In two of the remaining nine stages scheduled in the second part of the 2022 Formula 1 season, Ferrari will entrust one of its F1-75 cars to a test driver for the first time. Two first practice sessions on Friday, once alongside Carlos Sainz and one with Charles Leclerc as required by the 2022 regulation which intends to help young drivers who, given the low number of cars on the grid, struggle to shine and show their potential.
Robert Shwartzman, who has been linked to Ferrari for five years as a driver of the Academy and took part in Formula 2 last year, will be on track with the F1-75. Since last December, Robert Shwartzman has gone off the radar, but reappeared in mid-July at the Mugello circuit, taking part in a long test behind the wheel of the Ferrari SF21.
Motorsport Italy met Robert in Maranello to discuss about what he has done in recent months and the expectation for his debut at the wheel of the F1-75, also focusing on the substantial work he does in the simulator and of course on Russian’s invasion of Ukraine that convinced him to take the license of his country of birth, Israel. A chat in Italian with Motorsport.com, during the break between two simulator sessions, which we report here:
We had seen you behind the wheel in January at Fiorano with the SF71H and before that in Abu Dhabi with Ferrari and Haas at the post-season tests. You reappeared at Mugello in an intense day of testing with the Ferrari SF21. How did it go?
“It was a very beautiful and important day for me, I think the test was also positive for the team as we did a lot of laps, 130 to be exact, for a total of 680 km, more or less the distance of a race weekend “.
You got back behind the wheel of a single-seater after 5 months, and you did it on the demanding circuit like that of Mugello. No physical or adaptation problems?
“I looked for answers, above all I wanted to understand if the work done on the simulator, as well as the physical preparation, would work in the end, and I must say that I was very satisfied with what emerged. I did my part by completing the program that Ferrari gave me, and in the end it was a very important test, difficult but also interesting. I completed about ten tests behind the wheel of Formula 1 cars, but the Mugello test was one of the most demanding because physically it was not easy to be able to complete all those laps after a five-month stop. Mugello, as you said, is a demanding track, and I think the simulator has given me a great help in gaining initial confidence with the car”.
You talked about the simulator. This season we haven’t seen you on the track yet, but we know you’re working a lot in Maranello.
“This year my duties are a little different from previous years. At the start of the season, it was agreed with Ferrari that, as the team’s test driver, I would have to devote a lot of time to the simulator, and in order to make sure that I could get the maximum benefit, I had to be fully involved in this process, without participating in any championship “.
In your role, do you also give input to improve the simulator itself?
“Yes, but it’s always a team effort. The engineers give me the inputs to make me improve and if I believe there are parameters to be optimized, I do the same. I would say that together we have done a good job ”.
It is no secret now that we will see you again soon in the context of the Formula 1 weekends. Two FP1 sessions with Ferrari await you …
“Yes, I am excited about the idea. I still don’t know exactly in which weekends I will be on track, but it will undoubtedly be a good moment. I am proud to be able to drive a Ferrari car on a race weekend, and also very interested in verifying the correlation work done with the engineers in the simulator. We have spent so many hours improving the virtual car and bringing it as close to reality as possible, that now I can’t wait to see the results of this work firsthand. “
There are always conflicting opinions about simulator work. In your case, what balance do you draw?
“I no longer know how many days of work I have done with the technicians! I can speak for myself, and in my case it was really useful, because it helped me understand how a Formula 1 team works, and in particular how engineers work. I understood what a driver is asked of, how to communicate in the most efficient way, and how to work on the setting parameters of the car. Now I feel much more ‘on track’, and I had confirmation of this when I had the chance to drive at Mugello. I entered the track with a clear idea of where to change gear, where to brake as well as with the trajectories “.
Did you feel more comfortable?
“Yes, I’m not talking so much about the track as about the dialogue with the engineers. I believe that the work I am doing has made me improve in this aspect ”.
Looking at the Mugello test, we noticed the Israeli flag on your racing suit. How did you decide to take the license in Israel?
“Simple. I was born in Israel, in Tel Aviv, and my father’s family, who is Israeli, lived there. I spent my first three years of life in Tel Aviv, then my family moved to Russia and we would occasionally go back to Israel to visit my father’s relatives. When I started my karting activity my dad (who passed away two years ago due to complications related to Covid-19, ed) decided to let me take the Russian license, since we lived there. I was very young, six years old, and shortly after I started going to Italy, which has always been the epicenter of the karting world, and so after a while, at nine, my father made the decision that it would be better for me to move to Italy. At first I spoke a little English, but then I quickly learned Italian too, having to attend school as well. I have not moved since then, I graduated in Italy and then I moved to Maranello in 2017, when I joined the Ferrari Driver Academy. Returning to the question, I obviously always had an Israeli passport, and for this reason, when the situation between Russia and Ukraine worsened, I decided to apply for a license in Israel. After all, I want to be a driver, arriving in Formula 1 is my only goal and, waiting for the motorsport authorities to make the decisions that they then made, the need immediately arose for me to make sure I was available as soon as possible if Ferrari needed to put me in the car. We reacted quickly to avoid missing any potential opportunities ”.
For years you have had financial support from SMP Racing. Did you end the relationship?
“Yes, it is a closed topic. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without their support along with that of the Ferrari Driver Academy. SMP Racing has given me a lot of help over the past few years, but this year I started walking on my own and all my sporting activity depends entirely on Ferrari. “
You are a sportsman, used to working and competing with people of many nationalities. How did it affect you to witness the Russian – Ukraine conflict?
“I think the images we have seen speak for themselves. I am still young and do not have much life experience yet, but this conflict, as well as all conflicts, is bad for everyone. Seeing people die is something tragic that you never want to see. It struck me and it strikes me because it seems something so far from my world, I have always lived concentrated on my sporting activity, and I continue to do so, but it is hard to accept such a reality. I was told ‘why don’t you write something about it on social media?’ And I thought about it, but what could I add at the end? It seems to me something unreal and bigger than me. There are things that maybe I will understand over time, I grew up in a world without borders, with strong values and open-mindedness and it is clear that what is happening is very far from all this. I want to focus on building something good, which can make my family proud and can make my father’s dream come true, as he wanted to see me in Formula 1 ”.
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Let’s go back to your sporting activity. Do you miss the adrenaline of the race weekend?
“During the Formula 1 race weekends my role is that of ‘race support’: we work in Maranello as long as we need it, we finished at six in the morning at the weekend in Miami! The simulator is like a third car, obviously a virtual one, which runs in free practice. I miss the adrenaline, of course, and it was already different when I drove at Mugello, because I went back to having to deal with the real ‘G’ force, and you have that feeling when you get close to the limit. As much as the virtual world has evolved, the adrenaline you feel when you know you are very close to the limit cannot be found anywhere other than the track “.
In your role as a simulator driver, do you have the opportunity to compare yourself with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz?
“Yes, of course. When the data arrives from the track during the race weekends I take care of the correlations and we do some tests, then we compare ourselves and it happens that they ask me questions about what I think is best, for example, between two solutions. It’s a team effort ”.
Have you already thought about your 2023? Where do you think we will be able to see you?
“The thoughts are there, and how! My main goal is Formula 1, and I will do the best I can to get a chance. Then the decision will be made with Ferrari, but at the moment it’s a bit early, we’ll see. Obviously I hope that the work I am doing this season will be of help to me. “
Do you also have a ‘B’ plan if they don’t open the doors of Formula 1?
“Honestly, I don’t have a real plan B, the kind that if I don’t go to Formula 1 there will already be an alternative project. Sometimes I think about what I could do, but today I’m totally focused on Formula 1 ”.