- Sam Bird's ESPNF1 column
Live to fight another daySam Bird October 3, 2012
After flying back from the Singapore GP, where I was carrying out my usual duties with MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS, it was a quick turnaround before I headed out to Paul Ricard in France for the penultimate round of World Series by Renault.
On Friday the team made the announcement that confirms our driver line-up for 2013, and that Lewis Hamilton will be replacing Michael Schumacher. Clearly, Lewis has shown that he is currently one of the very best in the business and I'm sure that his talent, combined with MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS' ongoing push for success will make for a great combination. I certainly hope so. For me, the team really deserves major success, but of course I am a little biased!
On a personal note, I want to say that, since I started working with MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS, Michael has been an absolute gentleman towards me; always the consummate professional but equally friendly, warm and fun to be around. He has said himself that he did not achieve all that he and the team had hoped for over the last three years, but to me, he remains the man that dominated the sport for over a decade and rewrote the record books. I hope that that is how he is remembered as he deserves nothing less, regardless of what he decides to do next. He has made a real contribution to making the sport as popular as it is today and I feel that all of us that work in or around F1 owe him a debt of gratitude.
But back to World Series by Renault... It was a weekend of contrasting weather and equally contrasting race car! In a nutshell, dry track: good car; wet track: bad car. Friday's free practice was encouraging in dry conditions and we were always at the sharp end of the time sheets. Our test programme put me slightly out of sync with some of the other drivers, in terms of when we chose to use new rubber in the free practice sessions, so it was difficult to compare our times to the others but we knew we were very competitive in those conditions. Sunday morning qualifying, which was dry, would confirm that as we qualified on the front row, a tenth off pole.
The rest of the sessions: qualifying 1, race 1, and race 2 all took place on a wet track and we were just unable to find any grip whatsoever. This was a surprise to me, and a nasty one at that, as we have been very quick in the wet all season to date. The Paul Ricard track surface is very smooth indeed and when it was wet, it almost felt like the tyres, which are by design very efficient in the wet, were not actually in contact with the track surface. The result is that you have no grip, no traction; you struggle to turn the car and to get the power down. It's apparent that there is a set-up combination that can counter-act this but we certainly never found it. Fortec seemed to struggle too and they're also usually quick in all conditions. By contrast, the Arden Caterham cars were mega fast in the wet. When Antonio Felix da Costa cruised past me for second place in race two, it felt like I was on ice while he was on dry ground. Fair play to Arden Caterham for getting it spot on!
My team worked extremely hard this weekend. That is one of the things I most admire about team I.S.R: their work ethic. They are not the largest team in the paddock - I can think of one team in particular whose crew outnumber ours almost three to one - but they certainly try to make up for it with endeavour and at times we're right up there in terms of the car's pure pace. The other thing I respect is their honesty: whenever they get it wrong, they hold their hands up and admit it. That's always the first step in trying to rectifying things when you've gone down the wrong path from a set-up perspective.
I did finish on the podium for race two but I would still class this as a very difficult weekend for us, because of the basic lack of pace in the predominant conditions which were wet. However, we still got a respectable points haul, having scored in both races and I'm actually closer to the lead of the championship now than I was at the start of the weekend. I'm now twenty-four points off the lead, with fifty points on offer in Barcelona (25 points for each race). So we live to fight another day!
On paper, Jules (Bianchi) and Robin (Frijns) are now favourites over me to win the title. But the last two races in Barcelona will not be run on paper. Anything can happen. They will both know that I am within striking distance and that they can't afford any slip-ups. Sure, I have a points deficit there but that can change very quickly.
On that very note, while I was travelling back to the UK late Sunday night after the race, my manager and I were constantly looking up the live Ryder Cup results on our phones. At the airport in Marseille there were quite a few of the other UK-based mechanics and engineers from World Series catching the same flight so everyone was getting really excited as the singles matches were reaching their climax. It was actually a really fun and exciting way to follow the event without actually seeing a single golf ball being hit! Team Europe sealed the victory just as we were about to take off and the whole plane erupted in cheers and celebration. Another illustration, if it were needed, that it's never over until it's over!