There are four racers in the 2011 Red Bull Junior team, including Daniil Kvyat, rally scion Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo, who topped the recent young drivers F1 test at Abu Dhabi. It also contains British F3 champion Jean-Eric Vergne, the first Frenchman ever to take the series.
Red Bulletin, Red Bull's magazine, did a profile on Vergne in this month's issue, then put us in touch with him so we could ask seven questions. For a pilot who looks like he's on his way to The Show very soon, our first one was: What's it like? Follow the jump for his answers.
What's it like in the Red Bull Junior Team?
They picked me up in the beginning of my career in Junior Citroen and they're much more than a sponsor: they are my manager and they pay for the season, they choose a team for me, they choose the series for me as well. If I then win what they ask me to win, I am kept on. I am definitely in the best junior program at the moment.
How long have you been in the Red Bull Junior Team and where are you racing this year?
I've been in the Red Bull Junior Team for three years - 2011 is my fourth year. This year I'm racing in Formula Renault 3.5 with Carlin, doing the same championship that I won last year.
Do you see/hang out with the other drivers much?
We see each other quite often. We spend a lot of time in the simulator and we have a good time together.
What's the average day like?
Right now I'm in Germany with the French team, which has six drivers. There's a lot of media here, we're getting ready for the season. But every day we do a lot of sports, a lot of training, it's really hard but it's good for us. In Milton-Keynes [where he's based] I might be up at 7, and there's a lot of sports and time in the simulator. Sometimes on the weekend when I have nothing to do I sleep until 11 or midday. When I'm racing I try to sleep as much as I can: I wake up at 9, have breakfast at the hotel, then have a meeting with the team and a presentation, and have lunch quite early. It sounds pretty boring but it's quite busy.
There was a story about Lewis Hamilton and his father not being able to afford racing in a feeder series when McLaren briefly dropped him. How expensive is it to race in a feeder series?
If you have to pay for everything, for the flat, the car, the hotels and flights, for the shoes and equipment, it is a lot of money and gets really, really expensive. You have to find some real sponsorship, because you cannot afford to pay if you don't have a big sponsor like Red Bull. I could not afford it. I've been really lucky to be with Red Bull.
To outsiders the F1 world is money, glamour and politics. What's it like behind the scenes?
I was in the paddock for the first time last year, and you see all of the big buildings, the motorhomes of McLaren and Ferrari, it's really huge. From afar it's really glitzy, and as you get closer and closer it is all really apparent, the money, but when you get really close you just think about winning races. As a driver I try not to think about the rest of it, just winning races.
You said in the Red Bulletin piece that you have to win all the time but it must take more than that because some winners don't make it.
What you see is whether or not you deserve to be in F1. You train hard, and the training has to be mentally really strong as well.
When do you think you'll make the jump to F1?
I hope next year. I strive to do a good job in the current season and hopefully something good will happen next year.
There's more on Jean-Eric, including his time at and reactions to the F1 young driver's test at Abu Dhabi, in the Red Bulletin.