The 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 champion replaces Force India-bound Sergio Perez at the team and has now officially graduated from the McLaren young driver development programme.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given, and in a way it still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he told the official Formula 1 website. “When I got into the car for the first time at Jerez last Thursday, in fact, it still felt a bit strange. But I’m a firm believer that there are no guarantees in this world, so I’m now focusing on the work I need to do to justify the privilege of being a Formula One driver.
“I certainly don’t take anything for granted – I know that all the work I did in the junior formulas was only enough to get me to the door of Formula One – and now I’m having to start all over again to prove that I deserve the opportunity to stay here. In the past few weeks, and in the next few weeks also, working closely with all the McLaren guys who’ve given me that opportunity, I’m determined to justify the faith that’s been put in me.”
When asked what crosses his mind when he considers the fact that his F1 career begins in just a few weeks time, he admitted: “It’s about focusing on what’s possible and what’s achievable. There’s no need to panic; no, I just need to keep making progress with the team and the car, to use my time productively, and to make sure I arrive in Melbourne feeling as well prepared as it’s possible to be.
“Naturally, you can never be too well prepared – there’s always something more you can do – but, at some point, you need to stop practising and start racing. One of the things Jenson (Button) has told me is that he never stops learning. He’s driven nearly 250 Grands Prix, so it’s quite inspiring to hear him say that. I can definitely learn from Jenson, and, like him, I hope to keep learning.”
The 21-year-old has been hard at work in the simulator at the McLaren Technology Centre, as well as stepping up his fitness training. “My first impressions are positive,” he replied when asked about his first test with the new MP4-29 last week in Jerez. “It feels like it’s underneath you, which is always a good start. There’s not really much more I can add to that right now – we’ll only get a clearer idea of where we stand in terms of relative competitiveness once the testing continues in Bahrain later this month. Even then it’ll be hard to say anything definitive.
“So, yes, it feels nice to drive, and the power and torque delivery is extremely impressive, but our aim for the moment is just to create as reliable a package as we can and try to get some more miles under our belts. That may not sound particularly exciting, but the reality is that lap count is more important than lap time right now, so that’s our main aim at the moment.”
Image courtesy of Octane Photographic