It is now eleven years ago when I first watched an F1 car running in front of my eyes, and I could hear the noise of a V8 engine; and it was in Jerez. However, to be honest, I have not paid attention to many motorsport races that have taken place at this scenario in Southern Spain. But you only need to look at the Hungaroring style of the third sector, or at the short width of the track at any point of its layout, to guess that overtaking was not going to be very frequent this weekend.
When asked by Iberianmph about the best place to try a move, the Top 3 qualifiers in F2 had a clear picture in their minds: “It’s pretty easy for all of us to answer this one,” replied soon-to-be-champion Charles Leclerc. “For me it’s Turn 6 [Dry Sack, the braking point at the end of the back strike, the place of Schumacher’s ‘crime’ in ’97]. It has a big braking point before a hairpin.” Luca Ghiotto agreed: “For me, as well, Turn 6 is the only real overtaking point. The first corner is going to be quite difficult.”
However, Sérgio Sette Câmara was spot on: “I agree with the point about Turn 6, but we might also see some more neutral, non-DRS overtakes. At least on my part I have a lot of tyre deg, so this will motivate drivers to try something at more places.” Of course that Turn 6 was the best place to make a move but, as Sergio anticipated, we shouldn’t have been such pessimistic with the issue of overtaking.
Truth to be told, the GP3 feature race didn’t help to change the perception. It was closer to a snooze fest than it was to pure wheel-to-wheel racing. However, we did enjoy some attrition, like the overtake signed by Arjun Maini (in what was otherwise a lacklustre weekend for him, with no obvious explanation on his part except admitting his general lack of feeling with the Jenzer on this occasion). And the main talking point of that first race was the brave manoeuvre of George Russell over Jack Aitken at Turn 2 on the first lap. “I saw an opportunity and went for it,” was everything that Russell had to say. Aitken was Russell’s closest rival to the GP3 title that the former was going to win on Sunday. The episode seemed like fair play from the outside, but Aitken did look angry: “I got an ok start. To be honest, my aim was to win the race, because I needed the points to keep the championship alive. I tried to go around the outside of Nirei at Turn 1 and then I tried to hang on in there. Then George came in just about in Turn 2 and I was not keen on crashing. After that it was quite tricky for me to stay within DRS time from him.” After being crowned champion, Russell himself was pretty clear when Iberianmph asked him if both ART guys had already cleared the air: “There is no air to be cleared.” They were racing, y’know.
The outcome of GP3’s sprint race was decided in the Stewards room, where Giuliano Alesi was found guilty of dangerous driving and was stripped from the 8th place that would have granted him pole position. The other protagonist of that incident, Alessio Lorandi, would win from pole come Sunday morning. The Trident team was really furious at this decision; proof of it is their refusal to sign the notification, according to the official document that was made accessible to the whole paddock…
Here’s one of the reasons why the whole paddock was proved wrong about processions in the case of the F2 races: the high temperature of Jerez’s asphalt (up to 50ºC at some points during the weekend) forced the teams to think very seriously about the best strategy. In addition, race 2 would take place at 14h (not o’clock, but more on this later) in the afternoon, way later (and hotter) than the usual schedule in the morning of F1 weekends. How many laps would Pirelli’s soft compound last? You can tell how difficult the engineers are finding this task by how late they leave the meetings inside the motorhomes (around 19 h in the evening). The result was a wide variety of tactics, something that allowed much on-track action (some would say artificial) when the races of drivers on different tyres strategies at different stages of their lifespans happened to converge on the same piece of Tarmac.
It hurt even more on Sunday, when nursing your tyres was the key to get a good result. The situation was serious enough to force a one-stop strategy on part of most of the drivers in this short race. To put it mildly, those who showed how to survive without visiting the pits are the ones who got the best results. Congrats to Artem Markelov and Nicholas Latifi for their consistency. Race winner Markelov’s gamble has paid off by his soft application of the throttle at the exit of corners; meanwhile, polesitter Álex Palou was caught by his inexperience in F2. When asked by Iberianmph for a single piece of advice that he would give to any future title contender, Leclerc chose: “The management of the tyres. The decisions you have to take with the blisters and everything… You need to do more work to improve on the race front, with strategy and tyre management. Any quick driver will be fast in qualifying, but it’s in the race where you have to think more, analyse more the data to better understand the situations, because it’s something that doesn’t come naturally from the beginning.”
It wasn’t the only difficulty endured at such a special track. This time F2 and GP3 were far away from the official Mercedes SLS AMG that plays the Safety Car role at F1 races, hence a radical Porsche 911 was brought out when Santino Ferrucci closed the door on Nobuharu Matsushita at Turn 1, in a too aggressive way that sent him to the gravel. Contact between Niko Kari and Daniel Ticktum forced another appearance of the Safety Car at the GP3 sprint race. Afterwards the winner, Alessio Lorandi, expressed his concerns: “Probably SC driver was going slower than usual because, during the SC period, I was in second gear throughout the whole lap. And with the lights it carried today, it was really difficult to judge whether they were on or off. The in lap was just weird, Luckily, we managed to keep the temperatures in the tyres up.” Reliability is another area for improvement if the 911 wants to repeat as the official Safety Car the next time that the support series come to Jerez, for a technical glitch delayed the start of F2’s sprint race by fifteen minutes.
The best bit of the weekend for us? Iberianmph formally congratulated 2017 F2 champion Charles Leclerc and GP3 champion George Russell, face to face, just some minutes after they had fought it out on track. And we hope to keep doing so for many more seasons.