In Davide Valsecchi's first exclusive column on Crash.net for 2013, the Lotus F1 Team third driver and 2012 GP2 Series champion looks ahead to the start of the new F1 season and talks about his role with the highly successful Enstone-based outfit, as well as what it is like working with the squad's race drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean...
I am really happy to be working with Lotus F1 Team this season and it should allow me to make another step up the ladder to the pinnacle of the sport. I want to improve as a driver this year - that is my target - and follow really closely the work of the team during each F1 race weekend. I want to learn more about myself as a driver and to be ready for 2014 and hopefully a chance to race.
I am looking at this year in a very positive way, even though I am not racing. To be one hundred per cent honest, my aim after victory in the GP2 Series in 2012 was to find a race seat in F1. But it is extremely complicated to find a place in a competitive team and, considering I had a great proposal to act as third driver at Lotus F1 Team on the table, I chose almost immediately to go with it. I really believe it will give me a chance to develop and progress.
I think I am in the best place possible and will try working in a good way to try to improve myself and have a huge future here. Lotus is the fourth best team in the world at the moment - let's not forget that - and has an ex-world champion in Kimi, who finished third in the drivers' championship in 2012. We are talking about a top team and it is a pleasure and real honour to be part of that.
I will be involved in all the driver briefings during the events, beginning this weekend in Australia, and I want to make the most of that opportunity. But it is the mentality and respect of a F1 car and a F1 team that is important too. I am learning from Kimi and Romain, but also all the team.
During the season, I will do a programme of simulations that the team has requested I do. I also really hope to have some testing days – and some are already scheduled – just to get some mileage on my back and have some experience with an F1 car. I am pushing a lot for that. That will, for sure, help in the future.
I've already had one unexpected chance to test the Lotus E21, when Kimi had to miss the penultimate day of testing in Barcelona due to illness. I felt sorry for him but, for me, it was a fantastic surprise.
I didn't get to do so many laps but it was still good - and good to show I am ready to help out. I am always ready for my team.
It was just an incredible experience to drive the car. The E21 is extremely fast from my point of view. But it is not easy to judge how fast it is in comparison to the rest of the grid. However it was fast enough to immediately put me in the group and on the pace.
It was my first time with this car and, while I did only 16 laps, I had good confidence with it and good confidence with myself. I was happy. It was a good starting point for me and the team. I will try and be even more prepared should I be needed again at short notice.
Testing over the winter was generally good for us. We did have some reliability problems – now fixed - but every time we were on the track we were performing well. We will try to get a good result now in Melbourne.
You never know what can happen, however, because it is the first race. We will only begin to see the reality of things after qualifying and, sometimes, you do need a bit of luck for the first few weekends. We are all hoping luck is on our side. Overall though, I'd say it seems the car is fast, and that is the main thing.
We know we can count on two fantastic drivers – Romain, who is one of the fastest on the grid, and Kimi, who is maybe one of the top-three best drivers' in the world. We will give 100 per cent and we will see soon our true potential. I believe we will make a good start.
Of the other teams, it is a bit early to judge them. What we are sure about is we have a new rival in Mercedes.
They looked really fast in the winter tests and I think we will need to fight with them during this season. We will definitely be fighting again with the other top teams, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, and hopefully we can win again, like Kimi did in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2012.
That was a great moment. I was not involved with the team at that point but, three days later I was driving for them in the Young Driver Test, which was also in Abu Dhabi. The team was incredibly happy about the race result and they gave me the chance to be fastest on the final day of that test. It was a really great atmosphere and we hope to have this feeling again this year...
In terms of the drivers' title race, aside from Kimi and Romain, it will be the same top drivers in the mix.
We have Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. He is one of the best drivers' in the world. We have Lewis Hamilton, who is maybe the fastest in the world over one lap, with Mercedes. We have Jenson Button, who is an ex-world champion and still with McLaren, and, of course, we have Sebastian Vettel, three-time world champion with Red Bull. These are the main contenders.
All the drivers' have been busy already in the build-up to the first race and we did a lot of media and press photos on Thursday. Friday, though, is when the real action starts and we can focus a bit more on the track and trying to learn a bit more about the car ahead of qualifying and the race.
Wish us all luck.
Until next time, bye for now...Davide Valsecchi
To keep tabs on the Lotus F1 Team's progress in 2013, simply follow this link: www.lotusf1team.com