Round 1 – Oulton Park
Prior to the race weekend, I had no goals. The only thing that I wished to get out of my first race weekend was knowledge and experience. Apart from trying my best I aimed to be in the midpack and not at the back of the 16 car grid. The first test day (Thursday), I showed promising pace in the tricky narrow circuit. Always being able to utilize my teamates’ data (Kaylen and Clement) I was able to consistently improve and learn new driving techniques. After the 4 session test day, I saw myself comfortably in the midpack – still needing to improve in the low speed second sector.
Pumped up for the second day, Giacomo and I made our way to the track listening to our usual morning playlist. The second day was an evolution of the first, being able to sniff out my fastest competitors while showing what I am capable of too. By the end of the day each driver was able to evaluate their speed (me being a few tenths off my teamates), trying to fantasize what qualifying could be like. And like the first day, I was still in the mid pack, but knew racing conditions would present different opportunities to move up the field.
The rule of a set order qualifying would make things less complicated. For a first European round in formula cars, whatever could make life easier would help me loads. Therefore, knowing that I wouldn’t have to stress upon the idea of finding a fast car allowed me to keep a clear head. But as soon as my tyres were warm, I caught up to a slower car which at the time I thought would be okay (because of slipstream), therefore I stayed behind him for the entirety of the qualifying session. What I didn’t know on the other hand was that my brakes did not cool and my front tyres were overheating. Once back at the truck my engineer (Mike) and I analysed that I had more speed potential than the respective P9, P10 that I qualified for. Somewhat disappointed, I rested upon the fact that I had my work cut out for me.
The clear skies and hot temperatures allowed for light tyre warming on the formation laps. Despite this, off the line I struggled for traction and lost 2 positions, having to go defensive into the first couple of corners, which was relatively normal at a track like this. Stuck in P11 I relied on those ahead of me to make a mistake, but on lap 3 Maldonado and Jewiss collided in the first chicane, spitting Maldonado across the grass and onto the middle of the track ahead – facing the wrong way. Unable to avoid him, I clipped his nose which broke up my front left tyre and wing. Seconds later, those behind me were unable to avoid us and flew over my rear, destroying my rear wing. This simple crash took me out of the race along with two others. The feeling of letting down my family and fans on my first appearance was extremely but I knew that the only way forwards was to forget about the race.
Since the last two races were two days later, Carlin was able to piece together the car without much stress. After a day off in Chester with Giacomo I was anxious to prove myself on the last day in front of the thousands of spectators both online and in person. With very little data to review I was determined to make a better start and move up the field from last. Both Mike and Giacomo both informed me that due to the reverse grid there would be crashes up ahead which would reward me free positions. Off the line I followed Pavan into corner 2 where I got a good run and drove around him before the breaking zone in corner 3. From there I would claimed more positions when other would crash out or get penalties. By the end of the race I finished in P12 from P16 which wasn’t too bad at all, and this time with plenty of data.
Electricity in the air, it was the last race of the weekend. Everyone’s hard work would pay off in this 30 minute race. This time on the other-hand, I started in P10 because the last race of the weekend is based on your second best qualifying lap. Heart pumping, the lights turned on and remained for a randomized amount of time. Eyes on the lights, I relaxed my breathing, trying to counteract the strong force of the seatbelts. And as soon as they turned on, they disappeared, announcing the start to race three. Feet on the gas and clutch I managed my start better and defended into the first corner. But due to a narrow entry I had to carry less speed which allowed Pedersen to hang around the outside and position himself ahead of me. Meanwhile, Kaylen was forced off the track and was in the grass attempting to rejoin. Safely past him, I focused on Pedersen who struggled in corner 2 throughout the whole race. Although I knew that I was faster than those ahead of me, I couldn’t afford to take any risks. Therefore, for the next 12 laps the pack of cars I was in were stuck behind one another. But on lap 13, Pedersen drove too close to those ahead and which compromised his exit through druids (a fast corner), allowing me to get a good run on him towards the braking zone of the last corner. Prior to the corner I knew that this was my last chance to get ahead and had already, mentally, committed to the move. As he positioned to defend before return to the racing line for braking, I pointed my car towards the corner and lunged up the inside, pushing him wide, releasing me of the trap called dirty air. For the next lap I drove as fast as possible, dropping the two behind me, until I caught up to the next train ahead of me, where I would stay for the remainder of the race (2 laps). Crossing the line, waving to my team, I was for the first time in the whole weekend 100% happy with my drive.
But once again, I didn’t treat this weekend as the defining point of my career. I approached it with open arms and learned the most I could for the next weekend, which I don’t doubt will be much more rewarding!