?
SB: Yes. I would say that we could improve a lot of small things to make it better for us, our gearbox, our geometry and the way I like the car. But we need to keep in mind that we have 30 people in the wind tunnel and there are teams that have 150-200 people, so we cannot achieve the same things. We need to focus on the very important things where we think we have performance. We did what we thought was important, achieved a good thing and now we need to see what we can improve for the rest of the season.
Q. How much can you drive in your normal style with the new regulations?
SB: The new car is a lot longer. We have different tires, so it makes it a bit different to drive. But, in the end, there are not 20 ways of going fast. You brake late, try to carry the speed into the corner and get on the throttle. It's a strange feeling when you drive this car that is 10-12 centimeters longer – I was not expecting this. It was not suiting me very well at first, but we have improved it. It will never be the same car as last year, which was very reactive. It's a bit more lazy, because it's longer and heavier, but there are advantages as in the high-speed corners the car looks very settled.
Q. We expect Toro Rosso to be in the midfield. Is there potential to take some strategy gambles, maybe stopping very early and running a long stint to the end of the race, to get some surprising results?
SB: It's possible. We go back to a GP2 kind of strategy. Maybe we will take a few more risks than a team fighting for the championship. But we need to see exactly where we are. But I would love to take some risks in some races and see what happens.