This is my first blog for NBC Sports and I’m very proud to be able to share what life is like as an American F1 driver with everyone who reads this great site between now and the end of the season.
It’s the week after Suzuka and I arrived back in the UK around 30 hours after finishing my second Formula 1 Grand Prix. It’s been a fantastic two weeks, starting in Singapore where I made my F1 debut and ending with a couple of train trips from Suzuka to Tokyo, then a long haul flight across several time zones back to the UK, my base during the season.
It all started not even two weeks ago in Singapore, which is a tough place for anyone to make their F1 debut! I like the Marina Bay circuit, having raced there before in GP2, so I knew the track but I had not driven an F1 car there. I was more than ready for F1, but until now all season my primary focus has been GP2, so I had to mentally prepare for the switch over and all the systems in F1.
Singapore is a physical race for anyone who races there, but not just for the drivers – also the mechanics, truck drivers and engineers who operate the teams. For me, I work with a trainer, Carlos, who plays an integral role in helping me prepare physically – hydrating properly from early in the week before the race, eating the right food and sleeping on European time so there are no jetlag issues.
After the race I felt good – it was the longest formula race I’d ever done by about 50 minutes – but the preparation we had done before the race, and my focus on fitness all year, was meaningful and rewarding. I felt really good at the checkered flag.
The whole weekend was very busy on and off track, but when I was in the car, I was 100% focused on what I needed to do. The team plays such an important role and my race engineer and I have worked very well together from the get go after arriving in Singapore. I know a lot of the team from last year so there are familiar faces, and that’s a good help.
The first session obviously wasn’t to plan. I made a small error that punished me, but that does happen in F1 when you’re finding the limit. The good news was there was no harm and the team trusts me and respects the fact that I am pushing. It helped me for the rest of the weekend too, as I learned how the car behaves on such a bumpy circuit, particularly under braking.
The rest of the weekend went fantastically well and I really enjoyed my debut; the first race as the lead car in our team and it was great to see what it meant to so many people who have helped me get to this point in my career, along with the unwavering support from the fans.
From Singapore it was on to Japan, an incredible country where everyone loves racing and Suzuka, a very different challenge to Singapore.
A lot of the drivers talk about how much they love Suzuka, but for me it doesn’t go into my top three circuits. This was my first ever experience of driving on track – I’d been before with other teams, but I’d never raced there, so my first experience of Suzuka was a very wet installation lap in FP1, then some development work in FP2, again in the wet, before long runs in FP3.
In quali I didn’t have an opportunity to set a timed lap so I didn’t really have the chance to go for the full low-fuel, option tire performance runs that might change my mind about the esses in sector one, or 130R. My first real experience of both, in the dry, was Sunday when the race started, and that’s a very different feeling with heavy fuels load, versus the strategies you’re running to in practice and qualifying.
Despite that, I loved racing in Japan. Everyone talks about how great the fans are and it’s absolutely true, but nothing prepares you for what it’s like when you’re a race driver in F1 in Japan. In the last couple of years I’ve been there as a reserve or test driver. It’s an amazing feeling knowing what it means to Japanese fans to meet drivers and for me it was really clear after the race.
I stayed in a hotel right next to the track. As soon as the race was done and my media and engineering debrief commitments were over, it was straight to the hotel, then a taxi to Suzuka train station for a train to Nagoya, then another train to Tokyo for the flight back to the UK.
At the train station it was amazing – so many fans politely queuing up and asking for photos and autographs. It’s truly humbling seeing how much joy F1 brings the fans.
Next up for me is a switch back to GP2 with my team Racing Engineering, where we lie second in the driver’s championship. I’m aiming to pick up the momentum we’ve established in the last two rounds where we’ve won a couple of times.
We’re going to Sochi, Russia, for the penultimate round of the 2015 season and even though the championship, mathematically, may be out of reach, we want to finish as strongly as possible and delay any victory celebrations Stoffel may have!
Racing Engineering is an awesome team to be with. They know how to win, they’ve proved that enough times in the past, and that’s been a huge reason why I’ve had my best GP2 season ever. I’m obviously more experienced, with another year under my belt, but being with a team that’s been there, seen it and done it makes a big difference.
Working with them also makes the transition from GP2 to F1 and back to GP2 so much easier. My focus is the same – push as hard as I can whenever possible, but going from a team that has a realistic chance of winning whenever we race, to one where my nearest rival is my teammate, could be tricky.
However, in both Manor and Racing Engineering, I’m working with incredibly talented professionals who know how to maximize performance relative to their differing environments. This allows me to focus 100% on my job, whatever cockpit I am in, and is helping make 2015 such a great year.
I have around 36 hours at home in the UK before heading to Spain to prepare for Sochi, and then it’s on to Russia, and then it’s Texas and the US Formula 1 Grand Prix. More about that to come, but I imagine, as all F1 fans are feeling, especially those in America, Austin can’t come soon enough.