08.12.22 NL Blog
Abu Dhabi GP: The story behind my weekend
The rookie tag is in the bin and it’s time to write a new chapter, starting this weekend in Bahrain.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
Q: How do you feel heading into your second season?
A: “Going into the first race of 2021 definitely feels different compared to last year in Australia – or even Austria as it turned out. A year of experience means I know what to expect and Bahrain is a venue we were at not long ago for two Grands Prix and pre-season testing so it’s fresh in the memory.
“Heading into round one, regardless of whatever series you’re in, you have the build-up in terms of the excitement and the emotions of a full year ahead – and this is Formula 1 so that adds more to the feeling.
“I settled in nicely across the course of last year and took it race-by-race. Now, I want to pick up where I was, build on the strengths, and work hard to improve the weaker points.”
Q: What part of your game will you be trying to improve?
A: “The biggest focus area is qualifying. That’s something I struggled with last year, particularly compared to my team-mate. Yeah, we don’t have the easiest car to drive so it does make it more difficult to get the best out of it, but that’s still what I need to understand a bit more.
“Sometimes it’s about me guiding the engineers more, in terms of finding the right balance between qualifying and the race, or maybe thinking less singularly about a session. And sometimes it is just about putting it all together.
“There were practice sessions last year where we had the speed, but then didn’t convert it in qualifying. Whether that was just not getting the tyres in the right window or missing the opportune track conditions, we didn’t quite hook it up. But with a year of knowledge behind me, there should be fewer unknowns and uncertainties.”
Q: You had a day in the car during the test in Bahrain. What were the main takeaways?
A: “Firstly, having one day is not ideal! But, that said, if there was any year where it’s manageable to have just one day, it’s 2021, given the large amount of carry over. And, of course, it’s the same for everybody.
“Unfortunately, my day in the car was the windiest of the test. We had consistent 30km/h winds, gusting to 50km/h. We know our car is sensitive to the wind and that day probably emphasised the relative weaknesses and where we need to improve.
“The team has made a huge effort with this car and we’re not just going to sit around and wait for 2022. But I think because of what the car is like it will be a very up and down year. Depending on the conditions we could be very quick, and we’ll need to capitalise on that. But on some weekends, we may struggle.”
Q: F1 visited several different venues in 2020, but the plan is for a more normal schedule in 2021. What events are you most looking forward to?
A: “First off, it is hugely exciting that we will have, fingers crossed, a 23-race calendar.
“Montreal, naturally, has a big red circle around it in my diary. I have driven the circuit before, in the two FP1s I did across 2018 and 2019, but I can only imagine what it’ll be like to race there as a full-time Formula 1 driver.
“Elsewhere there’s two venues that really stand out: Suzuka and Singapore. Every driver says Suzuka is an amazing circuit with a rollercoaster feel while Singapore looks fantastic, with a track that is both technically and physically difficult.”
Q: How much are you looking forward to having spectators returning to the F1 grandstands in 2021?
A: “It would be amazing to have fans back – even in a limited capacity. They are a huge part of what makes Formula 1 what it is. I get asked a lot whether I can hear or see the fans when driving. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible because we have the engine noise and you’re totally in the zone focusing.
“But on the cool down laps seeing people cheering you on, particularly if you’ve had a good race, provides a great buzz.
“Having that atmosphere and that energy at an event is fantastic and I hope it won’t be long until we experience it again.”
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