At the end of a successful season in GP2 I tested with Red Bull F1 which was my first experience of driving an F1 car. I get asked if there is a big difference between F1 and GP2 cars. My feeling is there is actually a much greater step up going from Formula 3 to GP2 in some ways. I think it feels more of a natural progression from GP2 to F1, the major difference being the pressure and demands outside of the car which go with F1 are just a different world altogether. The first time I drove a GP2 car after competing in Formula 3 was one of the few times I have felt scared driving a car. In fact I was actually petrified! The power and torque from the engine was just unbelievable, like nothing I had ever experienced or could have imagined. It was a real shock to the system.
My first time in an F1 car was a straight line test at Santa Pod with Red Bull. I remember at the time thinking, okay, this is quick, but it didn’t scare me, it wasn’t altogether unfamiliar compared to GP2. It was only when I went to Barcelona to test that I discovered the major difference which is the downforce and cornering capabilities an F1 car has because it is so light. A GP2 car weighs in at 686 kg and an F1 at the time was just 620kg. That weight difference and downforce makes the car incredibly agile and cornering speeds are phenomenal.
Fast forward to 2010 and I joined a brand new F1 team – Hispania Racing. The first race in Bahrain was certainly memorable, if not quite for the right reasons. The car was so new we had not been able to do any pre-season testing and my first drive of it was to be in free practice on the Friday. Unfortunately the guys couldn’t get the gearbox to work, despite working round the clock, so my first ever drive of the car was actually in qualifying on Saturday. Race day arrived and I’d made it on to the grid for my first F1 race. I lined up in the pitlane alongside my team mate Bruno Senna as the guys worked through the parc ferme conditions. Not surprisingly given the circumstances, the Bahrain GP was not a good one for the team, with neither car finishing, however by the next race in Australia things looked better. Through the non stop work of the team, I was able to record Hispania Racing’s first ever finish, taking the flag in 14th position at the grand prix.
I enjoyed working with the engineers in the team and having Bruno as a team mate, we get on well together and I felt I had a good year as a rookie driver. There were some really great moments during the season. When we had the car running reliably and I could compete against some of the other two new teams, such as at Monaco, Valencia and Canada, I brought the car home ahead of the others.
The following season I signed for Team Lotus, which was owned by Tony Fernandes and has since become Caterham F1. My time there didn’t really work out, I’m sure Tony and the CEO Riad Asmat were keen for it to be a success, but there are lots of politics and pressures from all corners involved in a team and at times it felt that I was battling for a place in the team that others were determined not to allow to happen. I drove the car regularly on the 1st Friday practice and while the engineers were very good to me, there was a feeling from some quarters that I was interrupting the programme for the other drivers in the team.
I remain good friends with Tony and Riad, and I have tremendous respect for the work Tony does to promote sport. He has an obvious passion for F1 and he puts a huge amount of work into making things happen at Caterham, whilst also doing the same with his football club, Queens Park Rangers.
Whilst not having a drive on race day, I did a lot of media work and thoroughly enjoyed working with the BBC team amongst others. I made many good friends in the paddock.
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Memory added on September 9, 2012
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