After receiving a late call up from Caterham Racing to drive in GP2 this year (and scoring a podium in his first race in Bahrain), ESPN columnist and Caterham F1 Team reserve driver Alexander Rossi sets out his expectations for the season ahead
I found out about my new GP2 drive a week before my first race while working with the Caterham F1 team at the Chinese Grand Prix. Initially I had mixed emotions because I was excited to get back into a race environment but at the same time I quickly came to the realisation that I hadn't done any pre-season testing in the car! So there was a bit of a question mark over how it was all going to work out, but after scoring a podium in my first race back I think it's fair to say it went pretty well.
The call up was a bit of a surprise because I entered 2013 expecting my next step towards F1 to be a few Friday practice sessions with Caterham rather than another year of racing. The reason we did that is because the biggest challenge for most drivers entering F1 is not the step up in machinery from GP2 or World Series by Renault but actually getting used to the demands of the world of F1. So to have a year in the paddock, travelling to every race and getting used to what it's all about was a priority of mine.
To be honest 2012 had been a rough year for me in the World Series and I was a bit tentative about having another season like that because there are variables in racing that are out of your control. Doing FP1s and being with a Formula One team was an option that protected me a bit but would still give me valuable experience. Now with the GP2 drive and my reserve driver role at with the F1 team I kind of have the best of both worlds, and at the end of the day F1 teams want to see you racing. It's all well and good setting a quick lap time in a practice session but that's not what's going to seal the deal. The situation I have now is a blessing and I'm very happy that I get to race this year in what I think will be a competitive car.
Before Bahrain the only time I'd driven this generation of GP2 car was in testing last year, although I did know the Sakhir circuit from when I raced the original generation car in GP2 Asia back in 2009. The big unknown for me ahead of the weekend was the Pirelli tyres so the team gave me all their information about them on Thursday and I did my best to soak it all up. That was fine other than the fact that you only really get two flying laps out of the current Pirellis so I had to learn pretty quickly during practice and qualifying.
Once the race started I just had to base my pace on everybody else around me because I had no clue how hard I could push the tyres. Obviously you hear the stories about only driving at 70% or 80%, but until you experience it yourself you don't really get your head around it. I matched my pace to the other guys and we were quite lucky with the timing of our pit stop and then it came down to managing the tyres until the end.
To be on the podium was such a great feeling because in all honesty I'd lost a lot of momentum in 2012. 2011 was a good year for me in the World Series but 2012 was not. To get some of that momentum back in just one race was quite positive, and even though the sprint race was a bit disappointing as I was hit from behind at the start we still showed that the pace was there.
I think there's more to come as the season progresses because I didn't really touch one thing on the car from Friday to Sunday in Bahrain. I was really pleasantly surprised that the car was so good and it shows that our baseline is very good. At the end of the day, GP2 is all about being able to protect your tyres and I think the car that we have is very good at that.
I don't see any reason why we can't have a run at the championship this year and that's what I've got to target. I've only scored points in one of the opening four races but I'm still seventh in the championship. There are still 18 races left so it's a long season and I wouldn't want to go into a championship thinking about anything other than a shot at the title.
Obviously the weekends that I'm not doing GP2 I'll be looking to be drive the F1 car in Friday practice sessions and that will start in Montreal. Beyond that I'll be doing at least one more, and possibly others, but it's hard to say exactly what will happen because in F1 you never know for certain until you're in the car. Whatever happens, the more time you can spend in an F1 car the better.
The good news from the F1 team is that we made some good progress in Bahrain with our performance. I think everyone was a little bit relieved to be honest because we've had some updates that have come and gone and they haven't really produced the results we were all expecting. The fact that we made a small step forwards in Bahrain is a good boost for everyone and we'll have more parts coming in Barcelona and at other races this year, although we have to take into perspective that everybody else will too.