Race 1 | Australia | Expert difficulty
After taking part in the second day of the Young Driver Test, I’ve signed for Marussia – didn’t really feel right jumping straight into a top seat! A quick bit of testing at Jerez (naturally) and we’re off to Australia for the first race of the season.
Practice and qualifying:
I spend the practice session getting used the new handling and relearning how everything works. There’s so much going on with these games – so much more than most other racing games with the constant frantic button pressing for DRS, KERS and brake bias adjustments, all the while trying to tell which corner you’re missing that half a second or doing the mental math for potential tyre strategies. Love it, great to be back in F1!!!
In practice I’m initially about 5 seconds off the pace of Bianchi and getting a bit worried that I’ve been ambitious with the difficulty level. A lot of work on my set up and 15 practice laps later I’m just half a second behind Jules – I push slightly too hard on my final and bounce across the first chicane into the barriers, ending my session slightly prematurely and in P22.
I head straight out in qualifying on the option tyres, the first lap is a bit scruffy and then the other cars start pouring out of the pits. Lap 2 is better, and lap 3 is going even better until the yellow flags come out as I’m full throttle between turn 11 and 12 – Rosberg is in the gravel and I have to take drastic evasive action as he rejoins the track right in front of me (very dangerously I might add!). I also run out of fuel and my fourth flying lap and had to creep back to the pits wasting tons of time.
I’m still in 22nd, but not far behind the two Caterhams. My second run on fresh tyres is again disrupted by traffic – it’s really tough trying to put in a decent flying lap when you’re so much slower than the frontrunners. On my 3rd lap Sutil tries to overtake into turn 15, the idiot gets past but turns in on me pushing me off and spinning himself into the barriers. I’m still 22nd.
Back in the pits I notice that my combined best sector time is better than Bianchi’s time, so I head back out for one last flying lap with renewed confidence. The lap is good, I avoid the traffic and manage to pop it into 20th place in front of the two Caterhams. Still a few tenths off Jules, but I’m very happy!
Webber gets knocked out in Q3, starting in 18th. Hamilton is on pole, ahead of Massa and Vettel. Sutil picks up a penalty (I hope for his dumb move on me) which puts him to the back of the grid, meaning I start my first race in 19th.
It’s forecast to be dry and sunny, and I’m looking forward to the race. As far as I can tell everyone starts on the option, and I decide to go for the prime instead. The suggested strategy is three stops, but I know I can do 11 laps on the prime and probably 7 on the option so I’m switching to a two stop (despite being told I’ll burn out my tyres, but I know I won’t be on the lead lap at the end).
The start doesn’t go well, I’m going to need to work on those – every car behind me flies past before turn 1, perhaps a blessing as I can avoid the carnage ahead. At least two front wings burst into carbon fibre, but everyone is through the first turns. I’m still in last place heading down to turn 3, but a Williams without its front wing goes to deep and I’m past him. A Caterham bogs down out of turn 4 and I’m up another place.
I chuck it up the outside of Vergne into 6, and make it out ahead of him in one piece. Gutierrez is fighting the other Caterham and I follow them closely through the rest of the lap until Gutierrez peels into the pit with a damaged front wing. I’m keeping up with Pic well, but can’t find a way past – he’s on the faster option tyre.
The option-runners start pitting on lap 5, and I rapidly make up places even reaching P13 at one point. The frontrunners on fresh rubber make light work of me and for the most part I don’t bother fighting them off. At some point Webber retires, concluding his traditionally awful home race weekend.
By lap 10 my tyres are rapidly falling away but I manage to hold out until my planned stop on lap 11. I fit the options and barrel back onto the track, into 21st place but just behind Van Der Garde. He’s on the prime and I’m able to gradually catch him over two laps, passing him via DRS into turn 1.
Lap 16 and I find myself behind Bianchi emerging from the pits on options. He’s on cold tyres and I have to try and take advantage. I’m able to get alongside into turn 3 on the inside, but he gets the better line through 4 and I have to back out of it through the fast turn 5. I’m able to more or less keep with him through the rest of the lap, but his better pace and my degrading tyres mean I start dropping back.
More pitstops and I make up another place, there’s debris all over the track so there’s been a coming-together at some point. Gutierrez is back in front of me, but my engineer tells me to ignore him as he has a drive through and, sure enough, he peels into the pits the next lap.
I’m 6 laps into my option stint but the tyres still feel great so I press on as I remember how bad my primes were, target +1 for me. I suddenly notice I’m -1 on fuel so I switch the mix down to lean – it’s cool how even a neutral strategy requires some fuel management now :)
I pit with 11 laps to go and emerge in 18th place – ahead of two Caterhams and Gutierrez. I’m in fuel and tyre saving mode for the moment, and the blue flags are starting to be shown as the front runners lap me. 9 laps to go (8 now that I’ve been lapped) and I pick up another place as Bottas pits, he emerges around 3 seconds behind me.
I’m still saving fuel, but helpfully my engineer tells me Bottas is probably saving fuel too. He’s gaining on me by almost a second a lap and is soon right on my tail.
There’s no way I’m letting him past though, 17th would be a great result for my first race. 7 laps of bumper to bumper racing ensue, but he doesn’t seem to have the straight-line speed to get past me. My tyres don’t feel too great, but his might be worse as he drops back noticeably on our penultimate lap.
I finish a lap down from the winner, Hamilton, but I’m in an excellent 17th place. Bianchi picks up an even better 15th place, Vergne losing his front wing in the dying laps and dropping back. A positive first race for the team, a really enjoyable race and I’m looking forward to Malaysia!