Nick, you just got your first podium for LRGP. Tell us about your race…
NH: The start was fantastic. Good fun, in fact. In Australia I made up quite a few positions at the start but I didn’t expect the same to happen when starting from sixth rather than 18th. I actually found myself actually fighting with Sebastian (Vettel), who watched me in the mirror and just paced himself to keep me behind. After that I did the best I could but Sebastian was quite a bit quicker. Then, in the first stint, there were some drops of rain coming down and I called the box to say my tyres were going off and they said ‘stay out, there might be rain coming so we don’t want to do an extra pit-stop’. Then, our first pit-stop was not perfect, I lost one or two positions, but then I was a bit lucky with Fernando (Alonso) who damaged his front wing and had to do an extra pit-stop. I had some good pace later on, especially with the prime tyres, probably quite similar to the McLarens and I had to defend myself from Mark towards the end when he came closer and closer. But I think once he was behind me his tyres also started to degrade. I used my KERS just in places where I needed to defend and it was great to come third. The second podium for us. It is a great step forward from last season.
Was the race confusing to follow from the cockpit?
NH: No, not at all. I think it’s easier if you have a good start from the back to see what the guys in front of you are doing. I was kind of lucky that there was enough space on the outside opening up for me so I could just concentrate on a good braking point. Not only did I have a good start, but also a good braking into turn one and I then managed to secure second position.
How much pressure did Mark Webber put on you at the end of the race?
NH: He came close, there were some big, big steps. I guess he was on quite fresh tyres but then he must have also started getting some degradation, and luckily that was enough to keep him behind me. On top of that, we had KERS and I tried to use it – not for the lap time but more for defending, and I don’t think he had KERS, did he? Did he have problems towards the end? That’s what I was told. That was a big help for us in defending.
Some quick cars in qualifying seemed quick in the race, and vice versa. How can this be explained?
NH: Some cars are better on the long runs than others. That’s what will be even more crucial this year with the Pirelli tyres, because there’s more degradation. It seems like we already had a better pace in the race in Melbourne than we had in qualifying. On top of that, I don’t think this weekend was easy for us because we lost a lot of time on Friday and we definitely didn’t have the perfect set-up so there’s probably a bit more to gain there in the future.
Do you think Sebastian Vettel is the man to beat this season?
NH: I think that’s obvious. He’s been the quickest for the first two races. I think McLaren have done a very good job, having finished where they have in both the first two races, which was better than their winter testing. I also like the fact that I’m being asked, as a Lotus Renault driver, if we’re the team to beat. Unfortunately, at the moment, I think we are a bit too far behind. On the other hand, we’ve made some good progress, finishing two races on the podium so hopefully we can keep the momentum going.