"Obviously it’s a dream come true. I haven’t had much time in the car this year but I’m physically and mentally prepared. It’s a one-off opportunity at the moment and I will make the most of it. , a expliqué Winkelhock, 27 ans, de Stuttgart, dont le père Manfred a disputé 47 Grand Prix de F1 entre 1982 et 1985 avant de trouver la mort lors d’une course automobile au Canada en 1985. Le contrat de Winkelhock avec Spyker ne porte pour l’instant que sur le Grand Prix d’Europe disputé dimanche sur le circuit du Nürburgring: il a été formalisé mercredi dans la matinée après finalisation du montage financier nécessaire. Colin Kolles, Team Principal and Managing Director, dit aussi "Markus est un membre populaire et respecté de l’équipe et a beaucoup contribué au développement de la voiture. Je pense que nous avons un duo de pilotes très forts. Markus est prêt physiquement et il a maintenant la chance de rouler en Grand Prix après avoir été notre pilote d’essai ces deux dernières années."
Winkelhock remplace Albers, mis à l’écart par Spyker après les retards de paiement de l’un de ses principaux parraineurs. Pilote essayeur de Spyker cette année, après avoir occupé la même fonction en 2006, chez Midland – le nom de l’écurie avant son rachat par Spyker, Winkelhock a disputé cette année trois épreuves du championnat allemand des voitures de tourisme (DTM): il a également disputé par le passé le championnat de Formule 3.
Cinq pilotes allemands disputeront le Grande Prix d’Europe: Winkelhock, Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber), Nico Rosberg (Williams), Adrian Sutil (Spyker) et Ralf Schumacher (Toyota).
Are you excited by the driver pairing you will be running for this weekend’s race?
"Markus has been a very popular and respected member of the team and has contributed much to the test and development of the car and I think the pairing is strong. I am very pleased that Markus has the opportunity to race the Spyker this weekend. It is very fitting that he has the chance to finally race after being the team’s reserve driver for the past two years, particularly in front of his home crowd in Germany. I believe that in Adrian and Markus we have a young, dynamic line-up who are hungry for success and will fight to achieve the best results they can. "
Is this the permanent driver line-up for the rest of the year?
"At present Markus is only confirmed for the European Grand Prix and we will review the situation once more after the weekend. We are still considering other drivers for the permanent role, Markus is obviously still one of them."
Why did you choose Markus for this particular race?
"Markus already has knowledge of the car from his tests this year and is already integrated into the team so there will not be any installation period as such. He is also very familiar with this track from his previous racing experience. He is quick, professional and I think he’ll do a very good job for the team in challenging circumstances."
Will the mid-season driver line-up change affect the team’s performance as a whole?
"No, I do not expect we will be put into any difficulties. As a smaller team we are very able to adapt to new situations without many issues. Our test was able to run as scheduled in Spa last week and we completed the programme that was written some time ago. The B-spec chassis remains on target, which is obviously our short-term goal. Long-term this has not affected our plans in any way; as a team we still want to move forward up the grid."
You now have the opportunity to race the F8-VII. How does that feel?
"I was very surprised to get the call from Colin as I did not think that I would have this chance! But obviously I am very, very pleased to be able to race this weekend. It’s now the only German race on the calendar, so I am excited to be make my race debut in front of so many German spectators."
You are very familiar with the Nurburgring too – what does it mean to you to be racing in front of your home crowd? How did your family react when you told them?
"I know the track very well from Formula Renault, Formula 3 and DTM, which will be an advantage going into the race as I do not have so many kilometres in the car. Making my race debut at this track in particular though will be very important personally for myself and my family. This was the last track my father raced a Formula 1 car on before he died; now I can make my Formula 1 debut on the last track he ever raced on in F1."
"My mother was a bit emotional – she is clearly very happy that I can achieve something I have wanted for so long, but obviously a little nervous too. I think all parents are like that though! She will watch the race on TV I think rather than coming to the track."
You have tested the F8-VII this year at Silverstone and at Paul Ricard, so you are already familiar with the car.
"I actually haven’t had so many kilometres in the car this year, only a shakedown in Silverstone and a day in Paul Ricard. From this point of view it’s not so easy to be able to get a good impression of the car, but I have been at all race meetings this year and I study the data from every session so I know exactly what’s going on with the car and how it’s behaving. This, plus the fact I know the track very well, will help when we get started."
"But adapting my driving style to new cars, new tracks and new situations is always something I have been good at – for example, after the last test in Ricard, I went straight to Germany to test the Audi DTM car! I didn’t have any problems getting used to the different style of driving as after a couple of laps you get a feel for what this particular car is doing and don’t think of the other car at all."
Last weekend you raced in the DTM at Mugello. Do you think that will be an advantage to have raced so soon before coming to the Nurburgring, or will it be difficult to adapt to the single-seater again?
"You cannot compare the two cars at all as they are very, very different and need a very different style of driving, but the racing in the DTM is very competitive so that of course will help when, hopefully, we will be in the position to fight some other people."
It has been clear from the start of the season that yourself and Adrian Sutil have become good friends. Has he given you any words of advice?
"I actually haven’t spoken to Adrian since I got the call from Colin, but when I get to the track he will be one of the first people I speak to! He is a good friend, we get on very well. I feel good in the team."
How have you been preparing for the race?
"I have been concentrating on building up my neck muscles in particular and have increased my fitness training, but I have been training hard since the start of the season anyway. As the team’s reserve driver I could be called for any reason so you need to be fit enough to jump in the car and go – being race fit doesn’t just take three or four weeks! I have also looked at the data for the car once again so I feel ready."
"This weekend will be very special – it’s my home Grand Prix, my debut, and I will have friends here supporting me, but I need to concentrate myself on the job and do the best I can. When you put your helmet on and get in the car you need to be 100% focussed on doing what you can. This is a great opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it."