Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal: After the long, enforced break, the 2020 season can get underway.
It has been a long journey since Australia: nine weeks shutdown at Enstone and seven weeks at Viry. While taking the necessary measures to protect itself, the Formula 1 community has mobilised to deploy its skills and resources around collective projects to respond to the challenges presented by the epidemic. In parallel, immense work has been done by the FIA, F1 and teams to provide effective responses so that racing can return in a secure environment. We now have to adapt to this new mode of operation but seeing the cars on track is a positive signal of progress on the health front.
Competition will therefore resume and also the traditional dual aims of competitiveness and progress. From our perspective a lot of work has been done to bring the chassis upgrades planned for the cancelled races three, five and six to Austria. This is particularly important when we remember the difficulties of our car at the Red Bull Ring in previous seasons.
Above and beyond the technology, it is a season that will be trying for personnel, with a demanding schedule that follows a very disturbing period for everyone. The human element will probably be more important than in more standard seasons, and the role of each person will be decisive in the end result. This obviously applies to our drivers, but both are highly motivated at the prospect of the return and challenge.
After spending the last couple of months on his Australian farm, Daniel Ricciardo is replacing dust tracks for tarmac as he prepares for the first race of the 2020 Formula 1 season.
How excited are you to go racing again after the time away from the circuit?
Daniel Ricciardo: I'm raring to go! It's been a long time since I've raced or even competed properly in anything. It's getting close now and I had a good taste for it with the test in Austria earlier this month. Even though it was a two-year old car, it felt really nice to shake off the cobwebs. It was cool to be in that racing environment again as I'm sure it was for all the engineers and mechanics. I was skipping with excitement in the garage even with the various social restrictions in place!
How did you find the lockdown period?
DR: I think it was important to remain positive throughout that time as it was really uncharted territory for everybody. It was nice to be in one place for a long period of time, staying in one time zone, sleeping well and just having that time to recover and improve my physical condition. I've missed racing, of course, but not having it has just reiterated my love for driving Formula 1 cars.
What will be your mindset for the first race back?
DR: It's about getting back to business. We're all so excited to go racing again. We'll get on with it and give it our all as we know the season is going to be shorter than usual and very fast-paced. We want to get some points on the board, begin the season on the right foot and lay a solid foundation for us to build some good momentum.
What are your thoughts on the R.S.20 - R.E.20 package?
DR: I think we've made good progress on the car during winter testing. We can't be totally sure how it will go, but that's the same for all the teams. We have a slightly different car to the one we would have raced in Australia, but we'll have the answers this week! We'll focus on ourselves; we know the midfield will be quite tight, but the target is to give a better showing at this circuit than last year and then we'll see where we end up. I'll be giving it my all and I'm sure everyone at the team will do the same.
It's been a long wait for Esteban Ocon to hit the race track again but that reality is in sight as the Frenchman gets set for his first Formula 1 start in Renault DP World F1 Team colours.
It's been a longer wait for you more than anyone, so how ready are you for Austria?
Esteban Ocon: It's been a year and half of waiting to be on the Formula 1 grid again, so I'm very excited for this first race. It feels fantastic to be starting the season. We have set our targets; we know what we want to achieve on track, and I know what I have to do behind the wheel. A lot of work has gone into preparing for this first race, I'm with a great team, driving a competitive car and I'm certainly hungry for it.
How did you find the test in Austria earlier this month?
EO: I found it very beneficial to get back into driving a car again. It felt good and so cool to be on a real track after playing on my home simulator for these last few months! Driving out of the garage again was a very special feeling. It didn't take me long to get back on the pace. I felt sharp, quick and definitely ready to race.
What are the targets for the first race back?
EO: I know Austria hasn't been the strongest circuit for the team in the past, but we'll look to turn that around this year. The car performed well in Barcelona and we definitely learnt a lot. It looks promising, we have some new things on the car as well. There will be lots of data gathering on Friday to see what we've improved, see what else we can change and to get up to speed once again. I'm looking forward to it, and we'll be targeting coming away with points.
Is it a circuit you enjoy racing?
EO: Spielberg is where I had one of my first podiums in single-seaters back in my Formula Renault days in 2012. I've had some decent results there in the past, but I'm focusing on what is now and that means a solid top 10 finish next weekend. I think it'll be strange without fans there and I will certainly miss them cheering us on. Hopefully we can give them a good show on TV and maybe see them later on in the year.