Conor Daly: F1 testing, German GP raining

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195 mph?…must be testing F1 cars again

After the British Grand Prix I got another incredible opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car.  This time it was at Duxford Aerodrome in the UK, the same place where Maria De Villota had a very unfortunate accident the week before.  I think there was a bit more curiosity and interest from the general public while we were there because of the recent accident.    There is also a huge air museum at Duxford so there were a lot of people walking around during the day of the aero test!  This time though the test was labeled a “behind closed doors” test so no one other than team members could get near the car or our little paddock area.

I was very much looking forward to this day because the test program was again very extensive.  This time though as a driver I got to do some more entertaining things.  However since it was a “behind closed doors” test I’m not actually sure if I’m allowed to talk much about it.  What I will say though is that several of our runs up and down the air strip involved me accelerating as aggressively as possible to the highest speed I could achieve before running out of runway and having to brake.  Talk about every kid’s dream right??  Just putting your foot flat to the floor in something with incredible power and trying to go as fast as you possibly can before braking!  I think I reached around 313KPH (195 MPH) before having to brake hard.

I must say getting to do that a few times was incredible, again, one of the best days of my life!  The team was evaluating several different new bits on the car and we did an incredible amount of running from 9am to 6pm.  I only got out of the car a few times and every time was a very quick trip to the toilets or to shove some lunch into my stomach before jumping right back in.  I got to use the DRS button as well which was interesting.  We didn’t use it on our top speed runs but used it to measure several different things at constant speeds.

It was a really cool day for me because the first aero test I did, I was a bit nervous and just wanted to make sure I did everything right.  This time however, I felt so much more comfortable in the car and it all just went so well that I was able to enjoy it a bit more.  I am so thankful that the Sahara Force India guys gave me another chance to drive the car, an incredible experience once again.

 

Off to Germany

It was then time to head to the German Grand Prix, free of penalties!  I really wanted to keep the momentum going from Silverstone.  I had never been to Hockenheim though so I knew it would be quite a challenge.  Practice went very well, on my final lap I was up on the quickest time until I reached the last 3 corners where another car went off in front of me.  We could see in the data that the speed was there and I had been making massive gains every lap.  I absolutely loved the track.  The weather was questionable all weekend but fortunately it was dry for practice and dry for qualifying as well!  I felt really good in qualifying, the car was incredible and after everyone’s run on their first new set of tires, I was on pole.

Then as normal in GP3 qualifying, everyone goes out for another run on a second set of new tires since the cars are lighter because of the fuel burned.  I found it quite strange that on my second set the rear tires felt like they over heated quite quickly and the balance was very different than my first set of tires.  My first flying lap was my best which didn’t feel right because the lap didn’t feel quick at all.  That means the tires peaked too early because after that the rear tires lacked a lot of grip.  I improved my lap overall but fell to third.  I was quite upset because our car was so fast and this change in balance was very strange and kept us from getting the pole.  Still, 3rd was much better than 15th or wherever I started race one at Silverstone after the penalty!  Also, it was awesome to see my teammate, Daniel Abt, on pole at his home race if I couldn’t get it!

After a dry qualifying session and what looked to be quite a nice day, everyone was saying it was going to rain and of course, all of a sudden the clouds started rolling in.  During F1 qualifying it started bucketing down.  I usually want rain and don’t mind it at all but since I hadn’t been to the circuit before the weekend, it would be a whole new learning experience for me and I didn’t really want to have that learning experience during the race, especially the race worth the most points!  It dried out by the end of the GP2 race and it was looking good for our race.

 

Race 1

We rolled to the pre-grid on slicks and of course, as usual this year, the rain started falling!  The rain started and then stopped immediately and the weather was actually looking like it was going to hold off.  My engineer was getting the best weather information he could get and everyone was saying it would rain during the race.  We made the decision at the latest time we could, to go with wets.  It was again a difficult choice because Abt and Evans had gone with slicks right in front of me.  BUT, literally as soon as the available time to change tires on the grid ended, it started raining heavily!  I then had a massive smile on my face.

Race control made the decision to start behind the safety car and as we rolled off the grid it started raining harder and harder and the guys on slicks had to pit at the end of lap one.  Which of course put me in the lead!  However I was quite confused as to why we weren’t starting the race because it was raining but that meant we could still race I thought?

It was raining quite hard and a lot of people had to make pit stops for wet tires but that’s normal, we should have gone green I thought.  Instead however, the race was red flagged and we all had to sit and do nothing for a while on the grid.  It was unfortunate because the people who made the right tire choice weren’t actually rewarded as much as they usually would be because everyone who changed tires was right at the back of the grid now with not much time lost at all.  We finally got rolling again but had to spend what seemed like an eternity behind the safety car.

 

The Green Flag

FINALLY we went green and I had to learn the track in the wet.  I went through the first corner and nearly ended up backwards and in the wall, I had a massive oversteer moment on the exit curb and really didn’t expect it.  I had lost most of the jump I got on the restart allowing the car behind me to get quite a good run onto the long straight.  He took the outside line and we both braked equally and went into the hairpin side by side.  He managed to stay on my outside after the hairpin and continue in to the next fast right hand corner which the optimum line in the wet would be his line, the outside.  I tried everything I could to stay ahead but I couldn’t risk it and he got passed me.  I lost a bit of time and he pulled a bit of a gap in the laps after he passed me but we didn’t have many laps to do anyway because of all the time spent behind the safety car.

As the laps started to wind down my tires started to come up to temperature and I was catching him.  I was finding some really good speed every lap and on the last lap I set the fastest lap of the race (until another car outside the top 10 went slightly quicker) and got within half a second of the leader.  I was very disappointed because I lost the lead but I had to focus on the fact that I had gained a lot of points on that day and still had another race to score more the next day.

 

Race 2

Race two finally came with some normal weather conditions, it was dry!  I lined up seventh since the top eight were reversed from race one.  My teammate Abt was on the front row again after finishing 7th in race one.  I definitely wanted to get back up to race with him again!  I made the best start of my life.  I was in 4th by the time I got around the first corner and 3rd after half the lap.  Then the safety car came out after lap one.  I even came on the radio and said to my engineer, “I NAILED that start!”  I was quite proud I must say.

Unfortunately the safety car was out for a long time because the crash was pretty massive.  When we got the green flag again, Evans made a move on Abt who had the lead and got him.  I really thought I had the car to get both of them but after 2 laps again the safety car came out and that was the end of the race really.  I was still very happy though because a double podium weekend was huge for the points and massive momentum to bring to Hungary.

I am still learning every session on track and my engineer and I are really working well together to have the best setup possible when we show up to the next race.  It has gone really well the last two weekends and I really want to be going for the win in race one in Hungary!

The Hungarian GP is an awesome event and what makes me even more happy about the weekend is that on Monday after the weekend I get to go HOME for a couple weeks.  My REAL home in the good ole US of A!  I haven’t been home since the end of March so I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and maybe friends if anyone remembers me!!

 

Conor.

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