So that’s my 2015 season! Done and dusted but with a great tail wind. What a year it has been!
I finished the year second in the GP2 Series and had the privilege and opportunity to work with Racing Engineering, who’ve been an absolute blast to work with all year.
2015 also brought another important milestone and box ticked in my career; the first US Formula 1 driver to compete in the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, and the first American to take part in an F1 race since 2007.
GP2 was an incredible experience this year, but I’ll also look back on 2015 in years to come and reflect on a very strong five-race F1 debut. This will rank equally alongside the GP2 races we won and the podiums we scored. Ending the year with those two achievements and boxes ticked would not have been possible without a group of people working tirelessly to make such a great year happen, so my sincere thanks to them.
As I write this, we are in the process of finalizing my 2016 plans and getting closer to a very exciting conclusion. Obviously the push is F1 and I know the job done this year is paying dividends towards that, so stay tuned on that front.
The final GP2 race weekend in Abu Dhabi was interesting, to say the least! Practice went well, as we were quick straight away and getting through the test run plan, ending the session fourth. Qualifying was not as good as we’d planned, ending the session seventh – we struggled with traffic, timing and track position and were up to fourth on the first set, then we boxed for the second set of super-softs but did not improve and had to settle for a fourth row start.
It’s one of the subtleties of racing at this level that’s hard to explain to fans. You and your engineers time it and plan it, ahead of time and during session down to the last nuance, looking for gaps and taking all the other cars’ movements into account, but then you find yourself having to lift or brake early due to a car on cool-down at the exact the point on the track when you want to be at the limit.
This can be very costly and, depending on the situation, could be hundredths or tenths of seconds, but nevertheless at this level of motorsport it is usually the difference between being up front on the grid and mid-table. Every driver has dealt with this, and none of us will ever get used to it. It’s one of the most frustrating things in motorsport, but if you can’t cope with it you don’t belong there.
In GP2, starting seventh isn’t the end of the world. You can fight for the podium and win from there. Of course you always need a good car, good start and good team strategy and for things to fall your way, like the safety cars, timing of pit stops and saving enough tires for when you need it. All these factors are what make up a winning race combination, which is why GP2 is so competitive.
For the feature race our plans went fairly well and I was quick in each phase of the race. We’d started on options, and when a virtual safety car was called for contact between Artem Markelov and Daniel de Jong we boxed for a set of primes, but unfortunately I was held in the box for six extra seconds due to pit lane traffic and the team did not want an unsafe release violation, which can cost you a drive through penalty. We finally came out of the pit stop in 18th, so we had a bit of work to do.
The period of the race when you’re making up time after your pit stop on fresh rubber is the one I most enjoy. This is an opportunity to turn in big laps and make up a lot time and places, in the gap when other cars also have to stop. Usually the car feels great, everything’s working as it should and it’s almost like the race slows down around you. It’s a great zone to be in, and this especially true at Yas Marina which has a little of everything!
It looked like we’d be in with a shot of the podium, but in the end I had to settle for fourth. That place confirmed second position in the 2015 championship and this was a very good result for me and the team. I’ve said many times what an honor it was to race Stoffel Vandoorne this year – he’s a good friend and worthy hampion, and I’m sure we’ll be fighting again on track very soon.
With the sprint race still to come on Sunday, we kept the celebrations on hold but in the end the sprint was a bit anti-climatic. I had started fifth and was off the line well and up to fourth when the red flag immediately came out for a six car incident behind. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the safety crew could not fix the crash barriers in time before the F1 event, so the GP2 race was called off.
So that was it, the end of 2015 season and time to celebrate and enjoy sharing some very good times with the whole Racing Engineering family and at the GP2 Awards Gala that followed Sunday evening at Yas Marina Circuit.
So that’s it for now! It is time to recharge and have a couple of meals that Carlos, my trainer, would not approve of. I’ll definitely be getting some skiing in and a few weeks without travel, but then immediately 2016 will start. The accomplishments of 2015 are now in the history books and I’m only looking forward.
Wherever you watch motor racing and however big a fan you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed the insights into my life as an F1 and GP2 race driver. I’m very excited about next year, and hope you’ll be part of the journey when it starts all over again.
Thank you for your support. Have a safe and joyful holiday season!