08.12.22 NL Blog
Abu Dhabi GP: The story behind my weekend
The summer break gives us all a chance to look back at the 2021 F1 season so far, and have a think about what’s coming up.
Here are my thoughts on some of the mid-season questions I’ve been asked in the last couple of weeks:
Q: How important was Hungary both for you and the team?
A: “It was extremely important. Immediately after the start chaos I realised, knowing the track and how difficult it is to overtake, that this was the opportunity. We had to take advantage of it because we might not get another one this year. As a driver you wish for starts like that, where you get the way cleared for you. It wasn’t like I did anything spectacular; I just picked the right places to put the car and benefited from other cars getting it wrong! From then on running P3 was very cool, and I felt comfortable, but ultimately we had the ninth-quickest car so I focused on my own race.
“To finish P7 was huge. Haas and Alfa had the same opportunity we did, none of their cars were caught up in the start chaos, and we managed to capitalise on it. It was very satisfying to bring home that result for the team, and also on the personal side, scoring my first points in Formula 1. It broke the team’s points duck, so I was extremely pleased.”
Q: Now you and the team have points, does it alter anything for the second half of the season?
A: “I don’t think it will change the approach, which will always be to get the best result I can. Knowing the team has P8 right now, ahead of Alfa, is important, and perhaps that might influence some strategy decisions later on, but we’re not going to get carried away.
“It’s clearly not the case that we can be challenging for points if there are no DNFs. On a good day it’s still P12 or P13, in that kind of region. But of course I want to be in points-scoring positions at more races this year. Maybe some other opportunities will present themselves. If they do I’ve got to be ready to capitalise on them.”
Q: Hungary aside, how has the first half of the season been for you?
A: “First and foremost, the learning is continuing and that’s showing in my performances. If I was still so early in my F1 career and not developing, that would be a worry. But there have definitely been improvements from my side – and I know there are other things I’ll continue to work on.
“Some races have been strong, some races less so, but that’s part of the ebb and flow during a season. The goal going into the second half will be to learn from my experiences, focus on the areas that require improvement, and start fresh after the break.”
Q: What have been the biggest pros and cons so far in 2021?
A: “I would say the biggest pro so far is the improvement I’ve shown in qualifying – which was a big issue last year. On paper, in qualifying, the difference between where I end up and where my team-mate ends up can be deceiving. In Q1 it is so close – often I’m just on the wrong side of a tenth, or a tenth and a half.
“The negative is that in some races, not all of them, the race pace has not been as strong as I’ve needed it to be – and that was something that was more of a strength last year. One lap is one lap but driving for an hour and half, certain weaknesses with the car, and areas on the driving style, get exposed more.”
Q: Williams has been through managerial changes in 2021, with Jost Capito joining as CEO, and FX Demaison as Technical Director. What influence have they had so far?
A: “It’s been very encouraging. I’ve really enjoyed working with Jost so far. When you look at the observations he has made, or the changes he has implemented, or even just speaking with him, you appreciate that he knows what he is doing. He’s taking the team in a good direction. He is a great person to work with, very relatable on a human level, friendly, and that helps the atmosphere within Williams. Anyone can go up to him with advice or a query, even if it’s something that might be a little uncomfortable.
“Having FX as Technical Director is definitely a positive, as for years it was a vacant position. Inevitably when something is implemented it doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact on performance or might not make everything 100 per cent efficient straight away, but the future looks very promising. Those changes, and the dynamic within the team, means in a way everyone is keen to hit the fast forward button to 2022 because of the new regulations! It’s all positive so far.”
Q: Which event are you looking forward to after the summer break?
A: “Definitely Austin. I’ve done two laps there in an FP1 before my car broke down! It’s a very cool track, a very cool city. Singapore was also on my list but unfortunately that’s out this year because of the pandemic.”
Q: Formula 1 recently gave us a glimpse of the 2022 car – what did you make of it?
A: “It’s a fresh new look compared to the similar style cars we’ve had since 2017. I think the more simplistic aero should be a positive for me, and hopefully it will achieve what it’s meant to: being able to follow closer, being able to race harder, creating a more even playing field, and with less lap time delta between the front and back of the field. That’s what we’re all hoping for!”
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