We were so close to pole position…

07/08/2018 Posted in: Racing

The Hungarian Grand Prix round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship was an encouraging one for me – we were so close to getting pole position, and I felt unlucky not to score a podium in the feature race on Saturday.

After three successive weekends of racing, we’d had a bit of a break since Silverstone. So along with the ART Grand Prix team, I had been working on an analysis of the past few weeks and arriving at the Hungaroring we felt we had moved forward.

Between races, there had also been modifications to the F2 cars to enable us to make standing starts again. The new parts added to the clutch had resolved the stalling problems we all suffered from earlier in the season, but did make the starts more difficult to find the sweet spot. Still, it’s better than stalling!

I felt good after free practice. Although I was ninth, I got baulked on what would have been a top-three lap. However, knowing that solid pace in practice hadn’t previously translated in qualifying, we didn’t rest at all: we kept working very hard to make sure everything was right.

That paid off. It was my best qualifying of the year, and I took second on the grid, just 0.030 seconds behind Sergio Sette Camara – I thought I had pole, until the very last seconds of the session. We ran earlier than the rest of the field to avoid traffic, and that meant we lost out on the last bit of track evolution, but it was a clear lap, and it was nice to be fighting for pole.

It rained on Saturday for the feature race, and I thought that would give us the chance to move forward. But I was on the wetter side of the grid, which cost me two places. Although I had a strong first couple of laps, I was losing a lot on the left-rear tyre, which is very important around the Hungaroring. Once it started to dry out though my pace improved and I gained a few places.

After I’d pitted for slicks, I was in fifth place. It could have been better but I was held up in my pit stop as Nyck de Vries was released right into my path. The time I lost there cost me a position to Antonio Fuoco, which would otherwise have put me fourth on the road and with Sette Camara’s penalty, I would then have been promoted to third! Overall, the pace was pretty decent on slicks, despite the car being set up for the wet conditions.

My final result of fourth on Saturday put me fifth on the reversed grid for Sunday’s race. Pretty quickly I felt we were limited on tyre performance – I felt they were overheating and I had to manage them. This meant I had to let Roberto Merhi go but I was still managing an OK pace, and ran in eighth place for most of the race. Then I caught Artem Markelov and overtook him, but that pushed my rear tyres over the edge. By the end there was not a lot I could do to defend my position and I eventually finished 10th.

The positives for the weekend were my strong qualifying performance which nearly earned me pole position and the fact that if it were not for the issues with the wet tyres, and bad luck with the pit stop, I could have been on the podium.

There’s now another break until Spa and Monza, which are both great tracks. The gap gives us a chance to get deeper into things and build on our momentum for a strong run-in to the end of the season.