With one race and two qualifying sessions under his belt, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Sébastien Buemi felt confident that the order of things to come had been established. The Swiss driver spoke to redbull.com after qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
After reaching Q3 in Melbourne, is it disappointing to only start 12th at Sepang?
"I think our pace is pretty similar to Melbourne. [Renault’s Nick] Heidfeld did a good job qualifying today, so he was into Q3 like [team-mate Vitaly] Petrov, and that moved everybody one place back. Michael [Schumacher] was one-tenth of a second faster than me here; there I was one-tenth faster than him, so you can see the tendency is very similar to what we had in Melbourne."
Do you take heart from the fact you’re in the thick of it this year with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes?
"Yes, but with Nico Rosberg starting P8 I think it’s clear they are quicker than us, but not by much. It will depend on how much we improve our car and how quickly. Actually there are several teams that are really close. Williams seem a little bit off the pace here, but in Melbourne they were at our level if not a bit quicker. Force India are up there, and the Sauber of Pérez. [Sauber’s Kamui] Kobayashi is a little bit ahead, in a group with the Mercedes who are maybe three-tenths quicker than up, and in front of them there is a jump. There’s a small group of Renault and Ferrari and then you have Red Bull and McLaren."
When do you think the picture of who will be where this season will become clear?
"I think today gives us a pretty good idea of how it’s going to be for a while. I think in Melbourne the qualifying of Vettel was an amazing lap on a ‘special’ circuit - but what you see today is more or less what you will see in China andbeyond. Maybe the advantage of the Red Bull will be slightly bigger in China because it’s a lot hotter here, or maybe the McLaren has improved, I don’t know - but I still expect the grid to be similar for at least the next race in China. After that, it depends."
You spent a lot of races circling on your own last year. Do you think things will be tighter in 2011?
"Now it’s definitely tighter, y’know? Today you really have Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber, packed in within four-tenths of a second. Whether you lead that group or trail at the back depends on what you do, rather than what you have. For example, this morning in FP3, we didn’t do a very good job; we got the set-up wrong and straight away we were firmly at the back of that group. Everyone has to tread very carefully. You have to get the maximum out of the car if you want to be in front of the midfield."
Being on the verge of Q3 must be exciting – or is it frustrating?
"In a way it’s nice having something that maybe you get and maybe you don’t. Obviously if you never got it, that would be massively frustrating. But getting into Q3 can be frustrating too, because when you get there, having used all of your soft tyres in the effort, you have nothing left and you can’t even begin to fight. The Renault is probably half a second to sixth-tenths quicker than us and it’s too much to make up. That aside, it’s nice to be in Q3 sometimes."
Toro seems strong at the moment, is it imperative to bank points now before other teams come back at you?
"We should bank points now, but you never know what will happen. We have good preparation and a good plan in terms of updates, so I don’t think this season will be like 2010 where we fell away because we could not bring anything new. Now there is a good development coming on, and hopefully we’ll be able to stay where we are or get better. This definitely is the objective, but we need to take every opportunity. What happened in Australia [Sauber being disqualified] was lucky for us, bad luck for Sauber, and instead of arriving here nine points behind them, we are four points ahead. You need to take everything you can because at the end of the day it makes a difference. Look at Force India last year: in the end they were not really quicker than us, but they got 30 points in the first five races and you can never recover that sort of deficit."
And is getting those points more about the driver and less about the car this season?
"The thing that makes it different is the tyres. You have more degradation, more movement of the car. It’s a lot less consistent so it is definitely more difficult to drive because it moves a lot more. In qualifying you only get one flying lap on the tyres and after that they are finished. It isn’t like in the past when you had one, two, three laps where a small mistake meant you needed to go around again. Now, if you make a mistake that’s it - so I think it's slightly more difficult - but that’s good because it shows up the difference between the drivers. Exciting, no?"
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