Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living The Life: Turkey #1

[Part of a series of posts in which I detail the events that occur during my first championship season in Codemasters' F1 2010. These will be written in a diary-esque form describing my thoughts and reactions as I participate in each event. If you want an explanation for the series' silence, read the full thing, otherwise skip to just above the map to find the latest installment: the Turkish Grand Prix.]

Author’s Note: It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Despite emphasizing my commitment to it and suggesting that it would exist on a more consistent schedule, my F1 2010 Living The Life story has gone quiet in recent months, much to my dismay. The reasons for this are many and varied and don’t bear mentioning here, mostly, but the silence does need explaining so here I am.

The first reason -- and the one that increased as time went on -- is the effort that it takes to write up a round of my story for the blog. Because I cover all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself, writing up everything that transpired with each round is a lengthy, time-consuming process that can be -- if I’m to be honest -- somewhat of a chore. Considering the story is still relatively early on in the season where the game was still new to me and I was making a lot of silly mistakes, there’s a lot of notes that I have taken down in the early rounds that cover everything from spins to pit-stops, and relaying all those details, coherently, in a story post is a lot of hard work. When, for example, you’re struggling for motivation to write about anything let alone a project as large as this, it’s only natural that such effort can be off-putting and overwhelming, and it’s absolutely one of the reasons why my story has been so quiet, for so long. Put simply, the pressure I had on getting one round up turned into pressure to resume the series full stop, increasing the stress I had over it and resulting in nothing getting done because of that pressure, as well as my desire to write about and do other things.

That’s somewhat of an excuse, though, and I did say (and mean!) that I was committed to writing up this story and seeing this project through to its end, wherever that end may be. What that means is that despite the added pressure (that, admittedly, was put on by myself) I still had a desire to resume my story and tell it to you guys, both because of my commitment and because I honestly believe that the ups and downs that I experienced throughout it (yes, I finished the first season months ago…) are worth sharing. So what stopped me? Well, another example and one that’s quite recent is the unfortunate passing of my Nan. Late last month she died after a few weeks of being in hospital, and as I’m sure anyone who has experienced a death in the family would know, the things that need to be done and taken care of after someone has passed away is extensive and ongoing. This, combined with the fact that my Grandfather is also in hospital, has ensured that the past month or two has been insanely busy and, as you’d expect, I have had little time to think about the return of my F1 2010 story or, indeed, any of the other posts that I have wanted to make. That doesn’t explain the months prior to this unfortunate time for me and my family, I know, but it does explain the most recent reason for why I haven’t been able to resume Living The Life, and I think you would agree that it’s quite the valid one. As recent posting would suggest, however, I appear to be getting back on my feet so I figured that now would be as good a time as any to get motivated and get my story back under way.

So here it is, the next round of my Living The Life series, this time featuring the Istanbul circuit in Turkey. If you need to be reminded of what has occurred in the season thus far then my ‘Season So Far’ post will refresh your memory for the first five rounds, and then there’s the Monaco round which was the last I published. Because I’ve addressed the silence above, I will be splitting the Turkey round into two parts. Expect the second part tomorrow.


The team was feeling a little letdown, understandably, after our woeful round at Monaco. The mood heading into Turkey wasn’t pleasant, and the disappointment was evident everywhere as everyone’s enthusiasm was muted, and their general demeanor was relatively subdued. Like myself, they understand the importance of the Monaco round and to have a poor show there was definitely a significant blow to the progress of our season. I’m lucky in that they understand just how notorious and challenging that street circuit is, though, and that it was my first visit there so it was only natural that I’d struggle with such a tricky track. Even so, their somber mood is proving to be quite inspirational as I contemplate the weekend ahead and, with any luck, I hope to use it to my full advantage as I try to get a good result here in Turkey.

Friday Morning, Practice One, Sunny

As usual I began the first practice session on Prime tires and was cautious as I came to grips with the new circuit. Also as usual, I had a few run offs and went wide a couple of times during my first run, but that’s to be expected when everything is as new as they were for me. It was mostly because Turkey’s corners sneak up on you, particularly if they are atop a crest and therefore blind. Turn 3 and the infamous quadruple-apex corner of turn 8 are fine examples, their relatively fast speed making it especially difficult if you’re not familiar with their approach. I took the opportunity to run some decent laps during this session, particularly whilst everyone was in their garages -- my fellow rookies always seem to neglect the chance to learn a track when it’s relatively quiet, a strange choice on their behalf, in my opinion. During my second run the team wanted to do some more components testing, expecting me to achieve a time of 1:53.872 which was, as always, an easy time. By the time I had done it I was already well into the 1’32s, so once again the requirements were easy and I was able to get on with the job of learning Turkey and preparing myself for the weekend to come. Some slight understeer meant that I went out with a different setup for my third run, with lower downforce and higher top speed. Aside from a small powerslide exiting turn 6, the run itself was uneventful and the change of setup proved to be the right choice. I also noticed that it was slightly overcast, the sun’s rays piercing through every now and then and leaving a strong glare over the track in certain areas, making it particularly hard to see at times. A few run offs and a half spin in the next run (fourth) slowed progress a little as it broke any sense of rhythm I had gained earlier and affected me mentally, momentarily, as I knew that they were silly and unnecessary mistakes. I recovered quickly, however, and the next run was fine if a little slow. It’s not that I wasn’t trying hard enough or whatever, I just couldn’t put together a lap that was better than the ones I had done earlier and it also felt as if the car was a little sluggish too, but it was nothing that I couldn’t handle. The same thing occurred on the following run (my sixth), which I found amusing, though some better times did come late on my fourth and fifth laps. For my final run I elected to give the Options a go, to see how they fared around Turkey and also because my Primes were quite worn. It took a couple of laps to readjust to the new tires (and subsequent extra grip) but once I got used to it, my times improved as they always do with these tires and, much to my surprise, they were good enough for, wait for it… Sixth place! That’s the highest I have ever been in a session this season and the result was a great way to move on from and forget about the dramas that I had in Monaco, so naturally I was ecstatic when I got back to the garage and saw my name so high up on the timing monitor. The funny thing was that I also felt like there was more to be had, which left me feeling remarkably optimistic about the remainder of the weekend. The time I set to achieve sixth place was a 1:29.031 which was less than a second off Sebastian Vettel who was 1st on a 1:28.576. Webber followed for second, and Jenson Button ended up third for the session. In total, I did about 26 laps not including in- or out-laps.

The positive result also reflected, somewhat, my general feeling towards the Istanbul venue as a whole, too. Designed by Hermann Tilke -- the architect behind the Sepang (Malaysia) and China circuits -- it is a fast, technical circuit with some interesting undulations and an exhilarating and utterly unique corner in turn 8, the aforementioned quadruple-apex one. Approaching that corner is tricky, absolutely, due to the crest that precedes it and because each apex is blind until you’re directly on top of them. Combine that with the reasonably fast speed with which you go through there, and you have a thrilling corner to drive if you get it right, and an immensely difficult one to learn and overcome if you don’t. The Istanbul circuit reminds me a lot of Bahrain, actually, in that it feels like you’re on a small adventure with each lap and it features some tight corners as well as some long, sweeping ones. It’s nowhere near as dusty as that track was, however, and much more in line with the flow of Malaysia and China, which is nice as it seemingly suits my driving style like those circuits did earlier in the season. Even if the rest of the weekend sucks, I can safely say that I like driving around the Turkey track.

Friday Afternoon, Practice Two, Sunny

This session started with more R&D test requirements from Virgin, a time of 1:53.779 being my goal. As always I hit it immediately and got it out of the way, allowing the rest of the session to be focused on getting an even better handle on the Istanbul circuit. My first two runs were quite good as I used them to just ease into a rhythm and I wasn’t attempting to set the track on fire in order to achieve a particular time. Despite this, it was nice to hear that I had already hit the early 1’30s even though I wasn’t pushing and it certainly proved to be motivation for a little later in the session. The second run did feature another powerslide out of turn 6, however, so I cut it a bit short and came in early. The third run was a little off-putting due to Bruno Senna who was driving rather slowly on my out-lap -- so I passed him thinking he was on an in-lap -- but he then picked up the pace once he was behind me. This meant he was on my tail for three laps and the combination of my engine and his made for a slightly confusing few laps, and the odd short-shift or three throughout them. These tiny errors only affected my laps by a few tenths so it wasn’t an issue, but it was still a set-back that neither of us (I assume he had to deal with some of my turbulent air, so his laps were probably impeded slightly as well) really needed. He pitted on my fourth lap, though, so I pressed on and improved my time. It’s also possible, though I doubt it, that Senna was intentionally following me to get an idea of how I was attacking the Turkey circuit, but that’s something that I will obviously never know. The next two runs were clean, consistent and saw my lap time drop frequently (even if only marginally) which was nice. I had to abort my first lap in the next run (my sixth), however, as I went wide and on to the astroturf in turn 8. I also aborted the second lap due to Senna coming out of the pits and causing me to hesitate as it wasn’t clear if he was going to come onto the racing line instantly, or wait until I had passed. It didn’t mean much, however, as later on during the lap, on the final turn, I got a bad exit which sent me wide and onto the exiting curb more than usual, which was enough to induce wheel-spin and put me into the wall. I was able to slow the car down before impact so the damage was minimal but it was still enough to require a front wing change and, like any incident, it changed the dynamic of our progress for the session, even if temporarily. My seventh run proved this, somewhat, with a series of messy laps, a spin in turn 6 and a five-spot grid penalty rubbing salt in the wound. Unlike previous powerslides I was unable to catch some wheel-spin going through turn 6 because my tires were worn and, despite my best efforts, just weren’t going to cooperate as I tried to catch the car. Facing the wrong way, I did a flick spin to turn myself around which was deemed to be driving dangerously, probably because I had to go backwards (very) briefly in order to gas the car up properly for the flick spin. How else am I supposed to recover without wasting time putting the car in reverse, waiting until I’m completely off track and then slowly turning around like I might have in Monaco due to its tight corners and narrow walls? A flick spin seemed like the better solution -- not to mention quicker -- and so that’s why I did it, especially when I have seen others do it in the past and it’s been a common technique throughout my entire racing career. But, for whatever reason, the officials here in Turkey didn’t like it and as such I was consequently awarded that penalty, which put a damper on an otherwise remarkably positive weekend. Anyway my final run, now on Options like in P1, also featured a spin due to my (admittedly poor) choice to use the same set of Options from the session this morning. This occurred in turn 1 due to accelerating too early and then after that, traffic ruined any chance of an improved time on the following laps. That was okay, I still managed 10th for the session and a 1:29.612, done on the Primes earlier on. It was just frustrating knowing that there was more possible and, due to my own mistakes and some silly circumstances, I wasn’t able to unlock that potential. That’s alright, the weekend has been positive for the most part and I’m looking forward to P3 tomorrow to, hopefully, continue in that direction. Anyway Vettel, Webber and Hamilton topped the time sheets -- the usual suspects, then. Bit of a shame I have that penalty, too; guess I need a decent qualifying tomorrow to lessen the impact that it could have on our race.

Saturday Morning, Practice Three, Slightly Overcast

The session began with more tests but, interestingly, the team wanted a much more realistic lap time done this time around with a 1:39.753 being the target. It was still an easy enough time to manage but it was nice to see that it wasn’t some absurd time that was 20-30 seconds behind what we, the entire field, were all achieving with ease. A mixed couple of runs got the hour off to a start, an amusing (I thought, anyway) 1:30.000 lap happening sometime during my second run, whilst a few hiccups happened thanks to traffic, wheel-spin (it wasn’t anything serious, though) and a poor exit out of the final turn -- affecting two potentially good laps -- ensured that things weren't as smooth as I'd have liked. My third run was also a bit of a dud, traffic once again preventing me from improving my time when I was on target to. For whatever reason I always seemed to come up on slower cars as I was either preparing for a new lap, or ending a good one, and it definitely played with my momentum and rhythm. I also received a warning for cutting turn 1 accidentally, due to turning in a touch too early, which I felt was fair. Due to conserving fuel (thanks to the affected laps), I got a few more in than usual but couldn’t do anything with them, unfortunately. This trend continued for my fourth run with yet more traffic affecting my ability to progress, particularly in turn 8 and throughout the entirety of the final sector. I actually had another detour out in the astroturf of turn 8, too, thanks to Alguersuari who slowed during the middle of the four-apex corner, for some reason. I went off because I had to take avoiding action, basically, and while it wasn’t anything too dramatic it was quite annoying. My teammate Lucas Di Grassi also got in the way during this run, so after the session (and just before I wrote this) I spoke to him about it. My fifth and final run, on fresh Options, was better, though I had a strange moment with Chandok on my out lap. I came out ahead of him so I moved aside to let him through but then, for some reason, he slowed so I decided to pass him. As soon as I did he sped up again so I let him through, only for him to slow down again not long afterwards. I don’t know what he was playing at but I passed him again and, yes, he sped up again but this time I kept the power down and made sure that he wasn’t coming through. If he wants to play games then I’m happy to oblige, and quite frankly I don’t care if I ruined his lap in any way, not if he is going to act silly like that. I went on to improve my time which was a nice way to end a mixed, somewhat strange session, and finished with about 23 laps completed -- not as many as I had planned, but oh well. I managed a 1:29.390, which resulted in 9th for the session. Vettel was once again on top, and Hamilton and Webber followed close behind. An interview after the session asked about my general feelings about my qualifying performances this season, my thoughts on the testing ban and my life at Virgin so far. I responded saying that I thought my qualifying had been pretty good this season, that the ban isn’t affecting us at all and that life at Virgin is positive, even after the two abysmal rounds in Spain and Monaco, mostly because they’ve made sure to make me feel welcome. Overall I’m looking forward to Quali later in the afternoon, and depending on how that fares, a decent race tomorrow. Here’s hoping, anyway.


That’s the three practice sessions done, come back tomorrow for qualifying and, of course, the race.

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