We’ve just completed a very enjoyable first three days of testing in the brand-new car for the FIA Formula 2 Championship this week at the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France. Following a dramatic first morning (more on this later) it was very encouraging to finish in the top three in the other two sessions in which we went for quick lap times.
As always, you’re never really sure with testing what everybody is doing, but we think we’re there or thereabouts with the ART Grand Prix car. I felt we got to grips with the car fairly well. Of course, my first taste of the new F2 machine came last month at the Magny-Cours shakedown, where each team just had one car. Unfortunately I had snow and rain during my morning session so we didn’t learn much then.
It was wet again when things kicked off at Paul Ricard. After the first run there was a dramatic fire in the garage but luckily no one was hurt. The team were well drilled and one positive is that I demonstrated the halo is no impediment to a rapid exit when your car is on fire. The damage from that was limited mainly to the electronics, and the loom had to be changed.
Afterwards the weather conditions improved and I got some really good running in. I drove the previous F2 car in last year’s post-season Abu Dhabi test, and there is some carryover of parts to the new car. We’re using pretty much the same Pirelli tyres too, so there are definitely some characteristics that you recognise. As always, you have to adapt to the car’s different strengths and weaknesses. The new turbo engine, for example, is pretty impressive in terms of performance, but while the turbo lag is not huge you do have to work on the driveability aspect, and that affects the set-up.
We were in the top three in the qualifying runs on both the second and third mornings. The second morning went particularly well given the loss of running time the day before – we were quite quickly on the pace, which is always a good sign. On the final morning I was second fastest. Clearly ART did a good job and overall it was a solid test for us.
We concentrated on race runs during the afternoon sessions, which is why you saw me way down the times. Also I had a few issues that delayed me getting out of the garage on the final afternoon. It’s so difficult to judge how everyone is doing, because you have to guess what fuel loads they’re on, but the pace at the end of my runs seemed pretty good.
From Paul Ricard, it was a road trip of a few hours to Barcelona for the final day of pre-season Formula 1 testing today. As the third and reserve driver for Renault, I’ve spent the day with the team before they head off to their first race. It’s always interesting for me to watch their efforts and chat with the engineers and everyone to see where things have ended up. I was there with the team last week too at the first F1 test. It was good, the team were really welcoming, and things seemed to go well – and of course we had the ‘snow day’!
Next it’s off to Bahrain in a couple of weeks for the conclusion of F2 pre-season testing. We’ve still got some questions to answer and Bahrain is a completely different circuit to Paul Ricard. It’s at the other end of the scale regarding surface, as it’s a lot rougher. It’s also where we’ll be having our first races, so this will be a crucial test for us.