Season 1 (Marussia)
Race 5 – Spain
Finally, a proper racetrack!
After the disappointment of Bahrain, I’ve got a better feeling about Catalunya. Thankfully, it also looks the weekend will be mostly dry, most importantly no rain forecast for the race itself.
Practice starts and I’m straight out on the primes to hammer out some laps and get my set up down. Again, I can’t quite get 7th gear long enough but otherwise it’s pretty easy to treat my usual set up to match the flowing circuit.
This circuit really showcases the handling, which I still think is a big improvement. I hear that CM are upping the level of grip offline, which I think is probably an ok idea as long as they don’t go over the top and keep the ‘slow in, fast out’ style of driving. The 3rd corner is awesome; get it spot on and it can be taken flat out even in my lowly Marussia, but if you get it a bit wrong you’ll understeer wide – it feels rewarding and realistic. Even the clunky chicane at the end of the lap is good fun when you get it right, but it’s like threading a needle and so easy to get wrong if you’re really pushing.
I love how the tyres react individually this year. You can watch the front left heat up around the long right handers, and it wears much quicker too.
As usual, my practice time aren’t brilliant but I’m ahead of my teammate and sure I have more pace to find.
There is a 40% chance of rain for qualifying, so I head straight onto the track in Q1 on options to make sure I don’t get caught out if it’s raining.
My first lap feels ok-ish, but I have enough fuel for a second flying lap. I’m up by 0.5s in the first sector, but on the run down from turn 4 there’s a Caterham on a slow outlap. He’s sitting on the racing line, so I jink left – just as he does the same!
I have to swerve on the grass, and only just avoid spinning into the barriers. Lap ruined. I’ll definitely be having a word with the stewards.
Back into the garage to fit a fresh set of options, then back onto track. I’m currently in 22nd, with a target of 20th.
The lap feels great, the corners flow into satisfying combinations and, luckily, no traffic this time.
I cross the line, and I’m into 19th! My time is two tenths ahead of Petrov, and I head back to the pits feeling very pleased with myself.
I watch the timing screen for the rest of session, heading out with two minutes left on worn options just in case anyone were to threaten my time. No one seems to be improving, so head I come straight back in to celebrate.
I have a few days away before the race, so give myself a few time trial laps to settle back into the track.
Lined up on the grid on options between Vergne and Petrov (on primes), my race target is 18th. The lights go out. I make decent start, taking Vergne. But Heikki has a stormer and is ahead of me into turn 1, so I’m still 19th.
Turn 3 and three cars run wide, then I gently tap Kobayashi into 5 and he spins, moving me into 15th. I quickly take stock of my immediate rivals, Heikki is two places ahead and I’m surprised to see my teammate Timo right behind.
I’m able to hold my own until DRS is enabled, but then the faster cars behind begin picking their through the field. Timo quickly falls back and then Senna and Di Resta attack me, both overtaking under DRS on lap 5. Heikki ahead is able to defend a bit better, presumably with help of KERS, and lasts until lap 7 before he is in front of me (albeit 8 seconds ahead).
I have chosen to pit early, as in Bahrain, so come in a lap earlier than everyone else. I’m in 18th by then, having been overtaken by Ricciardo.
I don’t have the greatest outlap, making a couple of mistakes on the cold primes, and De la Rosa emerges from the pits just ahead of me. I’m 22nd after everyone but Petrov has pitted.
I’m pretty isolated too, De la Rosa seems to have much better pace and with a few laps he is 5 seconds ahead with the Caterhams both further up the road. 10 seconds behind me Glock and Narain are battling it out.
The rest of the race plays out without much pressure and without much incident, it’s just a case of putting in consistent laps. I say it again, getting rid of tyre scaling was a great decision – lapping consistently, and relatively conservatively, for 22 laps on one set of tyres is a great challenge.
The blue flags cause the usual inconvenience, and I occasionally make up ground on De la Rosa but he remains out of reach.
Schumacher and Heikki must have a coming together at some point, as both retire at the same time. Later on there are some yellow flags and I spot on the minimap someone well off the track at the hairpin (they blink out of existence soon after). A lap later I find out that it’s Mark Webber.
So I’m into 19th. Narain and Timo both seem to turn the wick up in the last five laps, and they make up a fair bit of ground to get within two seconds of me with three laps to go. Luckily I have some fuel in hand so I can turn my own engine up too. That, and Alonso lapping us for the second time, means they don’t get close enough to mount any proper attack.
So I finish 19th, my best result so far. It means I’m into 22nd in the standings and back ahead of Timo overall. I missed my race target by one spot, but still I’m pretty happy with the race.
A quieter race then, but no less entertaining for me.
Onto the mean streets of Monte Carlo. The weather forecast is for dry practice and qualifying, and torrential rain in the race.
At the sharp end of the grid, a home win for Alonso puts him into joint second with Button. They both trail Hamilton by 11 points. Lewis had a great start to the season, winning thee first two races, but has dropped off recently with particularly poor qualifying performances.