GP2 Baku review
That was a tough weekend in the GP2 Series in Baku. Together with the DAMS team I arrived in the Azerbaijan capital for our European Grand Prix support round with high hopes, but as a team we were struggling from the start. The set-up of the car wasn’t particularly great, as was evident from free practice. In this championship you don’t recover from that sort of thing – we were playing catch-up all weekend.
This was a brand-new street circuit, and there were a lot of yellow flags in free practice. Although it was a nightmare trying to get a clear run, it was the same for everyone. As a racing driver you know if what you’ve got underneath you is good enough, so sometimes even if you’ve not set a good time you can be confident heading into qualifying. But for me and my team-mate Nicholas Latifi it was a difficult start that never really got better.
We’d driven the track on the simulator and I believe our sim replicated the circuit quite well. It was just that it was probably a bit different to what we thought in terms of what the car needed. So you could say that the sim was right, but we interpreted it badly.
Qualifying was a bit better and I ended up 13th. The super-soft tyres masked our issues a little but we didn’t get things particularly right. Having said that, we should have been better than we were. I’m not saying we should have been fighting for pole, but I certainly think fifth or sixth was do-able. There was a close bunch within three or four tenths, but there were some issues that cropped up for us.
I made a good start to the first race. I made up loads of positions into the first corner when, in my peripheral vision, I saw Sergio Canamasas mount the top of Pierre Gasly, and I knew Artem Markelov was to my inside. I was alongside Sergey Sirotkin, who was already running out of room, so I had to take the decision to abort the first corner and go into the escape road, but as I did so Marvin Kirchhofer hit me up the bum. We were out of the race, and so was my team-mate Nick, so that was a disaster for the team.
Of course, that meant we had to start the sprint race from the back of the grid. Somehow I finished ninth, just one place outside the points, but to be honest that was mainly down to the chaos at safety-car restarts and I can’t claim we’d magically found our speed. If only we had a bit of pace we could have got something out of it – and even in Saturday’s race, if I hadn’t got mixed up in the Turn 1 crash, we would have been alright for points because only 10 cars finished!
I’d also like to say a little about the comments people have been making about GP2 driving standards. There are quite a few factors that came together that made these situations arise that ended in accidents. You could probably see it coming a little bit. None of it was malicious. As racing drivers it’s ingrained in us to want to keep the lead off a safety-car restart. Sometimes it comes off; sometimes it doesn’t. What happened was just unfortunate.
Anyway, now we leave Baku, forget it and move forward as quickly as possible. We’ve done two street circuits in a row, which are always a bit of a lottery, so we’re heading back to normality and I’m looking forward to cracking on. By a stroke of luck, everyone else who scored well over the opening two rounds had a bad weekend in Baku, so although I’ve dropped to sixth in the championship I’m still only 13 points off the lead. No one’s gained; no one’s lost. I’m 99 per cent sure we’ll be properly rapid over the next few rounds, so we just need to regroup because the championship is massively up in the air.
GP2 Baku preview
The third round of the GP2 Series in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, supporting the European Grand Prix, is a new experience for everyone, but as usual I’ve been with the DAMS team getting as much preparation done as we can to make sure we hit the ground running on this brand-new street circuit.
It’s a fascinating city with a huge contrast between the modern side, where everything’s very impressive, and the old, where everyone’s driving around in old Ladas. The track may be new, but DAMS have done a really good job of replicating it on the simulator. I’d actually already done quite a lot of development for Williams on their sim – even back in January I was running laps of Baku so I started preparation quite a while ago.
You have to believe in your team’s simulation tools and, being a very technical team, DAMS have done a very good job of that. Hopefully we arrive in a brand-new place and everything we’ve learned correlates well.
As far as the track in reality is concerned, I’ve been over to it and seen the Tarmac, and it’s amazing that they’ve made a very modern racetrack out of an old city. It’s pristine – no bumps, and no different to Silverstone really. F1 does an amazing job with things like that – everything looks perfect. I had a run around it on Wednesday afternoon, before we have our proper track walk with the team on Thursday.
It’s a long lap, with some very long straights and some very twisty, narrow parts – including where we go down the side of the castle. That’s by far the narrowest bit of track we race on in GP2. It’s a little bit Macau-esque in a way and it’s going to be quite challenging. The contrast between the long straights and slow stuff means it’s going to be an interesting dynamic to see where the teams head in terms of set-up – I think it’ll be quite varied, and also I think that overtaking will be quite frequent.
After one win, in Barcelona, over the first two rounds, I’m third in the points and very much in the hunt for the title at the moment. We’re first out on track with our free practice session on Friday morning, when the circuit will have no rubber down and won’t have much grip. Bearing in mind my championship situation, I know that makes it even more important that you’ve just got to stay on the track and do the miles – we all know that’s crucial on street circuits. The track will get quicker and quicker, so you build your confidence more and more, and as long as we come out of free practice on a stable basis we can be quite happy going into qualifying.
Also, it’s a very bold choice of medium and super-soft tyres from Pirelli for this weekend. We have no idea how long the super-softs will last – it’ll be very interesting and we’ll go into Saturday’s race having not done any long runs on that rubber.
Before heading out here, I had a fun time at Williams with the guys from the BBC Sport website, who were doing some cool little videos with me on what it takes to get to F1. It was different to the usual stuff. Normally racing drivers only talk about race weekends but this time it was all about off-beat stuff like what you dream of and how you learn to spray champagne. So I’m looking forward to when they upload that.
But for now all attention is on Baku. I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen of the track. F1 doesn’t do things by halves! I think it’s going to be good.
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