“We had the pace to score extremely well…”

05/09/2018 Posted in: Racing

Things got a lot better for me in the Italian Grand Prix round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship, and although I only scored one point over the weekend – a nice change considering our recent luck! – it doesn’t tell the full story about how things went for me. Really, we had the pace to score extremely well and it leaves us optimistic going into the last two rounds of the championship.

I arrived at Monza with my ART Grand Prix team just a few days after we’d left Spa and we quickly realised that the weather was going to be an important factor.

For free practice on Friday, we had damp and then dry conditions, with most people deciding to sit in the pits for a long time and then going for one run at the end.

On my first flying lap I was in the top three, despite being one of the last to go out, but then because everyone was out at the same time, there were big issues with traffic. By the end of free practice, although there were a few things we still wanted to try to correct, we felt like we had a reasonable baseline to start from.

We had been confident going into qualifying, so to end up 12th was definitely disappointing. We went into the session with a little bit more difficulty than we’ve come to expect, and the car was quite tricky to handle. We made changes for the second set of tyres, but the damage had already been done – we’d been missing a fair chunk on the first run, and when you have to make such a big step, it’s always difficult.

We did improve, but I had a throttle-sensor issue at the start of the lap, so when I crossed the line I’d lost the tow from the car in front, costing me nearly half a second, as well as speed on the front straight, costing me another few tenths. I found time around the rest of the lap, but I couldn’t make up everything I had lost.

We made more adjustments for the feature race and I was able to make a strong start and I was managing tyre degradation much like the others around us, everyone was finding it tough.

I was forced to pit a lap later than I wanted to get off the option tyres, because my team-mate George Russell had track position on me and it was fair for him to pit first. I lost time doing the extra lap but that wouldn’t have been fatal to my chances. However, the stop itself was a bit of a disaster. The car was dropped before the left-front wheel was attached, and in doing so it damaged the rim. The pit team thought they had fixed it and sent me on my way. Initially, I had really good pace on the new tyres – I set the fastest lap of the race at the time, and I was catching guys in front. But unfortunately the rim damage had caused the front-left tyre to lose air pressure. I had no choice but to pit again, and ultimately to retire from 18th position just before the end so I wouldn’t damage the tyres too much for the sprint race on Sunday.

It was a disappointing incident because at the time of the stop, Nicholas Latifi was just in front of me and Sergio Sette Camara was behind. They went on to finish fifth and seventh. On the option tyre we’d been OK, but on the medium prime tyre we were really quick. Frustrating as the car felt good and I am certain I would have secured a very decent position, along with plenty of points.

With the sprint race coming so soon, there was no time to dwell on what had happened and I was desperate to put things right despite starting from 17th.

I got an OK start, but when you’re at the back at Monza you have to be so careful not to lose your front wing at the chicanes, so I didn’t want to take big risks. However, my pace was really quick, comparable to the race leaders – and I started picking people off one by one. I got up to P9, but having pushed hard to get through the traffic I needed to start managing my tyres, and the balance of the car was still not perfect. I did catch Dorian Boccolacci and we had a good battle for eighth, which became seventh when Alexander Albon hit problems in front of us. That fight with Dorian included a moment on the grass, when I went around the outside of him into the first chicane and he gave me a friendly squeeze! Eventually I had no option but to let him go so I could manage the tyres and then push again later on, but as it turned out things settled down. However, to get a point for eighth place was a good result from 17th on the grid.

It was a big shame about the Saturday race and it would have been nice to get a proper haul of points for all our efforts but we raced pretty well. We were one of the quickest on the medium tyre, and we came back from a difficult position and managed to score a point. It all bodes well for the rest of the season and I shall keep fighting for every point!