We had the pace to get at least one very good podium…

28/05/2018 Posted in: Racing

It was a frustrating weekend for me on my first taste of the streets of Monaco, supporting the Grand Prix in the FIA Formula 2 Championship. We had the pace to get at least one very good podium finish, and the annoying thing is that a lot of the other title contenders were making mistakes, so we should have gained good ground in the championship. As it was, I had to make do with six points for a seventh-place finish in the feature race.

I’ve had a really good run pace-wise with the ART Grand Prix team, including my first win last time out at Barcelona, and that continued in Monaco with fourth place in free practice on my first time visiting these streets. I was happy, we felt confident, and it looked as though we could challenge for pole.

Because of the nature of the track, in Monaco the field is split into two groups for qualifying, and I was in the first. We only had two push laps before the tyres began to fall away, and I got blocked by the same guy on both of them! I caught him on the first, and he wasn’t looking in his mirrors. I left a gap and then caught him again on the second – there was a brief yellow flag for bits of Lando Norris’s car shedding on the track, and he came across that and abandoned his lap, and then blocked me. So I tried for a third lap – the tyres had fallen away but I got a quicker time in. But that was only good for sixth in my group and 11th on the grid. When I looked at the laps I did before I got blocked, they should easily have been enough for second in my group and third on the grid – at least. I would have loved to have had pole on my first time in Monaco.

From that position on the grid, we went for the option of a long first stint on the harder tyre. The start went fairly well and I got up to eighth. That was despite Tadasuke Makino locking up and hitting someone in front of me at Ste Devote, so I bailed out and went down the pit exit on the inside, then lifted to make sure Makino went back past me – I didn’t want to make an ‘illegal’ pass. He had damage and I passed him up the hill, so I settled into eighth.

Unfortunately the timing of the safety cars didn’t work for my strategy. It’s so hard to predict in Monaco. I spent a long time in third place on the road after those on softer tyres had made their early stops, but I caught Arjun Maini and got stuck behind him for much of the stint. Then we lost time in the pit stop because of a cross-threaded wheelnut. It happens. ART are one of the best crews in the pit lane, and I’m not going to sit here and criticise when they’ve been so good. It was just one of those things.

What it did mean is that I got jumped by Lando, and he in turn was behind Arjun. I did the quickest out-lap of everyone and tried to be there for any opportunities, but that was it, and I finished seventh. It was one of those races where not a lot is in your control, and we did make some mistakes on strategy.

But that did put me second on the reversed grid for the sprint race, behind Antonio Fuoco. On the formation lap I felt a small hesitation from the engine, but that happens sometimes and I didn’t think anything of it. It felt fine and normal otherwise. My initial launch at the start was good, but it was strange because the revs dropped really low, and I had to take the clutch again to save it. I thought ‘that’s odd’, because as a driver you usually know when you’ve caused a mistake like that.

Lando beat me into the first corner, and up the hill it started to hesitate more and more, and a throttle-pedal warning came up. I turned off the car while rolling downhill to the Loews hairpin and jump-started it. Then, into the tunnel, it happened again, and that was dangerous as people were coming past me. The third time it happened, I thought I should pit. It turns out the throttle body sensor on one bank of the engine had failed – that put the engine into safety mode at random times and cut the power. By the time this was diagnosed I was a couple of laps down, and it would have taken much longer to change it, so there was no point continuing.

It’s a month now before the next round at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, but in the meantime I’m going to the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal as the Renault Formula 1 team’s reserve, should I be needed. It will be my first race off F2 duty with the team, so I’ll be trying to pack as much as I can into it. Then it will be back to ART, where I’ll be getting down to prep for Paul Ricard.