After the British Grand Prix, I got another incredible opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car. This time it was at Duxford in the UK. The same place where Maria De Villota had a very unfortunate accident the week before. I think there was a bit more curiosity and interest from the general public while we were there because of the recent accident. There is also a huge air museum at Duxford, so there were a lot of people walking around during the day of the aero test! This time though the test was labeled a “behind closed doors” test, so no one other than team members could get near the car or our little paddock area.
I was very much looking forward to this day, because the test program was again very extensive. This time as a driver I got to do some more entertaining things. However since it was a “behind closed doors” test I'm not actually sure if I'm allowed to talk much about it. What I will say is that several of our runs up and down the airstrip involved me accelerating as aggressively as possible to the highest speed I could achieve before running out of runway and having to brake. Talk about every kid's dream right? Just putting your foot flat to the floor in something with incredible power and trying to go as fast as you possibly can before braking!
I think I reached around 195mph before having to brake hard. I must say getting to do that a few times was incredible, again, one of the best days of my life!
The team was evaluating several different new bits on the car and we did an incredible amount of running from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. I only got out of the car a few times for a bathroom break or to shove some lunch into my stomach before jumping right back in. I got to use the DRS button as well, which was interesting. We didn't use it on our top speed runs but used it to measure several different things at constant speeds.
It was a really cool day for me because the first aero test I did, I was a bit nervous and just wanted to make sure I did everything right. This time I felt so much more comfortable in the car and it all just went so well that I was able to enjoy it a bit more. I am so thankful that the Sahara Force India guys gave me another chance to drive the car.
It was then back to work in GP3 at the German Grand Prix, free of penalties! I really wanted to keep the momentum going from Silverstone. I had never been to Hockenheim though so I knew it would be quite a challenge. Practice went very well, on my final lap I was up on the quickest time until I reached the last three corners where another car went off in front of me. We could see in the data that the speed was there and I had been making massive gains every lap. I was absolutely loving the track.
The weather was questionable all weekend but fortunately it was dry for practice and qualifying. I felt really good when, after everyone's run on their first new set of tires, I was on pole. Then as normal in GP3 qualifying, everyone goes out for another run on a second set of new tires since the cars are lighter because of the fuel burned. I found it quite strange that on my second set the rear tires felt like they overheated quite quickly and the balance was very different than my first set of tires. My first flying lap was my best, which didn't feel right because the lap didn't feel quick at all. That means the tires peaked too early, because after that the rear tires lacked a lot of grip. I improved my lap overall but fell to third.
I was quite upset because our car was so fast. Still, third was much better than 15th or wherever I started race one at Silverstone after the penalty! Also, it was awesome to see my teammate, Daniel Abt, on pole at his home race if I couldn't get it!
After a dry qualifying session and what looked to be quite a nice day, everyone was saying it was going to rain and of course, all of a sudden the clouds started rolling in. During F1 qualifying it started bucketing down. I usually want rain and don't mind it at all but since I hadn't been to the circuit before the weekend, it would be a whole new learning experience for me –and I didn't really want to have that learning experience during the race, especially the race worth the most points!
We rolled to the pre-grid on slicks and of course, as usual this year, the rain started falling! But the rain stopped immediately and looked like it was going to hold off. My engineer was getting the best weather information he could and everyone was saying it would rain during the race. We made the decision, at the latest time we could, to go with wets. It was again a difficult choice, because Abt and Mitch Evans had gone with slicks right in front of me. But, literally as soon as the available time to change tires on the grid ended, it started raining heavily! I then had a massive smile on my face.
Race control made the decision to start behind the safety car and as we rolled off the grid, it started raining harder and harder and the guys on slicks had to pit at the end of lap one – which of course put me in the lead! However, I was quite confused as to why we weren't starting the race because it was raining but that meant we could still race…I thought. It was raining quite hard and a lot of people had to make pit stops for wet tires but that's normal – we should have gone green. Instead, the race was red-flagged and we all had to sit and do nothing for a while on the grid. It was unfortunate because the people who made the right tire choice weren't rewarded as much as they usually would be, because everyone who changed tires was right at the back of the grid now with not much time lost at all.
We finally got rolling again but had to spend what seemed like an eternity behind the safety car. Finally we went green and I had to learn the track in the wet. I went through the first corner and nearly ended up backward into the wall, I had a massive oversteer moment on the exit curb and really didn't expect it. I had lost most of the jump I got on the restart, allowing the car behind me to get quite a good run onto the long straight. He took the outside line and we both braked equally and went into the hairpin side by side. He managed to stay on my outside after the hairpin and continue in to the next fast right-hand corner where the optimum line in the wet would be his line, the outside. I tried everything I could to stay ahead but I couldn't risk it and he got past me. I lost a bit of time and he pulled a bit of a gap, but we didn't have many laps to do anyway because of all the time spent behind the safety car.
As the laps started to wind down my tires started to come up to temperature and I was catching him. I was finding some really good speed every lap and on the last lap I set the fastest lap of the race (until another car outside the top 10 went slightly quicker) and got within half a second of the leader. I was very disappointed because I lost the lead but I had to focus on the fact that I had gained a lot of points on that day and still had another race to score more the next day.
Race two finally brought some dry weather conditions. I lined up seventh since the top eight were reversed from race one. My teammate Abt was on the front row again after finishing seventh in race one. I definitely wanted to get back up to race with him again!
I made the best start of my life. I was in fourth by the time I got around the first corner and third after half the lap. Then the safety car came out after lap one. I even came on the radio and said to my engineer, “I NAILED that start!” I was quite proud I must say. Unfortunately, the safety car was out for a long time because the crash was pretty massive. When we got the green flag again, Evans made a move on Abt for the lead. I really thought I had the car to get both of them but, after two laps, once again the safety car came out and that was the end of the race, really. I was still very happy though, because a double podium weekend was huge for the points.
Next up was the Hungaroring. All the drivers seem to enjoy going to Hungary, including me! It's a great place and all the people there are fantastic.
Practice went well but I really needed to pick up some time compared to my teammate Aaro Vainio – he was very fast at this track. I was braking too late for Turn 1 and was not getting a good exit out of Turn 2. I
We didn't get quite as good of a lap on the first set as we thought we would. However, I knew where I could gain time on the second set and was saving a little bit on the first set to not show our true pace. Again, it was my teammate Aaro who was setting the pace, but on the second set I was improving big time. I had prepared for my final hot lap with a large gap on the front straight starting the lap with at least 7sec to the car in front. I was on my best lap of the weekend but was unfortunately catching the car in front at an incredible rate of speed. Sure enough, as it seems to happen to me quite often, I caught the car in front in the last corner and of course the driver of that car was not in the mood to let me by and screwed my best lap of the weekend. It was quite unfortunate because the Hungaroring is a circuit known for difficult overtaking. I qualified sixth and after looking at the data we really should have easily been in the top 3 and possibly on the front row...
Race one was unfortunately quite boring. I had a good start and made up one position but the car who started right behind me had the perfect start and got around me so I started sixth and finished sixth.
But boredom is better than what I got out of race two, which turned out to be quite the disaster. We lined up to start third and I was looking for a win. It rained that morning and the track was quite wet but the forecast was for it to dry out. We all rolled to the grid on wet tires and... the sun came out.
A couple people started the race on slicks but it was really too wet to do that. I got to second on the first lap and was pushing to pass the leader. I was getting quicker and quicker and tried to pass him twice but each time I was pushed off the track. It was interesting because he blocked the inside line, as you would, and I went to the outside but on the exit of the corners he decided to continue moving up the track, leaving me no room and I had to go off the track or I'd have made contact with him. I wasn't sure if that was legal or not and I decided to go to the stewards after the race – apparently they were "looking at" the incidents but I haven't heard anything yet.
Anyway, the track was drying out extremely quickly but the team told us to keep pushing. I was overtaken by Aaro and my wet tires were falling off a cliff. It was getting dry and my tires were melting. I was still running third but people on slick tires were flying – although as far as I knew most people were still on wets. Then with two laps to go people on slicks started flying past me. I went from third to 10th in two laps, because the people who had pitted for slicks were 25 seconds faster than us on the wets at the front.
It was truly a disaster because the people I was battling in the championship finished 1-2, so it was a very sad points day for us. The team guys were quite upset with themselves for not calling us in to pit but it was a close call – we were only one lap away from still being on the podium. In the end, we all make mistakes, I've made plenty of mistakes this year and this is the first time the team has made the wrong call for me!
We still have four more races, but before we get to the final two weekends of the season, I've enjoyed a bit of vacation in Indianapolis. It has been awesome visiting my home – living in England has been great and I've enjoyed my summer, but there is nothing like your hometown.
I've been able to see some friends, hang out with the family, attend the IndyCar race at Mid Ohio and catch up with all my IndyCar homies, do some karting out at Newcastle Motorsports Park where I grew up racing, and of course go to the Indiana State Fair, which is a tradition in August! The time has passed incredibly quickly – when you're flat-out every day trying to fit in so many activities, I guess that is what happens. I've got a few more days left before heading back overseas and getting ready for Spa. I can't wait to finish off the season strong at Spa and Monza. I know we can do it!