It's been a while since I last reported on how things have been going and I can definitely say there have been a lot of ups and downs in the last several weeks. I will also admit it is harder to write about things when they have not been going well. If anyone has seen the results of the first two GP3 race weekends, you know they have not been too great. However, I am here to tell you to not lose hope just yet!
The first GP3 race weekend in Istanbul, Turkey, just did not seem to go my way at all. The first practice session was wet, which seems to always suit me, and we were able to be pretty competitive. However, that only gave me one session of practice in the dry to learn the track before qualifying. I absolutely loved the track and it was probably one of my favorites, but I was really struggling with getting good exits out of the corners. I seemed to carry a lot of speed in but get killed coming out of the corner under power.
My teammate Tom Dillmann surprised the whole team by getting the pole for the first race in qualifying. I, however, had my worst qualifying result of my career in 29th. The positive side to that was that I had Tom's data to look at to figure out where I really needed to find the speed. I was losing so much time everywhere it was hard to process what I really needed to work on first. I had to figure out how I was going to improve but I also had to prepare for my first-ever GP3 race!
Starting from the back of the grid, I was really hoping to take advantage of some carnage on the first lap but, surprisingly, it was a pretty clean start. I gained several positions in the first few corners and thought things were going pretty well but right at the end of the first lap going into the last few corners I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got passed back by several people. There are so many cars going for position that it's easy to get caught in someone else's fight and get slowed down because of it. I won't really go into much detail about the rest of the race because all I was trying to do from then on was learn as much as possible for the second race.
Race 2 started off pretty well, but again toward the end of the first lap I got knocked off the track in the flat-out Turn 11 and it ripped the floor off my car. Once the floor was gone it was impossible to be competitive, because the car just had no downforce. Once again I just had to continue to learn as much as I could throughout the rest of the race with a damaged car.
After the race was over I was not feeling too great. I just had possibly the worst weekend of my career, but it was only the first race weekend and there was a long season ahead. The Carlin guys are very supportive and they know we'll get there soon.
After the disaster in Turkey, I spent a lot of time at the team's workshop back in England to try and figure out what I had to do to make these GP3 cars go fast. It seemed as though when my teammate Tom set the pole time, he didn't really feel that it was a good lap. It's almost like all of a sudden he discovered something and the lap time just came but we couldn't really identify what exactly he had discovered.
The most important thing to try and understand from the weekend was how to try and bring in the tires during qualifying. The drivers who best understood the warm-up procedure for the tires got the best lap times out of them. Not only did I have to try and work that out but I also had to radically alter my driving style. It had become evident that the way I was driving the GP3 car just wasn't working. All throughout my career I have gotten in different cars and adjusted to them, maybe made a few setup changes and it wasn't long before I was on the pace. In this car, however, it's me who has to make the changes and they're not setup changes, they're changes to Conor Daly.
Driving the car the wrong way gave me the feeling that the car was not handling well, so it was difficult for me to understand the fact that as soon as I start driving differently the car will handle better. I mean, of course, I have the most input on what's going on since I'm actually controlling the car but in the past I've just told my engineer what the car is doing and we sort it out with some changes to the setup. At first it was hard to grasp, but I now know that my engineer Matt Callaghan was absolutely right in all that he was telling me about changing my driving style. As I explain the next race weekend and the test following it you'll see how I start to really alter my driving, the car gets better, and we slowly move up the time sheets.
We arrived in Barcelona for the second race weekend of the season and I really needed to get on track. I had so much information in my head about how I should change and how I should attempt to get time out of the car and myself, that I just wanted to get down to business. Practice still did not go well for me. I felt as though I was improving and, looking at the data, we could tell I was slowly improving in a few different corners with a different driving style – but I had not put a full lap together. I also had some new data to look at because I had a new teammate for the weekend – Daniel Morad replaced Tom.
Qualifying again did not go well. However, this time it wasn't just because of a lack of pace. This time we actually had some pace on the second set of tires. I broke into the top 10 early but I think we chose to go out a little too soon on the second set, which meant we had a lot of cars coming out of the pits in front of me ruining several of my quick laps. It was a disappointing result but when we looked at the data we could see that traffic cost me a lot of time and we should have really been close to the top 10, if not in the top 10.
I was very pleased with the fact that I was starting to get this whole driving style change. I was driving the car a lot smoother and not as hard into the corners, and was being rewarded with lap time. However, it was then time to race from the back of the grid again and I knew it would be tough.
The first race I got a bad start and first lap, and fell back a few positions. It was frustrating because the first half of the lap, I had gained positions but got stuck in a traffic jam going into the hairpin and got passed back by several cars. Once the race settled down a bit I started to make some progress. I passed both of my teammates and caught the next group of cars in front of me very quickly. I went to pass the next car in front of me and he decided to try and block me very late in the brake zone and I had to slam my brakes as hard as possible to keep from hitting him. This one lock-up of the left-front tire caused a terrible flat spot all the way down to the chords. I couldn't believe it!
From then on I had a horrendous vibration everywhere coming from the left front and the car would barely turn right. So, I had to just get the car to the finish. It was so disappointing because I knew we had a good car.