|Wednesday, September 07, 2011 11:22AM|
I just finished touring the Renault F1 factory with a group of fellow WSR drivers and during our time there, we worked on some media training and fitness, which was good fun. It’s always a pleasure to be able to spend time with and work with the drivers outside of the race environment as you get to know each of them on a personal level and well, we definitely had some good laughs. Jean-Eric Vergne and I had a sauna competition, which then led into discovering new, but fairly less practical uses for croquet bats and balls. While this was all good fun, it was also fantastic to be able to witness a factory of that caliber working flat out in preparation of the final run in the F1 season.
Now, at the last update, the weekend in Budapest had come to a close and we were heading into the six-week summer break that has become common in the upper levels of motorsport as a way to reduce cost as everyone steps away from work. While it is nice to have a chance to catch your breath, you find yourself starting to get restless as you are awaiting your next outing in the car.
As you can imagine, I went back to California after Budapest and it was definitely a treat to be able to spend nearly a month with friends and family back home. Spent quite a bit of time training and picking up some new hobbies, like archery, yoga, kayaking. My trainer and I felt a bit ambitious one morning and decided that we would kayak around one of the lakes we lived near and when we accomplished this in about three hours, we decided that we needed to up the stakes a bit. So the next week we ventured a bit further up the road to a lake that was about six times bigger than the original lake. Ok, it was a bit ambitious but we decided that it was worth giving it a go. So we packed lunches, snacks, mass water, and bought iPod speakers to kill the boredom and set off. What we forgot was maps, cell phones, and lights that eventually would be needed. We rode around most of the lake in about 5 hours and then we found the river that fed the lake and being dumb and adventurous we took off up the river. The original plan was to go until we got tired and then we would turn around, but because of the unknowns of what was around each corner we kept going and going apparently trying to find some checkpoint that let us know we were done. Needless to say that never came and as our arms cooked themselves, we realized that we still had to not only paddle back, but find our way. By the time we struggled back to the truck, it was nearly pitch black dark and the entire experience took us just over 9 hours. With that said, we decided that we would take a break from all water related activities for a few weeks.
My time stateside came to a close seemingly very quickly as I was soon back on a plane to Berlin to take part in the next FIA Institute workshop in Germany.
This was a great way to get back into the scheme of things and refocus my energy on what was ahead as the next event in Silverstone was quickly approaching. Immediately after Berlin, I travelled to the UK to take part in a semi-private test in Snetterton and this was also fantastic as it brought back all the muscle-memory and the team and I were able to work together on a program for the upcoming weekend. We spent nearly the entire day doing aero tests and while this can be a bit boring, I think that the data we collected definitely played into our advantage at Silverstone.
We went into the weekend with good confidence and a bit of momentum coming off of the last results in Budapest and that immediately showed as we went P1 in the first practice and I was immediately comfortable with the car. We spent the second practice working on our race set-up, evaluating our race pace, and making final decisions on the aero configurations we would use. At the end of Friday we felt confident with what we had shown and were ready to go for it in quali the next morning.
Grabbing a pole has been our goal since the start of the season and we have been close many times and this was no exception. I qualified P2 to Robert Wickens and when I saw his lap at the end of the session, I could do nothing but take my hat off to him as I knew that my personal lap was as close to perfect as possible and it still wasn’t quite enough. Even though we were a bit disappointed to miss out on pole again, we were more than pleased with a front row start. With Ricciardo, Vergne, and Costa all behind I knew that while the race wasn’t going to be easy it was looking good for the championship numbers. At the start everyone got a fairly even start and the order remained the same at the end of the first lap. I immediately was quicker than Rob and was trying to find a way past; however, Silverstone is a high-speed track and the age-old problem comes into effect when you get into the dirty air of the car in front and you loose general grip. Regardless, I kept pushing as hard as I could and never let the gap get beyond 1.5 seconds as we opened it up on the rest of the field. With about eight laps to go, I started feeling the rear tires get away from me and while I did my best to go into conservation mode, the time behind Rob really forced me to push them quite hard which then allowed Ricciardo to pull me back in and eventually get by me exiting a slow speed corner where I was struggling with traction. I crossed the line P3 and disappointed as we had second in the bag, but I just pushed a bit too hard for too long and while it wasn’t the best situation we were able to show that we are definitely competing at one of the highest levels. I chalked the race up to a learning experience and will definitely be aware of this in the future.
On Sunday, we again had a good result, but as we are competitors, we are always looking for more. The team and I collectively made a decision to take a risk in qualifying 2 with the aerodynamic configuration based on our knowledge from the previous year in the series. It was either going to be pole by a substantial amount or a sub-par qualifying effort. Sadly, it was the latter of the two and we lined up on the grid P6, but as it was a pit-stop race we knew that we had the opportunity to make up valuable ground. Again the start was fairly even and most maintained their positions at the end of the first lap. My goal was to manage the gap to the leaders and keep it as small as possible and pit as soon as the pit window opened in order to have some laps in clean air. At the end of lap 4, we peeled off from P6 and the team executed a virtually perfect pit stop and we had successfully separated ourselves from the field. My engineer came over the radio and said that our race was going to be made in the net four laps and the laps all needed to be at a qualifying level. The car came alive under me with two fresh rear tires and by the time I got to the second sector, we were already the quickest car on track. Over the next four laps we were able to lap nearly two seconds quicker than the leaders and once the pit stop sequences were equal, we found ourselves in P2 only a few seconds back from Wickens. I found myself in the exact same position as I did the day before, but this time I was determined to finish at least second and not make the same mistakes again. I closed the gap to Rob and tried my best to push him into an error, but it wasn’t happening and when the gap to P3 was over 10 seconds, I decided that I would spend the remaining 5 laps protecting the car and tires in order to just bring it home and collect valuable points. We finished 2 seconds apart and nearly 14 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, which was quite an encouraging result for us as while we didn’t win, we again showed that were more than capable.
Little did we know that Sunday’s performance would soon be taken away from us as Renault officials deemed our wheel nuts to be illegal. Everyone was truly shocked by this penalty and as we did not break any of the regulations, we are currently in the process of appealing the decision and fighting for our points back. The ruling will not be made until after Paul Ricard, so as there is nothing we can do about it at this point, we will continue with normal preparations for what will end up being a vital event.
In pre-season testing, our pace in Paul Ricard was very encouraging and we know exactly what needs to be done there in order to be highly competitive. We deemed this to be one of our strongest circuits at the beginning of the year, so we definitely need to deliver and continue scoring big points to close the gap to the leaders.
Stay tuned for what should be a very intense and exciting weekend…