Bored with the way I had 7 wins out of 7 in the McLaren on Legend, I restarted my career, this time with Williams.
So here’s another one of my legendary-length play-by-play race reports.
I’ve always found that needing to push, and getting used to pushing, made me faster, and I knew that I would be faster this time around. As it happens, I did just 1 run in each section of qualifying – a prime run in Q1, option run in Q2, and an option run in Q3, which got me pole, by a whopping 0.7s from the McLarens of Hamilton and Button. The gap still puzzles me to be honest, as I can’t really tell where I won the time over Q2. It was just a good, quiet lap where everything came together.
I knew though my race pace was generally not too good. The recommended strategy was a 3-stop with 3 option stints at 13laps each, but I knew from practice and my number crunching that a 2-stop would have been quicker for me. The option was quicker for me, but the dropoff (I was treating them quite badly, it seemed) was massive, to the point that I’d lose more on the worn softs than I would gain by having fresher rubber for all stints.
Entering the race I had 2 fresh primes, and 2 fresh options, so the 3-stopper was always going to be a compromised effort, with one used set of option.
Given I knew today was going to be a struggle in race pace, a less stop strategy would do me wonders, as I have always been a demon defender since F1 2010. I can proudly say I’ve driven even the HRT in all these games in Legend difficulty, and not once have I been overtaken, ever. Even if I was on worn tyres and there was a McLaren/Red Bull hounding me on fresh rubber. I looked at the numbers, and I immediately set myself 2 ground rules. I would NEVER pit after a rival, and I would always extend my stints to as long as possible, because that way, my rivals would have to do inlaps on older tyres (even if it was just by 1 lap, it would help me get the undercut on fresher rubber)
I knew from my previous careers that the AI strategy for 2stop was option, L16 prime, L37 prime. I set myself to the same strategy, though the strategy screen advised a maximum stint length of 15 laps on the soft.
As it happens I had a bad start, but retook the lead under braking for T1. In the lead and in gloriously clean air, I set the engine down to low fuel mix, and I set about a stint pace that would see me preserve the tyres. I knew that as long as I maintained my demon braking, they couldn’t pass me without a mistake from my end.
I maintained the lead, while conserving my energy from not pushing too hard.
Lap 13 came, and I knew the 3stopper guys would be coming in for their first stop. I set about switching to rich fuel mode, and began pushing qualifying-style to minimise the undercut pain. My tyres were crying like a baby by Lap 16, and I nearly lost the rear under braking for Turn 3. I backed off slightly, to ensure I kept it on the black stuff.
I pitted. Behind me Alonso pitted too, as did Button. Hamilton, who was in P2, inherited the lead. Unfortunately while my pitstop was good, the Ferrari team did the same, and managed to get into the Williams pit’s unsafe release zone, causing me to lose position to Alonso. Into Turn 1, I saw Alonso was VERY cautious on the cold tyres, and setting myself up for a better run through 1, took him under braking for 3 – while we were both on cold tyres. I looked at the race director. Webber, Vettel and Schumacher were the 3-stoppers who were now ahead of me. My job now would be to keep them within half a pitstop, and I was the first of the 2-stoppers who had done the first stop.
As it happened Grosjean (now in P2) and Hamilton had inlaps much better than my outlap, even despite the fresher rubber, and I was relegated to P3 (out of the 2-stoppers). Funnily enough, we were keeping pace with the 3-stoppers.
The prime was an interesting affair for me, as I was very happy on it – much happier than I was on the option. I couldn’t keep up with Grosjean and Hamilton ahead, but I told myself that given my position in an inferior car, I shouldn’t think about the quicker cars – which I could do nothing about. I just had to keep on it, maximise my opportunities lap by lap, and if something befell them, I had to be first in line. I was about 2 or 3 tenths slower per lap than the two of them.
3 laps into their stint though I saw Lewis had backmarker trouble, which allowed Grosjean to close into DRS range. Lewis was forced to defend into Turn 1. It wasn’t enough to overtake. But now, with Lewis on a compromised entry and Grosjean not having track position though, it made them slower. They repeated the ballet into Turn 3, again to no avail.
Crucially, the gap, which was 2.4 previously to them, was now 1.6.
If they repeated their synchronised ballet dancing, I was in with a shot, and I made extra sure that I kept it on the black stuff with no mistakes. Misjudging the downforce loss due to dirty air, I nearly outbraked myself in Turn 9, though recovered well. Grosjean was clearly within DRS of Lewis. No mistakes now…
As it happened they did do some more ballet into Turn 1, and though I wasn’t within DRS range, this slowed them down again. Knowing that they would be slow through 1, I compromised the speed I carried through 1, in order to get a good exit.
I got what probably was the exit of my life, and with 30% of KERS discharged, I was near them. As they got into the braking zone of T3, I made my choice, sticking it up the inside and behind Hamilton.
Grosjean couldn’t respond, and I was through to 2-stopper P2. I could still see the 3 3-stoppers ahead on the road, struggling to really make the gap they needed. I stuck with Lewis, but Lewis, now with free road and without the advances of Grosjean to harass him into the braking zones, was clearly quicker than me, chomping 7 tenths a lap out of me. I gave up on chasing Lewis, though I kept on pushing.
The 3-stoppers pitted, except for Webber, who was getting his prime tyres out of the way early on – but crucially his primes were 3 laps older than mine, and 4 older than Lewis’s. Holding on wasn’t difficult. Schumacher however began killing the 10s gap that divided me and him by a chunk per lap, despite only being on the prime. I checked my race director screen. The 3-stoppers had all gone for the prime at this stage, meaning any future stops by them would see the option go on the car. With that I immediately calculated in my head that they would pit on L45, and Webber would pit on L32 for his 2nd stop. Crucially though – as they were on 2 stops already and I was on 1 stop, I knew this was for track position. They had better tyres, but the way this stint panned out was going to be the ending order after the pitstops had shuffled through. Webber pitted, and was quite a long way behind me, so I paid no heed to him. Traffic would slow him down even without me worrying about it.
Schumacher though was chomping at my heels as he was lap after lap in DRS range. However, altering my line through the last two corners, I took the hairpin left very tight, and carried masses of speed through the final corner, with 40% of KERS discharged there every lap. It was enough, and I didn’t even need KERS into T3 – though I had it just in case – as my braking was too strong for them to overcome.
L37 came, and Lewis stayed out. He had pitted a lap later than the suggested 2-stopper, and he was doing the same now. Feeling my balance, my car was still happy, and remembering my ground rules – I decided to extend my stint. Lewis pitted on L38 – I didn’t. Lewis was now mired in traffic in P5, though with a pitstop in hand on the people who were just a gearbox ahead of him. Before the stops Lewis had a 19s gap – I had to face reality and accept that barring any DNF from him, it was going to be a fight for P2 for me.
I pushed on. My tyres were almost seemingly getting negative degradation – the laptimes were increasing due to the fuel decrease outweighing the tyre wear. The next 2-stopper down the road was a long way back, and probably wouldn’t be able to undercut me in any sort of hurry. Right now, I had the benefits of track position. As long as I could keep Schumacher behind, as i had for the last 7 laps, then that was a longer time they couldn’t use their tyres in clean air, and the easier it would be for me to undercut them at the final stops, as I would have fresh rubber, but to their tyres which were those few crucial laps older
On Lap 41 though, with 25 laps on a set of tyres the strategy screen recommended no more than 20 laps on, I felt a bit of a tingle on the rear on traction out of Turn 3. Wary for any sort of stepping out, I tightened in anticipation. Thankfully I could hold it, with a dap of correction. It wasn’t even opposite lock as I just reduced my lock slightly, and the rear still pivoted beautifully in place – but I knew my rears were going. Interesting – I was just about making the 15 lap recommendation on softs, and had to really drive carefully on the 16th lap, but I could do 5 laps over the recommendation on the prime. Note for the future.
I pitted that lap for fresh primes – 18 laps to go, on a tyre type that had done 25 for me on a heavier fuel load. Crucially, my 3-stopping rivals were now on primes that were 15 laps older than mine, since lap 26. I turned my fuel mix to high, and pumped in the qualifying laps. I could afford it – I’d just save the fuel later. I was still the second 2-stopper down the road. Things were looking pretty handy.
As it happened on L45, Schumacher came out ahead, and was ahead into the T1 braking zone. My heart dropped. I was pushing so hard, and this was my reward? My primes were 4 laps older than his options – there was no chance I would be able to keep up with him. Then I remembered Alonso’s cautious outlap from the first stops, and sure enough, Schumacher was slow into Turn 1. I felt the grip – and I committed. Around the outside of Michael Schumacher. I was in P2 for real now. With fuel reading red at -2 laps, I turned fuel down to lean, and cruised home to just keep the car on the road, and to ensure I had enough fuel and tyres to the end. My KERS and braking would fend the pursuers off.
I finished a strong (if you can call 55s off Lewis Hamilton – thanks to all that last stint cruising – strong) P2. Not bad for a day at the office.