- Sam Bird's ESPNF1 column
Battling in the rainSam Bird August 8, 2011
After back-to-back races this is my first column since the British Grand Prix, but don't think I've been enjoying myself in the sunshine; cold and wet weather has followed us around Europe since Silverstone!
Qualifying wasn't ideal in Germany as I was held up by another driver who was subsequently given a penalty. That left me starting in 11th place. During the first race I had a race-long battle with Dani Clos which was really good fun, and I finished eighth, which was an acceptable outcome.
This meant starting on pole for race two. I got off to a good start and got the lead and then pulled away. I was over two and a half seconds ahead and then unfortunately I just touched a kerb that was damp and it spun me round. In wet conditions, leading the race is where you want to be as that's where the visibility is best. On the other hand, being the first one round, for the first few laps you are the guinea pig for where the standing water is and where the grip is. The incident dropped me down in to the midfield and you then get caught out in the middle and there's just crashing and banging everywhere. I ended up with a damaged front wing as a result, but once I got my way through I managed to get myself back up to seventh, but it's not where we wanted to be really that weekend. It was later pointed out to me that Vettel and Schumacher spun that afternoon at the same corner. Be that as it may, I have to view that race as a missed opportunity.
But my focus then immediately turned to Hungary. We looked strong in qualifying but in GP2 you will only get two or three laps to make it count. On my best one, the same culprit who held me up in the Nurburgring qualifying and got a penalty then did the same thing in my last sector! We estimate that this lost me about three tenths and a place on the front couple of rows, but it wasn't to be. Traffic is part and parcel of qualifying in GP2 and everyone has to contend with it. With 26 cars on track at once, it is unavoidable to an extent. But in some situations, the process of impeding another driver is totally avoidable and would just require a little more awareness and use of mirrors.
In the feature race we took the gamble to see if I could get the undercut from fresh tyres by pitting early. In Monaco, the same rubber compound had turned out to be very durable. However, every track-rubber relationship is different and here the tyres went off very quickly and I had to pit again. So having come out in fifth place I had to box again and take another set of tyres and I dropped to 17th. That was the first time for me that the tyres have 'dropped off the cliff' as they say. As long as we learn something from it and it doesn't happen to us in the last two events of the year then it's a useful lesson.
Sunday's race was an exciting one because we had very changeable conditions. I started 17th and finished 5th which sounds good but in actual fact, I think we could have won had the safety car not come out three laps from the end. I was in third place behind Romain Grosjean and Stefano Coletti - and catching Grosjean quite quickly - when I decided to pit for wet tyres and they had gone round for an extra lap when it started to really rain quite heavily. However, the safety car was deployed while I was in the pits so I had to slow down when I came out of the pit lane and was then forced not to overtake all the guys on slicks who were then in front of me. So I lost an awful lot of time in comparison to Stefano and Romain, and I believe that cost us the win.
I finished the race with a broken front wing as - having climbed back up to fifth - Giedo van der Garde was in front of me and he slid wide in to the third last corner and half stopped on the racing line, and I had nowhere to go. It was massively harder to drive the car after that, with no front downforce the car was very tricky but in actual fact our racing speed wasn't that bad and I managed to keep Bianchi at bay. I had fastest lap in a dry race one but our pace in the wet in race two was also very good.
In those conditions it's a constant challenge as to whether you're going to be on the right tyres at the right time as Lewis Hamilton found out on Sunday. It was very tricky conditions for everybody and you've got to have your wits about you and make the right kind of moves. There wasn't much grip to help you make moves, sector one was extremely slippery - the final sector felt quite grippy in the wet - but sector one was really treacherous.
It was nice to finish those couple of lean races that we've had points wise with a decent showing, so we go in to this break feeling quietly confident for Spa and Monza; probably two of my favourite tracks. I will be doing some work with Mercedes before the shut-down - I'm actually at the factory right now - then I'll go on holiday while the F1 break is on. I will be taking a holiday in Portugal with my family and my girlfriend for a week, and while I'm over there I will be relaxing but also working on fitness quite a lot. Then when I get back it's full focus on Spa.
I think we can be very strong in the final few races as the car has given us good pace at every track. One thing I was asked about recently was if I had a name for this car, and I do. It was widely known around the GP2 paddock last season that I had named my 2010 GP2 car Mary. My car this year is called 'Kylie's dirty little sister', which has come out of Sebastian Vettel naming his Red Bull 'Kinky Kylie'. If you think about it the GP2 car is the kind of little sister to the Formula One car so my mechanics came up with this name and I thought it was good and funny and it kind of stuck. I always name my car because I feel I'm in an intensely personal relationship with it. I'm certainly planning on happy travels with her to Belgium and Italy!