Monday, July 18, 2011

Living The Life: Turkey #2

[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. Today, the continuation of my Turkish Grand Prix.]

Saturday Afternoon, Qualifying, Slightly Overcast

The team informed me just after lunch that they had redesigned the car’s footplate, as part of another upgrade for the season. I have no idea what a footplate is but I wasn’t going to object to new parts if it meant better car performance, that’s for sure. They also reminded me that they would be pleased with a 20th or higher qualifying position this weekend, a realistic goal given our recent poor rounds but still one that implies some level of optimism, too. The team know we can do better than what most people probably think we are capable of, and I know that too, so it’s just a matter of finding that performance, running with it and having it result in positions higher up the field. Given the relatively decent weekend we’ve had so far, there’s no reason why that isn’t possible starting here, now, in Turkey rather than some round in the future. Assuming the car and team do the job on their end, all I have to do really is do my own job and things should (and hopefully will) go from there.


I had a great, if mixed, qualifying session but before I talk about the (extremely) positive result, allow me to elaborate on how the entire qualifying hour fared. Q1 was okay, as I elected to go out on Primes for my first run to try and save Options for later in the session, and just for general grip purposes. This didn’t work out, however, as traffic hampered my ability to get a decent time in and I had to switch to Options for my second run, to ensure I got through to the next part of qualifying. It was through turn 8, once again, where traffic posed a problem, the one-line flow through the quadruple-apex corner impeding any lap even when slower cars made the effort to move out of the way. It wasn’t anything drastic, by any means, but it definitely changed the plans I had for the session by forcing my hand, so to speak, to switch to the much quicker Option tires. Speaking of which, the run on those was better with at least two of my four laps yielding in decent times. Good enough for 9th and advancement to Q2, at least. For the record the time was a 1:29.208.


As soon as I drove out of the garage to commence my first run in Q2, I regretted my decision. The predicted rain began to fall as I left pit lane and this, obviously, made me contemplate my approach and whether we needed to respond. Since the track wasn’t too slippery during my out-lap, however, I chose to go for it anyway and that paid off with two decent laps achieved relatively easily -- these uncertain conditions, and the transition from dry to wet, definitely seem to suit my driving style. My third lap had to be cautious and slow, however, due to the tarmac being too wet and, being on slicks (Options), I just had no grip whatsoever. Naturally, I came in for Intermediates but couldn’t improve my time on the second run due to the conditions being rather tricky, and because even if I could put a good lap together it wouldn’t have meant much due to dry times always being quicker than wet ones. That’s okay, the time I achieved in the first run was good enough for 6th position and progress into the final part of qualifying, the second time this season that I have managed to do that. That time, once again for the record, was a 1:31.976.


I had an incredible Q3 thanks, in part, to the fact that the track was quiet wherever I happened to be on it, allowing me to focus and put a decent time in. The track was also drying quite quickly after Q2’s showers, so a fresh set of Options also assisted in my final, awesome time. I had to abort my first lap, however, due to a small lock up heading into the first turn, as well as venturing too wide during turn 7. Apart from that, my laps were practically perfect, though the one that I set my ultimate time on could have been better as I missed the apex slightly in turn 12, meaning that I had to pause before getting back onto the throttle to head out onto the back straight. The fact the time was still amazing, however, soon made me forget about that little blight on an otherwise brilliant lap. So what was the time? A 1.29.041 which was not only just one-one-hundredth of a second behind my P1 time, but also good enough for fifth place! FIFTH PLACE! That is the highest I have ever been in any session this year let alone Quali, so I’m absolutely elated with that result even though my 5-spot grid penalty drops me down to tenth for the race tomorrow. I’m kind of kicking myself, in hindsight, for getting that penalty as it would have been fantastic to have literally started from fifth, but at the same time I don’t care as the strong performance far outweighs any impact that such a penalty could have on my weekend. Even if the race doesn’t go too well, reaching fifth place so early in the season -- and in a car that no one would ever expect to be so high -- is wonderful, and definitely the highlight of my very short career in Formula 1 so far. It more than makes up for the previous two rounds, too, so that’s nice after all the misery that those two caused. A post-qualifying interview asked if my car will be as strong in the race as it was in that session, how I’m coping with the pressure of qualifying this season and how well is the team supporting me. I answered by saying that the car should remain, mostly, the same; that if today’s result is anything to go by, I’m handling pressure superbly and far better than I expected to before the season commenced; and that Virgin have their full support behind me, especially given some of the small but amazing highs we’ve had. Sure, there have been lows too, but generally speaking we are moving in the right direction, and quickly -- a good thing for such a young team, and perhaps even better for a rookie driver like me.

Overall it’s great knowing how well that session went, and how easily I managed to exceed both my own and Virgin’s expectations. They wanted 20th, I wanted 15th; we ended up 5th but will drop to 10th for the actual race. Such a strange way to punch above our weight, then, but certainly one I will embrace if such positivity continues tomorrow. Also, as I discovered in P1 yesterday, Turkey really does seem to suit my driving style -- interesting considering my other two decent weekends, Malaysia and China, were also designed by Hermann Tilke. Wonder if that has any significance, or is just a coincidence?

Sunday, Race Day, Slightly Overcast

The team is maintaining their realistic goals for today’s race despite the excitement of yesterday’s qualifying session. They expect me to place in 18th or higher, and to just have a generally consistent race. I believe that’s absolutely possible, both because of how well this weekend has gone thus far, and because I feel comfortable with the Turkey circuit and feel like I can be consistent throughout the entirety of the race. Especially since, despite the start up at the front of the field, I plan on just doing my own thing today and don’t have any silly aspirations to finish high. However starts and finding a rhythm early are areas that I still struggle with, so I guess the dynamic of my race depends on how I fare with those today. Time will tell.


Hm, if I were to sum up that race I’d say it was an enjoyable and consistent one, where the result doesn’t necessarily reflect my feelings towards how I fared. But I will get to that in a moment. First of all: I got a cracking start! After average ones in each of the rounds I’ve been to so far, it was fantastic to finally get a great start with minimal wheel-spin and even a pass heading into turn 1. Going up a position when the race had barely even started felt wonderful and certainly made for a nice change from the usual dropping back routine I’ve had in other races given the sheer acceleration of other cars when compared to my Virgin.

It was buoyed by some fantastic racing, too, a battle with Rosberg in particular standing out for me personally. He initially got by me on lap 5 in turn 7 but due to a slower series of corners between turn 8 and 11, I was able to get the run on him and got back past in turns 12 and 13. Dragging all the way down the back straight was good fun and while he got passed due to his quicker Mercedes, putting me back in my starting position of 10th, I thoroughly enjoyed the battle. I almost had déjà vu not too long after that, too, as Michael Schumacher passed me on lap 10, again in turn 7, and a similar fight ensued. Unlike my racing with Rosberg, I couldn’t get a run to get back past but even so though the tussle was great as I felt like it demonstrated that I can handle the pressure of racing with the big names of the sport -- it was Michael Schumacher, after all. Sitting in 11th place, I continued on and managed to hold that position right up until my pit-stop on lap 20. Vitaly Petrov got close a few times but I held my nerve and stayed in front, even with worn Options (because I started on them after reaching Q3) making it tricky to keep up the pace. With a successful pit stop and a new set of Primes fitted to my car, I came out in 12th and got back into another clean, consistent rhythm immediately. I also noticed that it was getting darker, suggesting weather was possibly imminent but it didn’t eventuate. Petrov passed me at -- yep, you guessed it -- turn 7 (seemingly my only sticking point today) on lap 33, dropping me to 13th in the process. On lap 35 Rosberg lapped me, so clearly his pace picked up after our little tussle earlier in the race. On lap 40 Liuzzi overtook me after I went a little wide in turn 5, hurting my exit out of turn 6. Now 14th, I had an annoying moment on lap 49, losing two positions after having to react to and catch wheel-spin in turn 13 heading onto the back straight. I did catch it but by then it was too late, and I was annoyed as I definitely felt as if the moment was unnecessary. This put me into 16th where I stayed until the end of the race. I had a series of slow laps as I let some of the frontrunners through, allowing Barrichello to catch up (which kind of sucked) but I kept my position and finished what I thought was a pretty enjoyable race. It had some moments that I’m not proud of, to be sure, and the result, 16th, implies a race that went backwards as it progressed, but overall I’m extremely satisfied with my performance. I had some great fights early on and, perhaps more importantly, drove consistently throughout the entire thing, executing on the personal goal I had going into the race and suggesting that things might be turning around after the two negative weekends we had prior to this one. It’s not the highest I have finished this year -- China still holds that achievement -- but I actually believe that Turkey was better because I feel like I stepped up, that I made progress, and that I proved through my racing today that I belong in Formula 1. The race was clean with very few mistakes, our pit stop went well, and my pace was consistent the entire time unless I had to let faster cars through. In some respects you could say it was inevitable I’d go backwards anyway, as I am in a Virgin which is supposed to be a backmarker team, but I think that I showed that despite this I was able to hold my own and even race with the personalities of the sport.

My whole weekend was great, then, even with that penalty, and puts us in good stead for the next round in Canada. Hamilton won the race, Webber came in 2nd and Alonso followed for 3rd. Interestingly, no one retired which meant that my teammate Lucas Di Grassi also finished, continuing the positive weekend for the team even if his final placing was 23rd. I’m currently 21st in the drivers’ standings and Virgin, unfortunately, remain last in the constructors’, despite a better round. It’s nice to know that I beat the team’s desired result comfortably and while I didn’t beat my own (I was aiming for 15th -- a result I probably would have achieved had I not had the mistake in turn 13), I can still reflect on my round in Turkey as being a positive one, and hopefully as a sign of things to come, too. My boss, engineer and agent all congratulated me on my weekend afterwards, and we went on to discuss how it progressed as well as how quickly things change in this sport. Now I set my sights on the Canadian Grand Prix, both because it is a track I have always loved to watch and because it’s in a country I have always wanted to visit. I seriously cannot wait.


So that’s the Turkish Grand Prix done and dusted, finally, after months of unfortunate (and somewhat unnecessary) delay. It feels good knowing that I have published it, at last, and more importantly that I have resumed the story as a whole. It wasn’t easy, of course -- finding pictures is still a difficult process, sadly -- but it wasn’t a chore like some of the previous rounds have been, in part because I think Turkey was the round where I began to take better notes, and also because I was probably more motivated to get it done. I look forward to publishing the Canada round in the near future but, in the meantime, how did you feel about the separation into two parts? I did it because, obviously, I had to address why this story went quiet, but I’m curious to know if you preferred this method or liked the old way in which I just posted the entire thing in one (very long) post? Ideally I would split it into the various sessions so it really did come across in the diary format that I’m trying to approach it as, but I don’t want that to clog up my blog and then affect my ability to post other content, too, so let me know which format you prefer going forward and I’ll adopt it for future installments.

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