[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 the European Grand Prix in Valencia.]
Saturday Afternoon, Qualifying, Cloudy
I was a little more enthusiastic about Qualifying after the improvements made in P3 earlier this morning. I had no expectations, of course, knowing full well that my 10-spot grid drop penalty would seriously affect my ultimate starting position. Despite this I was still anticipating getting out there and attempting some Quali-style laps so overall the mood wasn’t as bad as I thought it might have been. Virgin, on the other hand, did have expectations, their desire for Valencia being 20th place or better. The team also added a new electronics update to the car between sessions, giving me that throttle map after my tests during Practice.
As always, allow me to detail the events of each segment of Qualifying before speaking about the end result and my feelings towards it.
The first run of Qualifying was clean with no dramas, although I did have a slight brush against the wall on my third lap which was enough to cause me to abort it and come in early. No damage from the touch, though, so that was nice.
The second run was a little more eventful, however, an issue with Pedro De La Rosa on my first lap being particularly frustrating as he blocked me on the bridge. It’s already incredibly tight and narrow on that thing -- not to mention so abrupt, too, since it is such a short section of the track -- so it’s definitely no fun when there’s a Formula 1 car in the way as well. I also almost lost the car in turn 13 on my third lap after sliding the car to avoid running up against the wall, but I was able to control it and continue with no real impact on the lap. Otherwise the run was good, yielding a time of 1:43.868 which was good enough for 14th and progression into the second segment.
Things happened fast in this segment, my first run being great with no issues whatsoever and a nice time delivered instantly. I didn’t want to go out for a second run to save my tyres and, more importantly, my engine, but I was forced to due to how my rivals were performing and as such I went out for a quick dash near the end of the segment. It didn’t result in any improvement, however, so my fastest time from the first run was all I could manage and, therefore, my Qualifying session ended with me in 11th place on a 1:43.220. Obviously my penalties ensure that I will actually be starting in 21st tomorrow, but I’m still satisfied with my time regardless because it was very close to being another progression into Q3, and I also exceeded Virgin’s expectations as well. That lap was my best of the weekend, too, which is a positive sign after starting Friday in less than ideal circumstances.
As per Practice form, Vettel, Webber and Hamilton grabbed the first three positions for tomorrow’s race. Clearly Red Bull are on form here although it is nice to see that McLaren are giving them a run for their money, too.
An interview after Qualifying asked about my title hopes, which I thought was a little curious, as well as my thoughts on the session and how Virgin are faring with car setup for each circuit. I replied by suggesting that my championship hopes are probably non-existent this year given I am a rookie and in a brand new team; that I have been and will continue to give it my all with each Qualifying session; and that so far Virgin have been doing pretty well with car setup considering we have been punching well above our weight, something that is evident in rounds such as Turkey and Canada.
I may be starting at the back of the field tomorrow but, after today’s efforts, I have to say I am actually looking forward to the race. It remains to be seen if my decent results in recent rounds will continue, though.
Sunday Afternoon, Race Day, Sunny
I go into today’s race with little to no expectations, instead preferring to just do my own thing and be happy with whatever I can get. Virgin are approaching the race differently, however, expecting a position of 18th or higher in the race. I think that’s certainly achievable, especially given recent form, but there’s no denying that my penalties are already affecting my chances so we will just have to wait and see what happens. Despite not making Q3 and thus, not being required to start on them, Virgin have given me a fresh set of Option tyres to start the race with, no doubt hoping that I can use them to gain a few places early and start things off positively. Being a street circuit I’m not so sure that’s the right move to take but it is their choice, of course, and I will be happy to have good rubber under my belt to get things started, so I’m certainly not going to argue with them about it. Being Options, however, the grip will no doubt fade quickly so right now the strategy is to pit at around lap 18 or so and switch to the Primes. I guess it depends on the race’s pace this afternoon, and how much dirt and dust is hanging around off the racing line as well. Anyway, I have some sponsor commitments to attend to so wish me luck.
Race Start; 57 laps
Despite feeling like it was slow initially, that was probably my best start in Formula 1 yet, my quick thinking and success in taking advantage of the opportunities that were before me resulting in a nice advancement up the field whilst everyone else slowly -- to avoid collisions -- sorted themselves out. By the bridge and turn 10 I had made up 3 or 4 places and I took another position -- around the outside I might add -- by the end of the first lap. Not long after that I grabbed another one in the fast series of corners after the hairpin (turn 17) in sector three due to cars going slower than usual, yet again, as they sorted themselves out. As I commenced the third lap, I was already in 17th -- not a bad start given it is a street circuit. By lap 5 I had made it to 15th, where I stayed until my pit-stop on lap 18. On lap 10 my (Option) tyres started to go away from me which ensured that I ran wide a few times at various corners but Liuzzi, who was behind me, was unable to pass and I gained some time back in sector three where I appeared to be more comfortable and confident than some of the others. He came close a few times to be sure, but I was able to hold position for the first stint and even as I entered the pits, too, as he followed me in. Virgin even complimented me on the stint while I was driving down the lane because of how many positions I gained -- who said passing in F1 was impossible?
I left the pits on lap 19 in 16th after Buemi passed me on the straight. I quickly received another compliment over the radio for a “perfect pit-stop” which was nice to hear and certainly wonderful encouragement for the rest of the race. I should ask Virgin to say things like that in every race. Anyway, I managed to get 15th back on lap 25 and then went on to have an eerily quiet few laps between lap 25 and 31, especially on the bridge and the subsequent (first) back straight. Like Bahrain and Turkey, the lap around Valencia feels somewhat like a journey, a feeling exacerbated by just how long the circuit is. Unlike those two venues, though, Valencia does stick close to itself so it was only in that particular section where things were rather quiet. The frontrunners began lapping me on around lap 32, and I had a small brush with the outside wall of turn 3 on lap 38. After that things were good, clean and consistent, with nothing in particular occurring and my driving remaining smooth and at a steady pace. On lap 55 I had a lockup in turn 2 that I couldn’t get out of in time as I had already committed to the corner, meaning that instead of running down the run-off area like I did a few times in Practice, I collided with the wall instead and lost my front wing. Naturally the team ordered me into the pits to get it replaced but when I heard the margin I had over Liuzzi who was (still) behind me, I decided to try and nurse the car home instead. This decision paid off as I kept my position and finished 15th, a decent result considering my starting position and the mistake at the end of the race.
Despite that mistake and my woes earlier in the weekend, particularly with the penalties, I’m really happy with that result and that race as a whole, so much so that I think it has to be one of my best yet. That makes three consecutive races in a row where I’ve had a positive weekend with better than expected results so, right now at least, I’m really satisfied with my performances and how my season has progressed so far. I think Valencia is one of my better rounds because of the general consistency I showed throughout the majority of the race, and for my many passes during the first stint -- not many passes happen at the start of any race let alone on a street circuit, so to do what I did today was remarkable and something that I am definitely pleased with. Perhaps my love of street circuits is starting to show after all?
Virgin was also happy as, obviously, I was three places ahead of their expectations today. They also seem pleased with how things have been progressing thus far, so it feels good knowing that my efforts aren’t just doing wonders for my development but for theirs as well. Interestingly, Valencia reminded me of a few of the street circuits I used to race at in America, probably because of the way in which the sunshine lit up the track. It helps, too, that the track is so modern and looks wonderful.
Anyway, Lewis Hamilton won the race with Alonso coming second and Vettel rounding out the podium for third. Lucas Di Grassi, my team-mate, finished in 23rd. Without being cocky or arrogant, I think it is fair to say that I am performing at a much stronger level than he is right now, something that has been consistent for most of the season so far. Hopefully this works to my benefit later in the year but, of course, we will have to wait and see on that one. My result today means that I am still 21st in the drivers’ standings, while Virgin remain last (11th) in the constructors’.
With the way things are going lately I’m beginning to think that a points-finish can’t be too far off, surely? Here’s hoping I’m right, first and foremost, and that it happens at the next event in Britain and the world-renowned Silverstone circuit. I have mixed feelings towards Silverstone which I will elaborate on when we get there. It’s undoubtedly a classic track but they have been making changes to it recently, too, so we will see how I feel in a fortnight’s time.
Note: All images, save for the course map, are courtesy of Xbox Live friend and fellow F1 fanatic Rossa Au.