Sunday, August 7, 2011

Living The Life: Canada #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, part two of my Canadian Grand Prix.]

Saturday Afternoon, Qualifying, Significantly Overcast

I really don't know how to feel about Qualifying this afternoon. On the one hand, we've had a great weekend which suggests that both it and the race will be pretty good, but on the other I don't want that good form to trick me into thinking that I'm going to have a glorious Canadian Grand Prix, either. It's been a great ride so far and, undoubtedly, topping the time sheets in all three Practice sessions puts pressure on us because people expect that to continue, but I really don't want to believe in something that might not exist. I said in my last entry that I was cautiously optimistic -- that's perhaps the best approach I can have, as I am optimistic that I can continue to perform well here (the track seems to really suit my driving style) but at the same time I'm cautious about just how far up the field I can get, because we are meant to be a backmarker team and because Quali is simply a different beast to Practice. With this in mind, I'm personally gunning for a position in the top ten, with the obvious incentive being the higher the better -- particularly as my grid penalty will automatically drop me five places regardless of where I end up. If I can qualify on top and repeat the performances of Practice (which I doubt but we'll see), then the impact of that penalty is very low because starting in fifth would still be a great result, but if not then anywhere in the top ten should minimise the impact that it might have over my weekend. I don't want to be starting at the back of the field, not after doing so well yesterday and earlier this morning, so reaching Q3 is crucial and is my goal heading into the session. Virgin, on the other hand, have set a goal of fifteenth for the session, which is including the grid drop from my penalty. I think that's a fair and accessible goal given our form in Practice, and it correlates rather nicely with my goal of reaching Q3. If I do, then I'll have met their expectations even with the drop, so again that is absolutely my focus going in. Here's hoping it pays off.


As always, allow me to detail the events of each segment before I discuss my final result.

Almost immediately, it was as if P3 didn't happen. I hooked up with the track nicely and put in a cracker of a lap in my first run to hit a personal best of 1:17.374. This was set on my third lap (second attempt at a time) and emphasised the run in general, too, which was also great. My first flying lap was also a corker until Schumacher forced me to change my line through turn 3 after he exited the pits for his own run. After hitting the track running I elected to stay in and not do a second run, to save my tyres and see what my opponents were up to. Sitting on top of the sheets again was surprising, even with Practice, because I honestly expected the big teams to show their cards, but it also proved to be the motivation I needed to focus in Q2, so I wasn't complaining. Interestingly, Vettel finally broke into the 1'17s with his lap, meaning that Red Bull were edging closer to my times but were still five tenths off.

Q2, Sunny

The clouds clearing for Q2, it was another great segment though once again I only did the one run -- only this time, it wasn't to save tyres but rather because I lost time in the pits after having to get my front wing replaced. Why did it need to be changed? Because, despite a great initial run that put me back to the top, I lost my front wing n-plate after getting turns 3 and 4 wrong on my third lap and clipping the wall. That made things interesting as I was kicking myself for making the mistake, but its impact was minimal as I still finished Q2 on top with a 1:17.683, so it was definitely mixed feelings. Vettel was much closer, on a 1:17.846, and Hamilton finally broke into the 1'17s himself by setting a 1:17.915 for third. Of course, these times get reset so it doesn't matter too much, but it highlighted that the frontrunning teams were closing in (as they should be) and that Q3 was going to be interesting as well. Speaking of which, by sitting on top for Q2 I met my goals of reaching Q3, pleasing Virgin and myself despite the small setback of that front wing mishap.


A disappointing segment, mostly due to things out of my control. I had an average first run which was affected by Mark Webber exiting the pits on one lap, and traffic in the final chicane on another, so I came in early instead. Usually I only go out for one run in Q3 because there's such little time to do anything, but because of the average run I went out for a dash to see if I could improve my time but, ultimately, I was unable to and had to settle for fifth. The provisional time I had set in my first flying lap of the segment. Had I not screwed up my first lap of the dash by running wide in turn 3 (and then having to cut turn 4, which I was warned about), things might have been different but I did and, because of the session ending, I didn't have enough time to 'fix' that mistake and set a faster time. Still, fifth place is still a remarkably decent effort for a rookie driver like me and a new team such as Virgin and, while that result actually means I start in tenth for tomorrow's race thanks to my penalty, I can still be proud of the session overall and my performances thus far this weekend. I know I could have done better, however, with circumstances not working to my favour, and Pole Position perhaps even being possible. It wasn't meant to be, though, so while it proves that timing is everything in this sport, it also proves that I do deserve to be here in Formula 1. For the record my time was a 1:18.369, nowhere near my best, whilst Vettel's was a 1:17.759 which gave him Pole. Button put it in 2nd which surprised a few people, himself included (I imagine), and Webber followed for 3rd.

A post-Quali interview asked if my performance in Quali gives me and Virgin a boost; how I am getting on with the car set-up for Qualifying; and if my title chances this year (being in a backmarker car) are over. I responded by agreeing that we do get a boost from this good result in Qualifying, that set-up has been exactly where it needed to be this weekend, and that I was unlikely to ever be competing for the drivers' title this year but you never know. Once again answers that, I thought at least, were measured and mature, and something that was reinforced when I got back to the garage.

Satisfied with my Saturday, for the most part, I now knuckle down and prepare for what I hope is a good race. I don't expect much from it, but it would be nice if this form continued.

Sunday Afternoon, Race Day, Significantly Overcast

Like the beginning of Q1 yesterday, it's rather overcast today which could be interesting. We'll see if any showers occur during the race but everyone is approaching it as if it will be dry, and we expect it to be too, so things are still going according to plan today. Virgin expect 12th or better which, going on the past two days, is absolutely possible -- hell, a top ten finish seems achievable after Friday and Saturday's performances -- but I'd still like to be realistic and, as such, I've personally set a goal of 15th. Starting where I am in 10th means that it seems like a somewhat lenient goal and relatively easy because of this, but race conditions are always different to the other sessions so, like Turkey, I'm just going to do my own thing and see what eventuates. I do need a good start, though, as it's still an area that I need to work on. I also hope to avoid any potential collisions in turns 1 and 2, which are notorious for incidents because of how narrow and tight they are. Get through those and I should be able to settle into a decent rhythm. Our strategy for today is to come in on around lap 22 or so, a reasonably early stop since we're starting on our slightly worn Option tyres from Q3 (as per the rules), but late enough that we can adapt our strategy on the fly if we need to due to weather. Even if the race doesn't go our way I think both Virgin and myself can be proud of our weekend so far, and happy that we've made such significant inroads towards being competitive and justifying our position in the sport. I'm certainly pleased with everything, that's for sure.

Race (70 laps)

Mixed feelings describe my thoughts on that race, the result itself being good and matching our previous best in China (more on that in a moment) but at the same time also featuring a lot of unnecessary mistakes. For whatever reason I just couldn't find a decent rhythm and continually locked my brakes, ran wide and even had a moment where I let someone through after inducing wheel-spin and having to catch it. It was my best race of the season, probably, but I definitely feel as if I could have (or even should have) done more with it, too, so definitely feeling a little disappointed with how things went. So how did they go? Let me explain.

Despite seeming slow and sluggish at first (with wheel-spin in 2nd gear), I actually got a pretty decent start and managed to keep 10th place heading into the first two corners. Everyone approached them cautiously and slowly, too, so we all got through and that was nice to see. I kept 10th all the way until my pit-stop, too, despite almost passing Rosberg up the inside of the turn 11 hairpin on both lap 2 and 3. He managed to find a rhythm not long after that and drove away while I battled with the two Force Indias of Sutil and Liuzzi, both of whom stayed on the back of my car by taking advantage of my slipstream on the straights. They never really made any attempts to pass, however, so despite feeling some pressure from their pursuit and also thinking that it might look like I was holding them up, I kept my position and ran my own race. The clouds began to clear at around lap 10 or so and, as scheduled, we pitted on lap 22 to switch to the Prime tyres. The pit-stop went well and we left the pits in 13th. Cold tyres saw me get some wheel-spin out of turn 7 which I had to correct, even going so far as to gently bump the outside wall, but I didn't get any damage and was able to press on. I made it to 12th on lap 24 due to Kobayashi pitting but the guys ahead, in 10th and 11th, appeared to be too far ahead to catch so 12th is where I stayed. Not sure what happened there but oh well. On lap 27 I was lapped by the leader Jenson Button, and from then on I was content in 12th place, moving aside as I needed to and running at a pace I was comfortable with. By this point it was clear that the car was behaving a little differently to the sessions earlier in the weekend -- perhaps because it was heavier, perhaps not -- and also that the conditions weren't suiting it as much either, but I was still quite glad to be where I was considering the differences, and that we could have been much farther down the field. On lap 50 Kobayashi had caught me, partly because of me having to move aside for frontrunners, partly because I was running wide and locking up unnecessarily. On lap 52 he got through thanks to me stupidly catching the curb of turn 8 and having to correct the wheel-spin that followed, confirming that I wasn't driving as well (or consistently) as I was in previous sessions and also that my tyres were starting to go off. I got warned for cutting the corner in that mistake, too, which was nice. Moments in turn 4 on lap 64 and again on lap 66 coming out of turn 1 confirmed the tyre wear issues, so I reacted by slowing down a little and maintained a steady pace until lap 69 where I finished the race, one lap down and in 13th place.

It was a good, solid effort, then, but as I remarked before also disappointing because I made some mistakes and just generally wasn't performing as well as I had been earlier in the weekend. I met my own goal of finishing ahead of 15th, which was nice, but didn't meet Virgin's goal of 12th which I felt guilty about after topping the time sheets in nearly every other session. 13th is still good, though, and matches our previous best in China. The reason I said it was probably my best race of the season so far is because, unlike China, we reached 13th legitimately and without rain playing its part on proceedings, but either way both races remain our highlights thus far, with Canada also having the added benefit of such good Qualifying and Practice sessions. The result is certainly higher than a Virgin (and definitely a rookie like me) is expected to be and puts us in good spirits heading into the next round in Valencia. Even though I stupidly let Kobayashi through when I made that error, I feel like the lack of consistency was my downfall today, my inconsistent driving and unnecessary mistakes (even if only minor) sending us down the field a little when, arguably, we should have been higher. Because it was my fault I can accept that the result is still good and certainly remarkable for a team like mine, but at the same time I know I will kick myself for not doing better, too -- especially after doing so well earlier on in the weekend.

Anyway, Button won the race, Vettel came in 2nd and Hamilton followed for 3rd. My teammate Lucas finished in 22nd, which is not bad for him actually, and I remain 21st in the drivers' standings whilst Virgin are still last in the constructors'. According to my agent some other teams are starting to express an interest in my driving -- namely HRT, Lotus, Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber -- so that's interesting; perhaps some contract offers will start appearing if I can continue driving well? Guess I'll find out soon enough. Overall I had a fantastic time in Canada and thoroughly enjoyed both my visit to the country, and my ability to have a great weekend and truly perform -- it felt good, I was in a great mood the entire time and, combined with Turkey, it seems like we are in a really good place at the moment as a team. I hope that continues in Valencia, a circuit I've never been to and another street circuit, too. I may have had a terrible time in Monaco, but I do still love my street circuits...

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