Robert, most of your recent time has been dedicated to rallying. How has it felt being back on circuit, at Mugello and this weekend?
“It was fun, but indeed, it feels like it’s been a while. Before arriving at Spa, I hadn’t participated in a qualifying session since 2010. In the end, I didn’t do too badly [third in qualifying and in the race] despite a lack of testing. I’m happy with how things went, both physically and mentally.”
How did you get this opportunity to race the RS01 in Spa?
“I’ve been extremely involved in the management of my rallying team. You have to think about everything, from purchasing spare parts all the way to sponsorship. It’s so much that you tend to lose focus a little. In the end, I decided to take a break until my phone rang three weeks ago.
“I was offered this opportunity by Renault to race on a tracK… but not just any track: Spa. I accepted the offer as I wanted to see how I would perform. I’m happy to say that at the age of 31, I can still deliver. Taking Eau Rouge flat-out triggered an incredible reaction in me that I had not felt in a long while.”
Are you considering a full-time return to circuits next season?
“I’m looking at two different options, but I can say that there’s a good 90% chance of me returning to circuits next season. I can’t say much more about it right now. For sure, I would have loved to keep on rallying, but I don’t have the means to compete against pro teams.”
Is your specific physical condition compatible with circuit racing?
“My hand limits me in my day-to-day life, but not necessarily in my racing life. My wrist can’t rotate much, so I need space in the car to compensate with my shoulder. On some circuits, my hand is a problem, on others, it isn’t. In Mugello, I drove a two-hour stint onboard a GT3 without any issues.”
How do you feel about endurance racing?
“Le Mans is clearly the pinnacle of motorsport. I am watching these [endurance] races now. I honestly never thought I would until recently, but interest has been picking up quite a lot, especially this year. Competition seems very fierce. There actually seems to be more racing than in F1! Driving these cars requires a different set of skills but I’m sure you can learn these fairly quickly. It feels a little weird handing over you car to another driver!” (he laughs).
Do you still miss F1?
“F1 was everything to me. My accident changed many things physically and mentally. It was part of my life for five years. F1 in those days was with cars that a driver could push to the limit. It’s delicate to say this as I’m outside of F1 now, but it seems more a question of managing fuel and tires nowadays. On top of it, DRS triggers fake overtaking. I think that drivers need to be given a chance to make the difference. Next year should be different with a new set of regulations. F1 may never admit it, but the current set of regulations are not necessarily the best.”