• 5 minutes with ... Giedo van der Garde

'I am a real person. I like to show myself'

Kate Walker October 23, 2013

As the F1 circus took its autumnal Asian tour, GP Week editor Kate Walker sat down with Caterham's Giedo van der Garde to discuss proposals, determination, and life on the road.

Giedo van der Garde moved up to a race seat with Caterham after Friday practice outings in 2012 © Sutton Images
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One of the things I've always liked about you as a driver is that you've actually got a sense of humour. You take the piss a bit on Twitter, you roll with the punches… You're a three-dimensional human being. Is this because you had a normal family life, or was it a concerted decision to show people that you're a real person?
I am a real person. I like to show myself, what I'm doing, what goes on in my life. I think the most important thing is humour, because the more you laugh the happier you are. This is my philosophy. I'm getting married this year, and I've been with my girlfriend for 10 years. She always says 'you're really funny, and that's why I like you'. I say, 'oh, so it's not because of my looks, then?' It's important to laugh. I have good people around me - my trainer, my friends, my girlfriend. We always have fun. You need to enjoy yourself, because you only live life once.

If you can't laugh when you're working, you're probably in the wrong job. That's the way I see it.
I agree.

I didn't realise it was this year you were getting married; for some reason I thought it was next year. Your proposal was so sweet. How far in advance did you decide that that was how you were going to do it?
About two weeks. I was sitting in the car with my manager, coming back from a meeting in London, and we drove back. I said 'I want to ask my girlfriend to marry me'. He said I should do it with my Formula One car, as I had a show the next week, and I thought 'hey, that's a good one!'. So we told the organisation [City Racing Rotterdam] and the team that I wanted to do something, but only him and I knew what it was. When I went on one knee, my girlfriend was really surprised. The good thing was that I invited all my best friends, her best friends, our families... More or less 50 percent of the people were crying. It was good fun - a special day.

She'll never forget that moment, will she? So what was scarier - trying not to make any mistakes on the run, or getting down on one knee in front of all those people?
Both, I think! Normally when you get in the car you just do your thing and that's it. You're not scared, or excited. But that was just a different feeling. I still had to come back to the end, because there was a tent with all of our family and friends. But I think I did a good job - I did some donuts, stopped the car, and then got on one knee. I was quite nervous.

I'm not surprised! I think all men, at that moment, feel pretty nervous.
You never know what's going to happen - if she says no, you get embarrassed.

So do you get to spend much time with her on the road? I know it's hard in this life, with all of the work commitments.
In Europe it was quite nice. I live in Holland - in Amsterdam - and travelling from Amsterdam is quite easy, so after the race I could spend a couple of days at home, and then travel to England to go in the simulator, to work with the team. Of course, now it's busy. She came to Singapore, but that was her last race. At the beginning of the year it was tough, but she's known me for 10 years, so she knows that I have to do the job and she's fully behind me.

The problem is, if you're involved in motorsport, you might have been together for 10 years, but you've probably only been together together for six, because you're on the road the rest of the time!
But that makes it exciting, you know? After two or three weeks away, you really look forward to going home.

You need to miss people.
Yes. I have friends who work from eight till five, they come home, and then they spend the whole evening sitting with their girlfriend on the couch. They call me and say they're bored, they don't know what to do. Get a job like me, man!

Van der Garde's rookie season has seen him record a best result of 14th place so far © Getty Images
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If only we could all be racing drivers… So how did you decide that you wanted to be a racing driver? Lots of kids start karting, but actually setting your focus at a really young age - that takes dedication.
It does, but on the other hand I think it's good that some people have this focus. I started when I was nine years old in go-karts, I went higher and higher. I won the Dutch championship when I was 12, and the European championship later. But the moment I was world champion in 2002 was a big achievement, and I decided I wanted to reach Formula One. But you really have to live a different life to all your friends. They're going to school, going out, going out with girls, having fun, whatever. And you really have to dedicate your life to your sport.

You've got the fitness, the mental preparation, learning the tracks… A couple of years ago I interviewed Pepe Oriola, the WTCC driver. He was about 15 at the time, and he said one of the weirdest things was that he'd go off and do a race on Sunday and then on Monday he was sitting in lessons, thinking about racing lines he'd missed instead of algebra. Did you have that when you were at school?
Of course! I was living in Italy for a year, and that year I did school in Italy. It was a bit strange - sometimes I had to come back for a month, two months, go to school. But in the end it was okay - I got my diploma, so my mom was happy, and I could continue racing. But I was always thinking of things I could do better, about the car, about my fitness level, about the preparation… It's the same now. My phone bill is quite high because all day I'm calling people - can we do this, can we improve that? You should always try to improve yourself, to become a better human, to become a better athlete.

And these are all skills that are going to stand you in good stead as you reach your 30s, your 40s, your 50s. You've got time management, dedication, planning, how to deal with competing interests. You guys are all set up for conquering the business world if you want to later on.
Sure. I think that when we're done racing, all of us, we've had a really good education about life. It will help a lot if you start a business, or whatever - you're really determined. That's one interesting thing you learn in this sport.

Also you get to see the world, eat crazy food, meet people from Timbuktu to Tobago. What's your favourite part of the travel? Is it the food, the hotels, the new cultures?
Everything. I really like it - I've been living out of a suitcase since I was 10 years old. It's good fun. You meet a lot of people, you become interested in what's happening in the countries you visit. It's a wonderful experience.

I think it's a great education. If you could take every child and throw them around the planet we wouldn't have any more wars - they'd learn that we are all the same, fundamentally.
We are all the same. That may be one of my strengths in this world - a racing driver is the same as a mechanic; everyone has to do their own job, and they're all talented.

That's actually one of the things I've noticed inside the Caterham motorhome - you and [Alexander] Rossi seem to treat everybody exactly the same. You've always got a smile, a hello, a friendly comment. You don't distance yourself because you're drivers. You're part of the team.
There's no sense not doing it. Maybe if you're Sebastian Vettel you have to distance yourself a little bit, but I've had Seb as my teammate and he is also a guy who really likes to hang out with the team and make sure everybody's behind him. It's a human skill.

People put more effort in for people that they like.
If you give out positive energy, you get positive energy.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.