• Sam Bird column

Fine margins in Monaco

Sam Bird June 6, 2011

Sam Bird talks to ESPNF1 after his rollercoaster GP2 round at Monaco, which saw him take pole in a chaotic qualifying session but be left stranded on the grid at the start of the feature race and play catch-up for the rest of the weekend

Drivers struggled to find clean air during qualifying © Sutton Images
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Qualifying was difficult. Drivers were slowing down in the final sector to try to get a clean flying lap and that had a concertina effect for everybody else in the last two or three corners. You'd do the first two sectors absolutely fine but then every time you'd hit traffic in the final sector. I did manage get one clear lap in and put it on pole position, so for me at least, the outcome was positive.

There was a fair bit of criticism from the media following the session, because there was some foolish driving going on. Unfortunately, the sector 3 situation (cars were literally stopping at La Rascasse Corner) meant that a lot of drivers had been unable to set a time with only minutes left and perhaps they got a little desperate. As a driver, I can of course understand how they felt but safety has to come first. Anyway, it really was a crazy session.

Sam Bird leads the field away on the formation lap ahead of the feature race © Sutton Images

We then had the feature race on Friday and unfortunately my car stalled at the start and dropped all the way to the back of the pack. Essentially, when I reached my grid slot at the end of the formation lap, I went through my usual pre-start procedure, which involves finding the clutch biting point and holding that position until the lights go green. However, the grid took a longer time than usual to form behind me (60 seconds, as opposed to the usual average of 40 seconds) and my clutch over-heated, causing the biting point to move. So when I released the clutch at the green lights, there was nothing there and I stalled. But there's no denying that the responsibility for this lies with me. In a similar situation of a slow grid formation under hot conditions, I now know how to rule out a repeat of this issue. I felt that with the speed we had we could have won that race fairly comfortably, but it wasn't to be.

I still had quite a strong race through the field from last place to 11th and was hoping to challenge for some points until my team-mate and I came together on lap 30. I was going for a move down the inside and was committed to it. Marcus turned into the corner thinking I wasn't going to try it and we made contact and retired.

As I was in the car behind I suppose I should take responsibility and that's obviously what the stewards felt as they gave me a five-place grid penalty for Saturday's race. Marcus and I had an open discussion about this afterwards and we talked things through with the team. We move on and our relationship is fine.

Collisions were common around the Monaco streets © Sutton Images

Throughout the weekend there were a lot of on-track collisions, both in GP2 and in Formula One. In those situations it's extremely frustrating for the driver behind, especially if he's a lot quicker than the car in front. In the two years I've been to Monaco in GP2, I've found myself stuck behind slower cars and being restricted to the speed of the car in front can be frustrating. In Monaco, the margin between an overtaking move that looks genius and one that looks foolish is very narrow indeed. The difference is usually made by the driver being overtaken and whether he takes the view "I'm slower, I'm beaten, if I leave a little bit more room and yield I can still fight my own race afterwards" or "there's no way this guy's getting through and I will leave no more room than usual, even if that means we both crash out". We saw both of those opposing approaches in GP2 and F1 .

On Saturday I managed to get up to 12th from 23rd on the grid, but I was aiming for tenth because then I would have got the point for fastest lap. We did get the fastest lap, which proved we had the speed again.

So although this weekend was a big contrast to the previous ones in terms of final outcome and points haul, I am focusing on the enduring theme since the beginning off the season, which is that we have got both qualifying and race pace. If we can maintain those, we will be in good shape in Valencia and for the rest of the season.