“I can take a lot of positives out of this weekend…”

28/08/2018 Posted in: Racing

Although we again encountered some difficulties at the Belgian Grand Prix round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship, we finished the weekend on good form and I consider myself unlucky not to get into the points in the sprint race on Sunday.

Leading up to our arrival at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the ART Grand Prix team and I were confident of our speed, which has never been a problem, but we had been looking into some issues that had been affecting our previous races. Even so, we couldn’t know that we had found the rights answers until we got onto the track.

In free practice on Friday, we tried a few different things and I was 10th fastest. However, we knew we were still missing a little bit and although our overall pace didn’t seem that bad, we knew we had to make further changes going into qualifying, if I was to qualify well.

Unfortunately, those changes didn’t have the desired effect so we made even more changes for my second run on a new set of tyres. However, I locked up at Turn 9 – the long Bruxelles right-hander – and I had understeer for the rest of the lap. On such a long circuit you can only really do one lap with the tyres at their best and I therefore qualified in 16th position.

I needed to go forward in the feature race on Saturday, but my first stint on the softer option tyres was very, very difficult. We still need to fully understand why, but it seems that a combination of the tyres not really working for us and having to jostle for position for the first couple of laps left me in a position where I didn’t really have anything left to fight back with.

Although we probably pitted onto the prime tyres a lap too late, that change transformed the car for me. On my first few laps I was matching the times of the drivers at the front and was making good progress, but then the safety car came out which halted my progression. We took the decision, as a team, to switch back to the option tyres whilst still under the safety car. That tactic worked quite well for a few laps, and a lot of people got tangled up as they began struggling with their tyres. Towards the end the balance reverted to how it had been earlier, but I had fought my way up to 11th place. I felt that position gave me a good chance of getting into the top eight to score points in the sprint race on Sunday.

Sunday’s race turned out to be difficult for everyone because there was very high tyre degradation. My start was good, but I ended up getting pinched into the La Source hairpin and then I had a coming-together with Tadasuke Makino at Les Combes, where he was quite aggressive, and that damaged a winglet.

Despite that incident, I got past Makino quickly and caught up Maximilian Gunther. It took longer to pass him than I hoped but under pressure, he finally pushed too hard and his tyres started to drop off. After passing him, I started making up ground and caught a few of the guys in front. It was all going pretty well, and I was catching Sergio Sette Camara, who was in eighth.

Going into the last few laps I developed a slow front-left puncture. It was a legacy of the collision with Makino – something in the rim cracked and the tyre started to leak air. This made controlling the car really difficult and although I was still catching Sette Camara, I didn’t have enough grip to attack him like I wanted nor to defend against Arjun Maini, who passed us both on the last lap to take eighth place.

Although I finished 10th, I feel I would have taken eighth had it not been for the puncture, and the result could have been even better had I not been behind Gunther for as long as I was.

I am never satisfied when I don’t finish as high as I know I am capable of but after recent weeks, I can take a lot of positives out of this weekend.

We had good pace and by Sunday’s race seemed to have found a set-up which allowed me to put in competitive lap times on a track known for its high tyre degradation.

We’ve got the Italian Grand Prix at Monza coming up next weekend and with a similar sort of track surface, I think it’s looking quite promising and I hope we can get some good results.