Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde is one of the five rookies on the grid this season. Last year, F1Zone.net sat down with van der Garde before the Dutchman made his F1 debut in front of his home crowd during a street demonstration in Rotterdam. Back then we asked him if he’s ready for F1 and his answer was a very short but extremely convincing “absolutely”.
Fast forwards almost a year and the Dutchman believes he was correct in his assertions. “Of course. I’m here now, feeling happy about it and think I’ve already showed good potential this year. So yes, nothing changed.”
Before making the step up to Formula One, van der Garde raced in GP2, driving for iSport and Addax between 2009 and 2011 before joining Caterham’s eponymous sister team in the category a year later. He then became the first driver to graduate from Caterham’s GP2 team to a race seat in F1 this year.
Van der Garde believes the turnaround in 2012 provided him with a strong platform for Formula 1.
“The [GP2] team was struggling in 2011, especially towards the end. [The following year] they changed a lot in the team, almost everything. The way they worked, the way they prepared things, philosophy and that was very successful. Of course we had a hard time in the beginning but in the end we produced a car which was a winning car.”
“I was very happy and satisfied about that year and the team was happy with the performance and the feedback I gave. I also had the Fridays’ with the Formula 1 team during the end of the year and this was very helpful because they saw my potential,” he added.
Van der Garde took part in just six practice sessions in 2012, in China, Japan, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. He reckons that the testing restrictions hinders the progress of young drivers.
“You mainly go to tracks which you don’t know but still you have 20 laps and have to try to maximize yourself. I think I did because at the end of the year I was quicker than both race drivers and that was very positive. But then, when you go as a rookie into next year, it’s not easy. You only have six [testing] days before the first race and that’s it.”
Van der Garde is one of a number of drivers whose place on the grid has been assisted by the flow of sponsorship money to his team. But the Dutchman says that talent is still the priority.
“Talent is still number one. Your country of origin is also very important and, of course, you need some sponsorship.”
“The reality is that you need to bring some money and without it I think it’s very hard to reach Formula 1. But don’t forget they test you and see what you can do, how fast you are, how you work with the team, how you are as a person. They evaluated me last year so they didn’t take me for nothing.”
Van der Garde said there is no pressure for him to be a pay driver and does not believe he has more to prove because of this status.
“The only thing you’ve always want to do is to maximize yourself on every track, improve yourself and work hard with the team, step by step.”
So asked if believes he has proved he deserves a seat in F1, there was no hesitation.
With the Championship approaching the mid-point of the season, Van der Garde says he’s pleased with his qualifying pace but admits tyre management remains a weakness.
“The qualifying performance has been going very well this year. I’m not really happy with the race performance but I think we can still improve in that area. It’s always good that you are a little critical with yourself and try to improve in the area where you have weak points.”
“This year it is also a lot about tyre management, especially with the new compound from this season and I’m struggling with it because I’m a real racer and I want to maximize myself on every aspect. Even if I start 19th I want to race the people in front and don’t think about the tyres, how to handle them, if they’re on the right window of the temperature. It’s tough, very tough. [The key area is] tyre management.”
Van der Garde’s best result this season was fifteenth and despite not finishing the Spanish Grand Prix, van der Garde rates the Spanish Grand Prix as his best race so far. “We had a good pace and the car performed very well there. I was performing well, I understood the tyres a bit better, we were on the right window, but then we lost the wheel with the pit stop.”
“Qualifying was very good in Monaco [Van der Garde made it through to Q2] and that was the highlight of the year so far for me. But not the race because I lost my front wing during lap one and then towards the end we didn’t come into the pits so I had no more rear tyres left and two cars passed me. It was a pity but after Silverstone a lot of things can change with the tyres and all the things that you have learned during the first few races may change now.”
So for a driver such as Van der Garde, what has more value: driving in Formula 1 but scoring no points or winning lower championships, like he did in 2008 when he became Formula Renault 3.5 champion.
“Both of them are the highlights of my career. Winning the championship was very nice, even being the 2002 World Champion in karting was very nice, but of course reaching Formula One is the biggest thing of my career. But never forget that every driver wants to go higher up and once you reach Formula One your next target is to be on the podium and then to win races and maybe world championships.”
“[But] I’m sure if we’ll get a podium this year a lot of drivers must crash and this is not going to happen! To be realistic, it will be very good for us if we finish tenth or twelfth.”
Finally, Van der Garde reveals his unusual nickname…
“Because of the Dutch tulips people started to call me ‘Tuli/Tulipan’. It’s like a nickname for tulip. My trainer gave me that nickname when I was living in Valencia, Spain. All the people I met there they called me ‘Tulipan’”