- Sam Bird's ESPNF1 column
Sam's super Sunday comebackSam Bird September 5, 2011
It feels like a while since I've done this but it was a busy break before Belgium. Like many of the paddock we drove across to Spa-Francorchamps, myself and my manager, which makes a change from flying. It was good to get back in the car, I'd been to Rotterdam with Mercedes and done the roadshow there which had allowed me to get into a car again, but to get back in and properly race was really good and I was happy to be back.
A lot of people talk about Eau Rouge at Spa, but it's not actually the most difficult corner on the track. I think Pouhon is a more challenging corner. In race two I was actually flat out through Eau Rouge on every lap except the first two, so while it's an amazing feeling going through it it's not the most challenging corner on the circuit, even when the track is wet.
It is difficult when conditions are always changing as they were this weekend, but we've had a lot of that this year. The weather's been strange this season; last year we never really got the wets out of the bags! But this year almost every round we've had mixed weather at races and had to do extra pit stops so we're actually a bit used to it now in 2011!
You will have seen a lot of spins throughout the weekend in F1 and GP2 in treacherous conditions. When you spin on a soaked track you become a passenger and have to hope you will not hit anything and sustain damage. There are quite a lot of run-off areas now at Spa so, chances are, you might get away with it. Most people did escape unscathed. Unfortunately, I had a small spin in qualifying and clipped a barrier so that was that for me. In the last few minutes of qualifying the rain eased considerably and so I tumbled down the order. I had also had to come into the pits early in the session because I had a problem with the engine's safety mode, which would be back to haunt me in race one, so all in all it wasn't the best qualifying for me.
In race one I got from 20th up to tenth place, so I was nearly in the points, when it started to rain. I came in for wet tyres when the safety car came out after a crash, and my car went back into safety mode. Because I was in safety mode for so long - which means that the engine temperature had gone below 70 degrees - I was tootling around at 50km/h, and you're allowed to overtake someone under the safety car if they've got a mechanical problem. All you can do in that situation is put it in first gear, and I had to rev the hell out of the car to get some temperature back in to it. Driving around Spa in first gear everywhere is not ideal.
Sunday was a big improvement. It was good fun, great to drive Spa in the dry and I think we made the most of a bad situation from Friday and Saturday so we did our best. I think we could have even got a podium with the pace we had in the end, but we ran out of laps and had to settle for fifth. It showed how quick we really can be, our pace this year has never been in question but it's been a case of a bit of misfortune here and there in mixed conditions.
Of course, Monza holds good memories for me. I just can't wait to get my teeth into that track again. I get a thrill from overtaking, but I'm aiming not to overtake anybody at Monza... or perhaps just a few cars on Sunday!
Being a high-speed circuit we go for a very low-downforce setup. The three key things are to get good straight-line speed, good braking stability with the low downforce and good traction. In one sense it's harder to set up a GP2 car than a Formula One car because we can't bring a precise specification of car like they can, but actually our straight-line speeds aren't that far off F1 speeds at Monza due to the fact that we do take off one of the wings at the rear of the car.
We go to Italy without Stefano Coletti who unfortunately was injured at Spa and will be out for the rest of the season. My thoughts and best wishes are with Stefano, I hope he gets better very quickly because he's a great driver and a character to have around the paddock. He's also a good friend so I hope he gets better soon.
My congratulations go to Dams and Romain Grosjean for winning the driver's Championship. They showed pace and consistency all season and deserve the title.
Finally, a friend of mine passed away on Sunday morning; Martin Hines. I bought my first kart off Martin, so he started off my whole journey in motorsport and I was very sad to see such an influential character leave us and my thoughts are with his family.