Participation Level – Long Weekend – Full Qualifying
Race Distance – 100%
Braking Assist – Off
ABS – On
TC – Full
Line – Off
Gearbox – Manual
Pit Assist – Off
Rules and Flags – Realistic
Damage – Full
AI Difficulty – Legend
Flashbacks – 0 (Don’t want the temptation)
I decided to pick the Caterham, after having a go with a couple of the teams. The HRT and Marussia just seemed a bit too slow, and I wanted to be able to try and take the fight to the midfield. So I’m partnered up with Heikki Kovaleinen. The team have given me the goal to finish 16th, with Heikki 15th. It could be a tough ask, with the improved AI, but not altogether impossible, with a couple of good races.
The first couple of practice sessions I did resulted in me crashing into Karthikeyan when he spun in front of me, and then blowing up two engines (The first time because of the quick downshifting, despite thinking that’d I’d slowed it down, and the second because I realised hitting the limiter was killing the engine). After this, I restarted for the last time, now wiser to the fact that I would have to take care of the car, and not over-drive it.
I set up the gearing, knowing that I’d either have to set the 7th gear to be just before the limiter with the DRS open, or without it. It was a trade-off between quali and race pace, which was a difficult decision to make.
I only managed 19th in Practice. I was comfortably ahead of my team mate and the other lower teams, but still a little way off of the back of the midfield, but I was hoping that with some decent strategies, I might be able to pick a few places up.
I think I only ended up doing two laps in qualifying. I didn’t want to use too many tyres, and I knew that I wasn’t going to able to get into Q2, as the pace just wasn’t there. I set my fastest time on the options – I think it was a 1:29.2 or something like that. It was a decent lap, nice and clean, but still couldn’t match those in front.
Jenson Button managed to get pole, and I can’t remember the positions after that, apart from I think Kobayashi was up there, and Alonso as well. At the back of the field, Glock was behind me, with Heikki in 21st, Pic 22nd and the HRTs at the very back.
I can’t quite recall the strategy that the team was putting me, I think it went something along the lines of Options, Options, Primes, Options. I know that they were telling me to pit on lap 14 (I was starting on Options).
My start wasn’t too bad, but I was able to pick up a couple of places in turn one, because a couple of cars (One being a Force India) took a trip into the gravel, probably because of a collision. This happened again at the next corner (Turn 3?) and I was up to 11th. Someone then made a mistake, and I was up to 10th! I was very pleased!
I was comfortable with my pace, and the tyres were holding up well and the fuel didn’t require too much saving (I set the fuel on Normal instead of the proposed Cautious). I was being hounded from behind by faster cars, but even with the assistance, I was able to keep just about in front, and even when they did pass, I could keep it on the outside just enough to keep them at bay, without being aggressive in any way.
The first round of pit stops came around, and I stayed out. I was confident that the tyres could hold up further than lap 14, and I was right. In fact, it wasn’t until lap 17 that they started to go off, and I decided to pit then, instead of losing time with bad tyres. I was hoping that with the extra laps, I could do one stop less than everyone else. At first, I’d intended to try and go up to lap 25, to attempt a one stop, but I didn’t want to risk it when I began losing traction.
I came out on options again in 14th place. Maldonado had pitted before me (He had been stuck behind me most of the race thus far) and was still behind when I came out, though he was on primes now. He was still surprisingly quick, and I knew that my position wasn’t to do with my pace, as the cars behind were clearly quicker.
Not much happened until I stopped again, on lap 33/34, pitting for primes and hoping to go for the rest of the race. I was now in 17th, and pretty lonely. For some reason, Webber was in 16th and about 20 seconds up the road, though some cars were still to pit. After that point, the nearest I got to 16th was within 3 seconds, but they were just too quick for me.
Unfortunately, I broke my front wing, whilst saving the car from a slide through turn 11, and decided to pit for options, with 14 laps left. This put me 40 seconds behind Hulkenberg, but I was still over a minute ahead of Pic in 18th. However, I managed to slide the car again coming out of turn 1, and slightly damaged my front wing again, giving me more understeer, but there was no point in pitting again.
I carried on for the rest of the race, pretty lonely, and noticing that Di Resta was charging at me, closing the gap to 40 seconds, but still wasn’t fast enough to catch me.
Alonso went on to win the first race of the season, with Grosjean coming out of nowhere to finish second, and Button third. Hamilton was 4th, with Massa 7th or 8th, and Webber only managing 10th. Vettel (at some point) had gone out of the race, enabling me to finish in 17th.
It was a fun first race, despite it being lonely at times, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying my luck again at Malaysia, where I think I’m a little better. I’m sure it’s going to be tough to bring the Caterham into the midfield, but I’m looking forward to the challenge ;)