GP2 Hockenheim preview
With the way the GP2 Series calendar is at the moment, I haven’t even had chance to go home since last weekend’s round at the Hungaroring before we head to Hockenheim for the next event.
I flew from Budapest to France, and then got the train to Le Mans so that I could be down at the DAMS team base preparing for what will funnily enough be our first race together in Germany.
That’s because the German Grand Prix wasn’t on the schedule last year so there was no GP2 round either, but this year it’s back and I’ve got to say I’m quite happy about that. Hockenheim has been a good track for me in the past, even going back to my British Formula 3 season in 2012 when we went there to do a couple of rounds of the European championship and I managed to get on the podium against all the big teams. I’ve never won there, but I’ve come pretty darn close a lot of times now. In the season I won the GP3 title I was focusing very much on points and came second and third, so it’s definitely a happy hunting ground for me.
It’s got a mix of everything, with long straights, very hard braking into tight corners and also some fast turns. I don’t think it’s the most technical track, which means it’s always very very close – and that makes it even harder to get an advantage. It’s a good proving ground for the car though – if you get it in the sweet spot you can be really quick. You can be almost effortlessly fast, but things have to be working your way.
After a bit of a dip in our fortunes, we came away from the Hungaroring confident we’d turned a corner with the car. To be honest, the main aim is to carry on that feeling and continue working as hard as always. We’ve certainly been cracking on at the workshop, and as I write this on Tuesday it’s at the end of a long day working with the team, looking forward to my dinner and getting the flight out to Germany with the boys tomorrow!
I have to say we’ve always been quite confident. Even through the bad times we have to believe in ourselves and that’s one of our main strengths as a team. I’ve got a lot of faith in DAMS and we’re pushing on as always to maximise everything we can this weekend.
We’ll be using the medium Pirelli as the prime tyre and the soft as the option. I think that’s quite a decent combination for Hockenheim but, the way things have been this season for every team, who knows whether that will produce a high-degradation or low-deg event? We’ve all found a lot of things different this year to what we expected. We won’t know what we’ve really got until we do a long run in free practice. One thing for certain in GP2 this year and that there’s not a lot that’s being replicated from previous experience!
Our weekend in Germany comes at the end of a very hectic July, with four race events over the five weekends during the month. After this we’ve got quite a long break until we’re back in action at Spa, so a good result to take into that break would be nice, wouldn’t it? We’ve just got to try and do our best to make that happen.
GP2 Hungaroring review
You might be expecting me to be a bit depressed after another weekend with no points in the GP2 Series. But actually, we could have been talking about the Hungaroring round with a completely different perspective. Let’s face it, things have gone badly for me and the DAMS team in recent rounds, but the main thing for me in Hungary is that we really seem to have turned a corner.
Free practice was a good start, and I was second fastest. We worked really hard in that session, and credit to the DAMS guys: they got a lot done. By the end of it, my car was almost completely different to how we’d started the session, and our pace improved very quickly. That was important and it could have been a similar story in qualifying.
My first run in qualifying put me in the top five quite comfortably, and I knew the lap wasn’t that great, so I was feeling really confident for my second run. On the second run I pretty much equalled Pierre Gasly’s time from his provisional pole lap in the first sector, and by the time I got to Turn 11 I was already five and a half tenths of a second up on my lap from the first run. I was giving it everything I had, flat-out, but when you’re dealing with such fine margins things can go wrong… I just touched the outside kerb on turn-in, that unsettled the car and I slid wide.
I was a bit disappointed that a small mistake ruined the lap, and I only had fuel for one lap so there was no chance of pushing again. I ended up 11th, just 0.570 seconds off Sergey Sirotkin who was on the front row, so I really believe I should have qualified second. I’m always one of those people who says that you haven’t done the lap if you haven’t actually done it, if you see what I mean! But it could have been so much more, and I’m a bit disappointed that a small mistake ruined the lap, and I had to rely on my time from my first run. It’s a shame because I do believe we’d made really strong progress with the car.
Of course, anything can happen in the races. The Budapest track isn’t the easiest to overtake on, but it is renowned for tyre degradation, and no one knew what effect the new surface would have. The weird thing was, we had virtually zero degradation, so that made the racing processional and gave little chance to move up the order.
We decided to start on the hard prime tyres before switching onto the soft options. I think we pitted a bit early for the options, but my engineer was trying to get the undercut to leapfrog me ahead of some other guys. But with the lack of degradation that didn’t work, and I finished 12th. I honestly think that if I’d qualified where I should have done, I could have kept the pace. I felt I started to get some good speed on the second set of tyres, but that acted as a kind of hurry-up for the guys in front so it ended up a bit of a stalemate. But this is the first time in a while that I can honestly say we could have got a good result if I’d qualified where I should have – it’s a real shame that our race was compromised by the traffic, but we have to take the positives and I’m very happy that we made a lot of progress.
The second race was a non-event really. Arthur Pic spun at Turn 2, and everyone was a passenger – I was one of a few who got caught up in it and eliminated on the spot after contact with Gustav Malja as we tried to avoid it. I thought I’d got a good start and a few of the guys I’d got ahead of ended up scoring some big points, but that’s how the dice fell for us…
Hopefully our bad luck is out of the way now and we can kick on at Hockenheim next week. On the face of it, Hungary was a shocking weekend, and that’s been the story of the past few rounds. But for the first time in a while we can say we’re moving forwards.
GP2 Hungaroring preview
I’m just on my way with the DAMS team to this weekend’s GP2 Series round at the Hungaroring, after spending a bit of time at their Le Mans base preparing. That’s our routine really. Just analysing everything we can to ensure we hit the ground running, and travelling together to the race weekend.
After Silverstone, there’s only way one for us and that’s forward, because I don’t think we can drop any further back than we were. We’ve been working pretty flat-out to solve our car issues and to try to find some pace. In Hungary, we’ll turn up and as usual give it everything we’ve got. We need to stay strong and together as a whole team.
Two bright spots are my test after the Silverstone GP2 round with the Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 team, which was hugely enjoyable, and the fact that I won at the Hungaroring with DAMS last year. It was a great weekend – we got everything right and we won the feature race from pole position. So of course I’m looking forward to going back to Hungary, but my main focus is on this weekend, not on reminiscing about 12 months ago.
Funnily enough, the Hungaroring is not a circuit I’d usually liked. It’s a mix of predominantly slow and medium-speed corners, very tight and twisty, and it’s never been my favourite track of the year – as a racing driver you always prefer the quick stuff! But I seem to go quite well there. One thing about this year for us all to be aware of is that they’ve put a new Tarmac surface on it and a lot of new kerbs, so that’ll be a challenge. But the layout hasn’t changed.
Some other series have raced there on the new Tarmac this year and had a lot of problems with tyre degradation, as well as finding that the lap times are a fair bit quicker. This weekend we’re using the hard Pirelli as our prime and the soft as the option, so you might expect us to be a bit worried about tyre wear on the option. But those other categories that have raced there are ones where they go flat-out all the time, whereas GP2 is all about managing what you’ve got and pushing when you have to. We think about tyre conservation from the first minute we hit the track, so I don’t think it’ll be an issue for us. Anyway, we’ve had experience of a similar Tarmac from other circuits – looking after the tyres isn’t new to anyone in GP2!
It’ll be good to get a qualifying run in on brand-new softs on a high-grip surface, but to be honest after the last couple of weekends I’m looking forward to going quickly rather than just feeling quick.
The first race at the Hungaroring marks the midway point of the season, and we head straight to Hockenheim for the following round the next weekend. So it’s crucial for us to bounce back and get on a roll – it’s vital to put some points on the board.
That’s especially important because I’m aware that the championship is so close and no one has made a break yet, and that we’re all still in contention. But personally I haven’t looked at the standings for a while. There’s no point. The key for us is to start winning races and then the championship takes care of itself.
Formula 1 Silverstone Test
It’s funny how things work out. Just as I was putting the finishing touches to my last blog on Sunday, less than half an hour after the chequered flag fell on the British Grand Prix, Claire Williams told me that she wanted me to drive for Williams Martini Racing on the first day of the Formula 1 test at Silverstone. It wasn’t exactly the most joyful blog as we’d just finished a bad weekend in the GP2 Series, so the thought of driving the Williams-Mercedes FW38 for a day at Silverstone was just the lift I needed. Claire certainly gave me a bit of cheer for the day!
I have to say that even just the experience of driving the car, and putting it on the limit straight away in the morning, it made me feel really good. The FW38 gave me a lot of confidence to attack the corners at Silverstone and push the car.
We had a bit of aerodynamic work planned for the morning and we did that. Then I had four runs on the medium compound of Pirelli tyres, working through a load of tyre analysis. I was given runs of eight laps, pushing every lap. It wasn’t all about performance because we were working on set-ups and testing some new components, so I was quite happy with the lap times and the performance I gave. I ended up third quickest, behind Fernando Alonso in the McLaren and Esteban Ocon in the Mercedes. It was really productive and the team were very happy.
Then the Silverstone weather did its best and the rain began to fall before the afternoon session. We had a wet programme lined up in case of this anyway, but it’s a shame because we missed the chance to get a proper performance run. You have to love British rain: at first it wasn’t wet enough for full-wet tyres and then it was a bit too dry for intermediates…but the whole day was still an awesome experience.
Obviously I’d tested for the team twice at Barcelona, but this was the first time I’d driven an F1 car at Silverstone. That’s something to tick off, isn’t it? A Formula 1 car at Silverstone… It was pretty special, particularly going through the new Turn 1, plus Copse, Maggotts, Becketts and Stowe. I really can’t thank the team enough for giving me the opportunity.
Well, hopefully I did that in a way by putting in a good performance. I think I did a good job, and the people at the team said they were happy with how the day had gone. And I hope I’ve given them some good feedback and it can help them in the upcoming races.
So then I handed over to Valtteri Bottas for the second day, and for me it’s time to start preparing with DAMS for next week’s GP2 round at the Hungaroring. I’ll be going down to the team’s base at Le Mans in three or four days to start work on fighting back strongly.
GP2 Silverstone Review
There’s no getting away from it – Silverstone, my home race weekend and a track I absolutely love, was a massively tough event for me. After a couple of tricky weekends in the GP2 Series I was confident we could bounce back, but it’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done between myself and DAMS before the next round in Hungary.
Everything felt OK in free practice. I was fifth fastest, only three tenths off the pace, and there looked to be a high number of us in contention for honours over the weekend. Nothing was amazing about it, but I felt we weren’t too far away, as the lap times suggested. It just seemed like a normal start to the weekend, and a pretty decent free practice session.
My pace fell away completely later in the day in qualifying. I am honestly still totally baffled at how I was 1.7 seconds off the pace. That put me 17th, and although I moved up to 15th because of a couple of penalties for other drivers that’s not where I should be. It’s very hard for me to try and describe it. The car even felt all right and didn’t seem too bad, which makes it even weirder. And when you finish qualifying like that, you’ve got no chance of recovering to a good position in a championship as competitive as GP2.
Things got worse in the first race. There was a squeeze in front of me on the run to Turn 1, two cars speared off into the gravel and I had nowhere to go so I had to run wide too. Nobody’s fault, but that’s usually what happens when you start back there. We’d started the race on the soft option tyre and after recovering I ran on the tail of the pack, but our pace was pretty poor. Then we made an early stop for the hard prime tyre and our pace was even worse…
That meant I had a poor grid position for Sunday. I actually got a decent start and then started picking up places gradually through the race and got to 12th, before I lost a couple of places late on. Relatively this race wasn’t so bad for us, but I think that’s only because everyone was struggling with tyre degradation.
This is a difficult period, and we have to keep our confidence up across the team that we can recover this. After all, it’s only a few weekends since I was winning at the first round of the season at Barcelona, and I even took a podium last time out at the Red Bull Ring. I’m also encouraged when I look at the points. I’ve scored only 10 points over the past six races, but everyone else has been so inconsistent that I’m still only 28 off the top! That could be made up with one pole and one win.
We have to take these positives into the next round in Hungary. I won there last year, in what was a real high spot of my season. Things can only get better and I promise you that myself and DAMS will be leaving no stone unturned between now and then.
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2016-07 GP2 Hockenheim Review
2016-07 GP2 Hockenheim Preview
2016-07 GP2 Hungaroring Review
2016-07 GP2 Hungaroring Preview
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2016-07 Silverstone Review
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2016-05 F1 Testing
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2016-02 Williams Announcement
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