When we last spoke I was doing my best to recover from the disappointment of what looked to be a very promising weekend in Monaco. It was my second DNF in two years and while this took me a bit to overcome mentally, I look back on the entire event and week with high regard as we were massively competitive and at the same time it was the first event that I got to work trackside in my development role with Team Lotus.
As you can imagine, our hopes were extremely high going into Nurburgring as we looked to fight back and retrieve our position back at the sharp end of the point standings. What was about to occur through this event was unexpected by all and truly ended up being the worst weekend and quite possibly the low point thus far in my career.
Having never been to the circuit before, I spent the entire week leading up to the race preparing as much as possible so that I would not be at a disadvantage going into first practice and by the end of Friday we were quite quick with myself and Robert Wickens only separated by a few hundredths while we had nearly a half second on the rest of the field. This was extremely encouraging going into qualifying, but with dodgy weather conditions set for the entire weekend, we were not about to get our hopes up. It was all about taking it one session at a time and ensuring that we maximized our potential every time we left pit lane.
The first qualifying session was a mixed bag in terms of the weather, as it started out dry, rained mid-way through, and then dried out again for the last five minutes. I ended up coming out of this with a front row start alongside Wickens. This, unlike Monaco, was a track where overtaking was fairly straightforward so I knew that we were in a good position for race one. Little did I know what was about to unfold…As the red lights came on for the start there was rain drops on the visor and by sector two the track was in full wet conditions all the while we were struggling on slicks. I was P3 going into the final corner on Rob’s gearbox when JEV got a bit ambitious for the conditions as he slid into the back of my car which resulted in both of us ending our race in the pit lane wall. The car was severely damaged and it was a big task for the Fortec boys’ to get everything together for Sunday morning. I stayed with the team as long as I could that evening to help keep the mood positive and encouraged for our next opportunity a mere 10 hours later.
Sunday morning saw sopping wet conditions which was more or less a relief as we knew that the conditions would remain the same throughout the session, so we could just focus on knocking the time off lap by lap. We were P3 through most of the session and it looked set to end that way; however, a quick burst of sunlight and mistimed red flag meant that I slipped back to P8. Considering the circumstances, we felt that it could have been much worse and because Sunday features a pit stop race, we were confident that we could move forward from there. But in similar fashion as the day before, I wasn’t even able to complete a race lap as I was tagged from behind going into turn four and my race was once again over.
This meant that we had three DNF’s in a row and I slipped back to P6 in the championship standings. I was honestly heartbroken and was looking for answers as to why things were shaping up like this. But with that said, I had a busy week in the UK coming up with meetings at Team Lotus, evaluations at Pro Performance, and a one-on-one interview with CNN, so I had to force myself to move past what had taken place and focus on the future.
Let me tell you, this is easier said than done, but with great support from the people around me and continual encouragement from the team, I was able to beat the disappointment and I only became more passionate and motivated for Budapest. The only problem was that it was nearly two weeks away, so I just did my best to focus on my training and preparation for the event.
I arrived in Budapest full of confidence and excitement as it is one of my favorite circuits of all time and I have always had good results there in the past (IFM and GP3). Practice saw us end in P2, just a few thousandths behind JE and once again we showed how competitive we were. All that was needed was a bit of luck and we would be climbing our way back in points. Qualifying one was extremely tight and while it looked like we would finally bag our first pole position of the year, I made a mistake in the final corner and we ended P4. I was obviously hard on myself about this, but a second row start was nothing to complain about. The race at the front was extremely tight and through the forty-five minutes I was able to move up to P2; however, could do nothing about the gap that JEV had opened up on the field. Even though I was not on the top step, to just be on the podium felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could once again focus on the championship and task at hand.
Going into Sunday, we were once again extremely competitive, basing ourselves on provisional pole for most of the session only for others to find something special and I slipped again to P4. Unlike the first qualifying, I was totally content as I felt that we had maximized everything available from the car and the others had simply out-performed us. With it being the pit stop race, I knew that we were definitely going to have the chance to go forward as the boys have always been massively quick in pit stops. However, this race would not see us gaining positions in pit lane and we actually ended up losing two as I fell back to 6th. I did my best to recover, but with the nature of the track being so difficult to overtake the best that I could manage was P5. While this wasn’t perfect, it was just what we needed to get the momentum swinging in our direction again as we moved to P4 in the championship only nine points back from P3. On top of that we closed the gaps to the leaders and with three rounds left, anything can and will happen.
We are so excited for the final half of the season and feel that it is our time to shine. The championship lead was ours at the end of the first weekend and all that matters is that it is ours at the end of the last weekend as well. Even though there is six weeks in-between Budapest and the next event in Silverstone, we are working day in and day out to make sure we are ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Championships are a long process and step-by-step we are pulling ourselves back into contention.
I look forward to fighting back with all of you and can’t wait for what lies ahead.