It’s what every young driver dreams of – your first Formula 1 test. And, thanks to the Renault Sport Academy, I got behind the wheel this week at the fast and challenging Jerez circuit in southern Spain.
It was the 2012 car, in fact the very same chassis in which Kimi Raikkonen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that season, so it’s got some good history. And also driving that day was Sergey Sirotkin, who has experience with these cars and indeed Renault’s current R.S.17 in his reserve role, so a good benchmark for me!
Coming from my regular GP3 Series car I knew it would be quite a step up, but I have raced something faster than the GP3 – a Formula Renault 3.5 car, which was the closest I had been to F1 speeds. I’ve also done quite a few days in the simulator at the Renault F1 team base in Enstone this year with the current 2017 car. Some of that was transferable to the 2012 car – for example, the settings mounted on the steering wheel haven’t changed much – so I could carry that knowledge over. The engineers were also kind enough to take me through plenty of data and notes on the car, but other than that I pretty much had to turn up on the day and take things as they come.
Once I got behind the wheel, straight away I was impressed at how refined the car felt compared to others I’ve driven before. The combination of power-steering, downforce and complexity of the suspension systems makes for a very stable, smooth platform. Then, when you pick up speed, it’s the brakes that amaze you – just doing my install laps I pulled 4.2G, something that caught me by surprise the first time I stamped on the left pedal! The delivery of the power was really impressive too, and the grip levels were beyond anything I’d experienced.
Not only that, but because this car is from F1’s previous era we had the 2.4-litre V8 engine. It’s such an amazing noise – you can really feel it from the cockpit. At the top end of the rev range, around 17,500 rpm, it’s pretty awesome…
I felt pretty comfortable quite quickly in the car, and I was able to get down to some decent times within a couple of runs. It’s such a nice car that it’s relatively easy to build up to a good performance. The team were very good with me, managing my run plan, taking me through different fuel levels on both longer runs and shorter runs. It was a good range of things to learn about. Sergey had also been driving on the Tuesday, so I was really pleased to surprise even myself by getting up to speed pretty quickly and comparing with him after so few laps.
Altogether I did over 200 kilometres, and what an experience it was. Thanks to the Renault F1 team and the Renault Sport Academy for making it happen. It was a very special day and I enjoyed it a lot. And now, I just want another go!