To make anything from a Minardi drive you have to be a realist about your situation. Mark Webber had some backing from Renault, but he knew that he would have to impress in his year with the team in black to continue his career. Fernando Alonso knew likewise, but had a Renault test drive to fall back on. Jarno Trulli impressed, and secured his future when he was loaned to Prost to replace Olivier Panis after the Frenchman's accident in Canada. Giancarlo Fisichella worked and worked and scored a Jordan drive; Justin Wilson did similarly but the Jaguar drive didn't stick. Gianmaria Bruni (pronounced as it looks; his nickname Gimmi is pronounced Jimmy) knows his place in the pecking order. "I think that if they (the other team's bosses) need anybody then for sure the first team they will look at is Minardi, because they have lots of records behind them." Which didn't help last year, of course. "I think they just didn't have the really talented drivers there last year," Bruni reflected on a warm Saturday afternoon after his first ever Formula One qualifying session in Australia.
"They had Jos (Verstappen) who was 32 years old, and they had (Nicolas) Kiesa who, okay, was a good driver but nothing that special. So I think this is why they didn't choose any drivers from Minardi last year."
Driving for Minardi is unlike driving anywhere else; you might be in the big game and in front of the other team bosses, but generally you don't have a car that can showcase your talent. To really impress at Minardi you have to do extraordinary things with the car, and Bruni has started that process well; a problem in qualifying in Australia necessitated a start from the back of the grid, from where he overtook three cars on the first lap and moved up to 15th before the first stop.
Bruni has been taking the fight to the other teams, and comprehensively thrashing his teammate. There's not much more you can do as a Minardi driver.
But sitting in the relaxed Minardi paddock Bruni was holding court, talking to anyone who came over between his briefings with the team's engineers, and looked forward to racing with the Jordans, discussing the improvements much maligned Bridgestone have made in the off-season and considering the difference between Romans and Romagnols.
DC: You've actually driven on a Grand Prix weekend last year as the third driver in the private test sessions - how much of a difference is it from that to being a race driver here this year?
Bruni: It's okay, but we are not at those tracks; it's a brand new track so it is different. Compared to them (points a thumb towards the rest of the paddock) we don't have much experience because we've only done three days testing this year, and if you take the time there plus Friday here it's like one and a half days testing for me, so I don't have a lot of experience, but I feel fine.
DC: But it's a big step up from being the third driver.
Bruni: Yeah, of course it is, because you have think about set-up of the car rather than just set a quick time or testing a part; it has to help what you will do in the next few days.
DC: How much of a change has it made to your life?
Bruni: Of course a lot; now I will be away for 18 races this year, and last year after a 3000 race I was coming back where I was living. But this is Formula One, and if you want to be in Formula One you have to do these things. It's what I love.
DC: Your experience with the team means you are in a good position to dictate set-ups ; is Zsolt (Baumgartner) looking to you for this, or is he going his own way?
Bruni: Yeah, we work together, and move forward together, but I have a little more experience with the engineers, so they listen a little more to me obviously, as we've been working together already for one year.
DC: And of course you speak Italian, they speak Italian...
Bruni: No, they speak English, and English is fine because I've lived in England for three years and have been giving English feedback since Formula Three.
DC: Are you still based in England now?
Bruni: No, I'm based now in Rome but I spend a lot of time in Faenza where the factory is. It is fantastic, though, because the mechanics there speak Italian, and they're so funny!
DC: They are Romagnol (Faenza is in Emilia Romagna, near Ravenna) after all; everyone knows they're a bit weird!
Bruni: Yeah, they don't like me at all! But you can say it's better than me being Dutch or Danish or whatever!
DC: And the food is good at least.
Bruni: Yeah, the food is great!
DC: What do you do when there isn't a race on - do you go and hang around in the factory?
Bruni: Yeah, yeah, and training, which is like three hours a day, but the rest of the time I take a little rest and have some fun with the engineers.
DC: How is your fitness level now? There is a big difference between Formula 3000 and this.
Bruni: No, I think 3000 is heavier than this one; it's a very physical category but here is one and a half hours, there is only fifty minutes, so it's another half hour, forty five minutes race. Physically 3000 is much, much harder, but for me it's not the biggest problem to race; in 3000 there is no power steering. In Formula One the only thing more heavy is the neck, and the other things like arms and shoulders 3000 is much heavier.
DC: Are you up to 100% of where you have to be for fitness in Formula One?
Bruni: Yeah, I think so. Well, nobody is 100%; always we want to improve, like we want to improve the car, so I still want to improve to be totally ready for this.
DC: What do you think you can get out of this year?
Bruni: I think I can get lots of experience of Formula One, and maybe get some points for the team.
DC: So what can you do as a Minardi driver to impress the team bosses further up the grid?
Bruni: What I did up to now; just doing the best times I can make with this car and the other things can come easy. Obviously, I think the team are fantastic people, and the only thing they don't have is the money, but I think in the future if we are able to improve the handling of the car we will be able to do something.
DC: So who is your benchmark, who do you compare yourself to mentally at the moment as a target?
Bruni: Well, one of the Jordans, or both of them; we have to think that we have 80bhp less than them and have the handling the same as last year, the chassis is three years old and from Mark Webber, who was driving the same chassis (laughs). It's hard if you think about they have 870bhp and we have 790 or 800 in qualifying... I think maybe the top teams can look at that and say 'oh, what's going on here?' I'm just trying my best every time I go out and maybe we can improve the car and move up; you never know.
DC: Has anything been done to your engines to cater for the new engine rules, or are they the same as last year?
Bruni: No, they are the same as last year but just less revs, to do the miles.
DC: So it's a 300km engine; you're just not working it as hard?
Bruni: Yeah! (laughs)
DC: Is that situation going to change over the year?
Bruni: We hope to, we hope to; maybe in the middle of the year we will swap to the Jordan engine, and it is the same as the Jaguar, I don't know. I hope to, really, because it is 80 horsepower more, and that is like a second around here, or Spain, Monza - it's like a second.
DC: So what has to happen for this? Is it just a case of money, or negotiations?
Bruni: I don't know this one; it's nothing to do with me. All I can say is if the car has understeer or oversteer or some problem, but nothing really about money or politics.
DC: Leaving really bizarre races like Brazil last year aside, do you honestly believe that Minardi can score points this year?
Bruni: You never know; two years ago I wasn't driving and now I'm in Formula One, so you never know in motor racing. It's all passion here (at Minardi), and today I was in front of Jordan and these guys were so happy, so it's not a bad thing for me; I didn't make qualifying, and maybe I would have been in front of one Jordan car, and for them it's amazing to be in front of a car that has five times the budget.
MG: Bridgestone seems like they have a good tyre this year?
Bruni: Yeah, yeah; they've been working very hard, and I think here they have very good tyres.
DC: You were on last year's tyres in effectively the same car - how much of an improvement has there been in the tyres?
Bruni: A lot, more than half a second just on the tyres.
DC: So pretty much all of the time savings this year you have is from the tyres?
Bruni: Well, yesterday on low fuel I did 1.28.8, and last year they did 1.30.2, so it is almost 1.5 seconds better. So there is the tyres, and maybe working the chassis the right way.
DC: One thing I have wondered is what is to stop you running a 300km engine here, because if you go back ten spots (on the grid) you're still in the same position.
Bruni: I don't know; we have thought about it, but it's not my decision really - end of story.