Sergey Sirotkin is undertaking a new challenge in 2019. In this exclusive interview with Overtake Motorsport we get a greater insight into his upcoming season as well as his thoughts on last year at Williams.
Sergey, congratulations on your announcement that you will be taking part in the WEC this year. How are your preparations going?
This championship is a new chapter in my career, but in terms of preparation, honestly, nothing has changed, it’s still a racing car, it’s still the only aim we have getting behind the wheel – to do the job as good as we can and to be the quickest. Nothing changes if you are driving an F1 car or if you are driving a WEC car or any other car. So in terms of preparation, I’m on top of everything and again it didn’t change at all.
The No17 car was relatively consistent in 2018, taking a third at Silverstone and seventh place at the last two races. What are the goals for the upcoming races at Sebring and Spa?
It’s a good wording, relatively consistent, because it’s probably consistent but we are not targeting to be always 3rd or 7th. We have a goal. For sure, we have two very quick cars ahead of us, which are difficult to beat. We understand why, but it’s still possible. Nothing is impossible in life. And if we are coming to the race we are not coming to be 7th or 3rd, we are there with an approach to win. At least, this is my personal point of view. And whatever racing it’s going to be, Sebring or Spa, or especially Le Mans, I’m personally, trust me, going there for the win, or at least for the podium, I’m not going there to be consistently 7th .
Will you be looking to your teammates to provide you with feedback on the characteristics of the car so you are able to get the most out of it straight away?
It’s always good to share the feedback between all the drivers and for sure we will do this. It’s
interesting for me as a part of the SMP Racing team to know what other people think about the car, but at the same time I believe I have enough knowledge, enough experience from other very top categories in motorsport to know what I’m doing and to help the team, providing the feedback from my side and this what I will try to follow and I will try to be myself and do the job in the way I think it should be done. We will see where it brings us but again I feel very confident and motivated to prove myself.
Stephane Sarrazin is a driver with so much experience and success across a number of
different categories. What is it like having him as a teammate and are you learning anything from him?
For sure, Stephane is a very experienced and very good, well known driver, and for sure it’s great to have him with us in the team. It will be a few aspects where I will be watching him, honestly, same as any other drivers in the team, but again, I do believe I have enough knowledge, experience and enough trust in myself to know how to do the things. I think it will be good to compare with him and see how our powers cooperate and how we are preforming relative to each other.
Have you raced at Sebring before? If not, how will you go about learning the new track?
No, I believe none of us has ever raced in Sebring before, maybe apart from Stephane. Actually just a couple of days ago we arrived from the simulator, where we had some work on Sebring track. It is a difficult track, quite old-school and bumpy, it’s exactly what I like. So I look forward to getting there and driving on the track and probably after the race I can tell you a bit more, how it will be actually in real life, but right now at this point I’m really excited to try it.
You took part in the 2017 Le Mans in the LMP2 class. How different are the LMP1 cars in
comparison and do you need to make many changes to your driving style?
Yes, for sure LMP1 car is not that much, but a bit different from LMP2, but at the same time, my race in Le Mans in 2017 was a short experience and I didn’t get a chance to feel the car that year. Driving LMP1 will be new for me and I’m happy to take it as a new thing and try to adapt to it.
You had a difficult year at Williams in 2018 with a car that was not competitive. What did you learn from your experience with the team?
Yes, we had a very difficult season, to be honest. It’s not that easy for me to spot out orchoose only a few things which I learned most during the year. It was quite difficult in all aspects. It’s been so many new things that I had to learn on top of everything. Probably not even to learn, but many things I had to cope with to be able to perform. I had to change a lot of things, not even in terms of driving, but more in terms of approach, how to behave with a team, how to be a bit more into the team, so, once again, I can’t name only one thing I had to cope with, it’s been a difficult year for all of us.
In light of the obvious difficulties with the car, how was your relationship with teammate
Nothing special with Lance. We were good teammates, didn’t have any problems to be working together. We were not best friends though, but I don’t think you expect all teammates to be best friends.
During your short time in Formula One, you were known for spending a lot of time at the
factory. Do you believe this contributed to you being able to be competitive against your more experienced teammate?
This is a difficult question, It’s yes and no. To a certain point, I’d say spending as much time with engineers, as I did, gave me advantage in terms of understanding the process and also I’ve had very good relationships with all the boys in the team. We really had this atmosphere where I was properly a team member, a team player. The team was always behind me and supporting me and they knew that I’m not just a driver, but I’m one of them and we were all working for the same target, so in these terms yes, it was definitely a very good thing spending time there. And I really enjoyed this time with a team. On the other side of the story,
I think quite often I was pushing myself a little bit too much. The racing for sure is a job, a very hard job, but It’s also something where you are supposed to have some fun and very often I was overworking myself that at certain point it was turning around a little bit from enjoying to something which I had to do and it became a bit difficult just to have fun. Having a bit more experience now, I think especially in the beginning of the year, I could probably manage it a little bit better, be a bit cleverer on how I spend the time in the office with the guys. Maybe, I would spend less time there, but focus a bit more on certain specific things. But at the end of the day, it’s not a bad, not a good thing. I did that because I wanted it, I enjoyed it and it never made anything bad for me. I do believe that it helped me. It’s not something I would really change looking in the past.
Is it your goal to return to Formula One in the future?
For sure, it’s one of our targets to be back on the grid in 2020. We have already started the
project of how we could do this more easily and more realistically and in a proper way. So for sure it’s our target. This year I will divide my program in two separate things. One is obviously trying to bring myself back to grid in 2020 and second is helping our guys in SMP Racing with our own car in the WEC, in Le Mans especially, help them with my knowledge with my experience and prove how good they are and how good we can actually perform. So I will have two separate but equally important targets.
You recently tested a Formula E car for Mahindra. How was this experience?
Formula E was a great experience. Actually, I had never been a big fan of it before, but those two weeks I spent working on this project completely changed my opinion. I think it’s a very
underrated series. At least, I was (sic) underrating it ,for sure, quite a lot.The car is very underrated as well. I really enjoyed driving this car. For sure, it’s not the quickest car, but it’s very fun to drive it. These cars usually participate in difficult tricky circuits, city circuits
normally, which really require hight precision from drivers and from cars. Cars allow you to push your limits on the very top level and perform on it. Honestly, again, It’s not the quickest car, but I had a lot of fun when I drove it. I would even say much more fun than from many other cars I tested in last few years and it was quite a surprise for me.
Did you find many similarities between the FE and F1 cars?
F1 and FE cars are so different. They are completely different, no similarities, apart from they are both monocoque with open wheels. So definitely there is much more difference than similarity.
Is FE a series you could see yourself racing in, in the future?
Potentially, it’s a very interesting project. FE is developing quite a lot. Many more manufactures are coming. The level of the series is rising very quickly. I did enjoy driving this car and I already have a few proposals from the series, a few ideas where I could see myself in the next season. Obviously, it’s the target to be back to the F1 grid, but this could be a very good solution for us as well. It’s very interesting and quickly developing project where I will be happy to see myself racing and,what’s more important, I will have fun taking part in this series. So yes, for sure. This is a very good opportunity for us.
You can watch Sirotkin take part in his first race with SMP Racing at the 1000 miles Sebring on the 15th March 2019.