It’s time to go! When you will read my words, I will be flying from Sao Paolo to Melbourne. It is the longest flight of the year for me, but I can’t wait to get going: I’m ready to race and I think the whole team is well prepared after doing so many laps over all the days of winter testing, even more than we had planned in the end. The car appears to be reliable, but on its own this is not enough as the car needs to be quick too. For the moment, reliability has been good and I don’t think we can complain about performance, but we won’t have a clear picture until all the teams are together on track in Melbourne.
The start of a new season is always a thrilling time and this year we have plenty of novelties to get used to, even if KERS is something we understand well having already used it in 2009. Actually in terms of running the adjustable rear wing, we did thousands of laps using it, so we are fully aware of how to run it – you press a button, the wing moves and drag is reduced and I would estimate the car goes between 12 and 15 km/h quicker than before on the straight. In practice and in qualifying, you can use the wing as much as you want, even on the shortest straights. This is something we concentrated on a lot during the winter, so that it becomes an automatic reflex for the driver as you drive the car. That means we have a good understanding of how to use it to improve performance and lap times, but when it comes to using it in the race, when you cannot use it all the time and it is simply an aid to overtaking, then in this situation, we do not have a clear picture of how effective it will be. I am sure it can help, but we must wait and see what is the true situation in a race.
Before I drove the car for the first time in testing, I was really concerned about what it would be like having all these systems to control and buttons to press, with the wing, with KERS and so on. Then, after the first few days of testing it started to become automatic and, together with the engineers, we came up with some good methods to be able to operate these systems without affecting your concentration and your visibility of the track without taking your eyes off the road.
While KERS and the rear wing will have an impact on the races, the biggest change of all in terms of its influence on the character of the race weekend is perhaps also the simplest, which means the arrival of Pirelli as the tyre supplier. Getting to understand the new tyres has been one of the most interesting aspects of the winter tests and for my part, it’s true I don’t have any difficulty warming up the tyres which was a big problem for me last year. With the high degradation we are seeing, the races will be very different and we will need to pit several times, whereas last year many races needed just one stop. It will also be interesting to see how the tyres operate when we reach the warmer countries, although maybe not Australia, as it is not expected to be so hot in Melbourne next week. Also, the difference between the soft and hard compounds is far greater which might even change the way you approach with a view to what tyre you will then use to start the race the next day. Certainly the drivers will have more influence over when we make the pit stops in the race: of course there will be a plan regarding our strategy made before the event, but I expect the situations to change far more quickly during the races with a driver feeling when tyre degradation is starting and choosing to pit early to get ahead of the car in front, or in the case of a safety car period. It will be very different and maybe more exciting for the spectators.
I’m happy to be starting the season in Australia, although I am also disappointed not to be going to Bahrain from a racing point of view. I really liked going there, as the track seemed to suit me very well and also the team, because Ferrari has won so many races there. But, when you build an F1 car, you build it to be good at every track, so wherever the championship starts you have to go there thinking of the victory and I will be concentrating on doing my best in Melbourne, even if the Albert Park circuit has not been a very successful venue for me, or a lucky one, as I’ve had a few accidents there. Last year was better as I got my best ever result here finishing third on the podium. I hope this time we can have a great start to the season in Australia and I am optimistic about our chances, based on the reliability we have shown so far and I can’t wait for us to measure up against the other teams and see where we stand.