Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Sandro Cortese leads the Moto3 World Championship going into the French Grand Prix, so we caught up with the German ahead of Le Mans.
Third place in Qatar and Spain followed by victory in Portugal gave the 22-year-old three successive podiums for the first time in his career, as well as his debut apperance at the top of the leaderboard. So what's going through his mind?
You've had an excellent start to the campaign – how have you been approaching things?
I don't look at the championship. It keeps me more relaxed and more confident not to do so, as does knowing your bike is strong and that you have a good team. I'm quite strong at the moment. I know I can set a fast lap immediately after I go out in a session and I think this helps a lot. If you have a tough start to the season you expect so much from yourself, and you think you really have to be fast in the next race. I've had a good start so now I can just concentrate and continue to do what I did in the previous race. It makes you calm, a start like this.
It's still early days, but what will be the key to staying in contention for the title?
At the moment I just need to try and fight for as many podiums and victories as possible. If I look at world champions Stefan Bradl and Nico Terol last year, they were so consistent. That's what you need when you want to win a championship. It doesn't help you if you win 10 races and crash out of three, because if the other guy is always second he'll win at the end. Just be consistent, finish all races, and if you have the possibility of winning like I did in Estoril, of course you must take your chance. The fact I'm now leading means you wouldn't say top five is good. Just stay calm and do the work and at the end you'll be on top.
I think Maverick [Viñales] will be the hardest guy to beat. [Romano] Fenati will also be strong. He's a rookie and can win sometimes, but to be consistent is very hard and he has a lot to learn.
You had a hard race against Viñales in Portugal...
We had to go to Race Direction because he complained that my overtake was hard, but for me everything was clean. If I look at Moto2, and even at MotoGP, there is much harder riding and this was a clean, tough race. I was happy to get the victory because at the end of the race I was clever to wait and keep calm. For me, the whole race was fun and I think it's been a perfect start to the season with three podiums, a victory, and two poles. It's hard to start much better than that.
The KTM looks like it's already really strong – and improving…
The whole team has been working hard. Everyone, KTM, the team, myself. We're all trying to improve as fast and as much as we can because Honda were so far ahead in the first race. We were a little shocked when we arrived in Qatar because after such good tests we expected to be close to the Honda, but we were very far off [Cortese finished third, 18 seconds off race winner Viñales].
Then I was so happy to win in Estoril because we knew we were where we need to be. Estoril was a track where the KTM was really good and I think it's quite similar here at Le Mans – it's a little bit stop-and-go, and with the long straight you need good engine power, which we do. I think we still have things we can improve and during the season I think we'll only get stronger.
Are there any plans to step up to Moto2 next season?
At the moment I'm not thinking about it, but for sure, in your career you don't want to finish in the smaller classes. I'll just try to do the best I possibly can this season, to do everything possible to win and ride good races. But if the possibility is there, I do want to move up to Moto2.