Behind the Helmet: Robert Wickens – Part 3
Rob, what was the most important moment for your career? Was there a situation where, if you had decided otherwise, your life would have taken a very different direction?
Robert Wickens: There were many different points along the way. First, when I was about twelve years old. If my parents had not decided to be systematic about my career when I was at that young age, it would never have got off the ground. This was the big thing for me, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. There was never any question of whether it was what I really wanted. But the initial decision was not in my hands. It was my parents and my brother who decided they would support me.
How did it proceed from there?
Robert Wickens: The next crossroads came a few years later, when my parents literally took a major gamble and sold their house. At that time, they sat me down and asked: 'Is it really what you want? It would be no disgrace if you stopped now. We just need to know if this is the career you want.' So, aged 14, I had to say quite specifically: 'Yes, this is what I want to do.' That was a difficult time for me. My parents had to sell the house just to pay off the debts they had accumulated over the years for my sport. I was only a 14-year-old child and, to a certain extent, I also wanted to have a normal childhood. I was actually very unfair to my parents. I was constantly telling them I wanted to hang out with my friends. I didn't want to move or change school. I wanted to see my friends from Monday to Friday and go motor racing on the weekends. It was very difficult for me to make these sacrifices during this time. Today, I feel bad about it, because I was so selfish. My parents did absolutely everything for me, and yet I expected more. It's why I have a bad conscience now, but anyway, that was probably the next crossroads.
Did you ever have doubts about a career in motorsport?
Robert Wickens: I only really questioned whether motorsport was the right thing for me in 2009, namely after my year in Formula 2. That was the worst year of my life. I was living in England and was not happy at all. I couldn't afford a car, and I was living at a friend's house in Silverstone. If you know Silverstone at all, you'll also know that there is absolutely nothing going on there. It's a little village in the middle of nowhere. I had to ride 15 kilometres on a borrowed bike to get to the gym where I did my training. It was a strange sort of life. Our house didn't even have internet when I arrived, so I had to go to the pub around the corner to use their wi-fi. The season started OK, I won the first few races, but after that, my car always had some technical fault or another. I had seven retirements due to technical issues in 14 races. My championship prospects were gone, and then my team-mate Henry Surtees also died in a terrible accident. We had always got along well - he was young and on the way up. The whole year was just terrible. And to cap it all, I got dropped from the Red Bull junior squad at the end of the year. That was probably the low point in my life.
How did you get over that?
Robert Wickens: I wondered what the hell I was going to do next. I finished second in the championship and yet lost my sponsor because I hadn't won the title. It wasn't my fault, but that was also the only argument I had going for me. This was really my first real experience of how ruthless motorsport can be. I had spent five years in the Junior programme, and now I had seen for myself how tough it is to make your way in this world. If you don't deliver the results, you're out on your ear. But anyway, I was still second and had made six podium appearances out of seven finishes. I had been on pole position five times, and when I got to the finish line, I was always there or thereabouts. I said to them: 'Come on, I was still the best driver in the programme. I only finished seven races, and the reason for that was out of my hands.' But the answer came back: 'Yes, but you didn't win.' Motor racing can sometimes be so cruel. I thought to myself, what am I going to do now? My best friend has just died, and I've had the worst year of my life. What if it carries on like this? Is this really what I want to do? I had no sponsors, and I was back at square one. What was I supposed to do? How could I find the money to carry on racing?
At this moment, though, your life took a turn for the better: you got the fantastic opportunity to compete in the GP3 series. How did that come about?
Robert Wickens: I had driven for Status Grand Prix in the 2007 and 2008 A1GP series, and they were looking for a driver who would win races for them and hopefully the title. I was just so incredibly lucky that the team had liked me the first time we worked together. I was their first choice, even before they had booked a starting place. Luckily, there were a few small Canadian companies that helped us raise enough money to place me on the team. The year went well, and I finished second in the championship. But it was also a bit frustrating, because it was the fourth time that I had finished second in a championship in Europe. I thought to myself: 'When am I finally going to win a title?'