I’ve been away for two weeks in Abu Dhabi – two weeks that have been right up there as the most eventful and special of my career. First of all I wrapped up the GP3 title last weekend, then on Wednesday afternoon I had my first track test of a Formula One car in a Lotus-Renault, and finally on Friday and Saturday I tested in GP2.
Of course, you’re supposed to go from GP3 to GP2 and then F1 on a conventional career path, but I went GP3-F1-GP2! The odd feeling was when I went to the GP2 car from the F1. Considering the GP2 car is a 700-horsepower beast, I put my foot down and thought, ‘Oh, it’s got no power!’ That was quite a weird feeling.
My first experience of a Formula One test was a very last-minute thing, but it was an opportunity I had to grasp. Esteban Ocon, who is the reigning European Formula 3 champion and a guy who I get on very well with, drove the car in the morning and then I had the afternoon.
We’re both quite tall, so it wasn’t really a problem for the team to switch drivers during the day. Although I’m sure that, as a Lotus F1 Team Junior, Esteban would have preferred to drive the whole day – sorry mate!
The car was amazing; the power was huge. I’d never experienced anything like that in my life even with the DTM and Formula Renault 3.5 cars I’ve tested in the past. I feel very privileged to have felt that speed because I don’t think any other car can possibly come close. That was the first impression, and then you notice the huge downforce – the ability in the braking zones was immense. It was kind of everything you’d expect from a Formula One car – it did everything you wanted it to, which was really nice.
We were quite far away from a qualifying run. We were always on the harder prime tyres, with a relatively high fuel load. You always want to do a show-stopping time, but I said on the day that if I could come away from this with the team saying I’d done a great job and being really impressed, from a career point of view that would be just as important as sitting at the top of the timesheet after running supersoft tyres and 5kg of fuel on a qualifying run. That was my main focus. Right at the end of the day I did a long run when everybody else was on qualifying runs, and hopefully the team think I did a good job and that I impressed them – that’s all I ever wanted.
After a one-day break it was relatively simple getting into the GP2, and my first day was with Carlin, the team I won the GP3 title with. The car was very impressive – even better than I thought it would be, if a little bit lacking in power after the F1! It was quite straightforward making the transition with Carlin. The first day there was a little bit of acclimatisation – I wasn’t particularly fast and I worked through a few things with the team.
The second day was with ART Grand Prix, who ran Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to the 2005 and 2006 GP2 titles. I felt a lot more comfortable with the car, it started flowing nicely and I was setting some good lap times. In general it was really good, and you have to remember I only did the second and third days of the three-day test, so I was playing catch-up against people not only with full seasons of GP2 experience, but also those who’d already done the first day of the test.
Over the two days I ended up in the top 10 in three of the four sessions, which is pretty decent going, and in the ART car I was only a couple of tenths away from being in the top three – the times were that close! So I can definitely live with that.
But to be honest I genuinely don’t know who was running what programme. There’s one team that was absolutely flying and no one could get within half a second of their fastest car, so it’s hard to say whether they were on super-quick qualifying set-ups. I hope so!
The season isn’t over yet. I’ve got another exciting opportunity coming up soon. But first, it’s going to be great to spend a little bit of time at home!