The 2015 season will mark Gustav Malja's most significant career move to date, as he steps up to the highly-acclaimed Formula Renault 3.5, following in the footsteps of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Kevin Magnussen. In this Q&A, Gustav talks about the task ahead, his first impressions of his new team Strakka Racing, and the unique challenge of racing on the streets of Monte Carlo.
You will become only the second Swedish driver, after Alx Danielsson, to have raced in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. In GP2 – the only other championship sitting at a similar level on the single-seater ladder – Marcus Ericsson is the sole Swede to have featured. Are you feeling ready to take on this challenge?
GM: Yes, I do. I think that I belong at this level, even though I've obviously got a lot left to learn. I'm young and new to this championship, and I lack some experience, but I hope I can make up for it through hard work and grow stronger as a driver. This step is exactly what I need to continue to improve every part of what I do.
You seemed to adapt quickly during the Formula Renault 3.5 tests you did towards the end of last year. How would you describe the car?
GM: It is absolutely spectacular. It's got great acceleration and top speed, allied to incredible grip – particularly thanks to the aerodynamic package. When you have a car that's fast and powerful, and enough grip to control it, then there's not much to complain about! Like you mentioned, I did get up to speed pretty quickly during testing, and I think that had a lot to do with the confidence I felt behind the wheel. If I can manage to maintain that feeling this season, then there is no reason why we can't challenge for some strong results.
This is unquestionably a big step in all areas. How will you prepare for the season?
GM: There is a lot to prepare, loads. I have intensified my training this winter to make sure I'm physically fit for the first day of testing at Jerez. Racing means much to me, so in that respect I guess every single day – just thinking about things I can improve – acts as a kind of mental preparation. I will spend as much time as possible with the team in the UK, strengthening our relationship and getting to know my engineers and mechanics. Testing gets underway in early March, and that's when the season really starts!
You will compete for Strakka Racing this year. What are your first impressions of the team?
GM: It's all very positive. Judging by what I saw when I visited the workshop, it is a highly professional team with great attention to detail; whether it's out on track or back at base. I also instantly gelled with the people I met, and that is a crucial thing for me.
You have raced in Formula Renault 2.0, in itself a highly competitive category, over the last two years. What is the most important lesson you take from there?
GM: To always operate as one unit; driver and team together.
How about expectations – have you set yourself a target for the up-coming campaign?
GM: There is a “championship within the championship” – a dedicated points table where new drivers battle it out for the rookie title. I want to win that. Where that would leave me in the overall pecking order remains to be seen.
The highlight on the calendar this year is obviously the Monaco street race, where you will form part of the Formula 1 support bill on arguably the most famous and difficult circuit in the world. What do you make of that challenge?
GM: For me, I can honestly say that every weekend will be a highlight – there isn't one circuit in the world where I wouldn't want to drive the 3.5 car. Having said that, there is no denying that Monaco will be a unique event. It has so many components that regular race weekend don't. It's all the glamour of the place, and the track itself – which is legendary. I've never driven on a street circuit before, but it's something I'm absolutely excited about getting the chance to do. It will be tight, I'm sure, and grip levels will be poor due to the fact we're racing on regular roads, but hey… that's what makes it Monaco!
Do you already have any thoughts on how to tackle that weekend, and the build-up to it?
GM: I do have some ideas about how to prepare for that weekend. There will definitely be a lot of extra work on the simulator, and I might even try to simulate the conditions in reality one way or another. I've already had some input from various people about street circuits at large, and about Monaco in particular. I'll take it as it comes once we get there, but in very basic terms, I will try to build my confidence slowly with every lap rather than rushing into easy mistakes and put it in the wall.
Looking at the calendar apart from Monaco and Le Mans, it mainly contains tracks you're well familiar with. Do you think the schedule suits you?
GM: Hand in glove, almost. I think the calendar this year features some great circuits. Confidence in the car will be the main key, but provided you get that right, getting to a track you like is a nice bonus. There are a lot of venues this year that I really, really like, and there is the odd one that I might not appreciate to the same extent, but I think I'll enjoy every moment of driving a Formula Renault 3.5 car this year.