Some of you probably think I’m living a life of glamour at the moment – my first win in the GP2 Series last time out at Barcelona, quickly followed by my first test, at the same track, in a Williams-Mercedes Formula 1 car. The pattern would then usually be coming back down to earth, only now I’m in Monaco – the least down-to-earth place you can imagine! – for my next GP2 race weekend.
The truth is though that as soon as I left Barcelona last Wednesday after my F1 test it was down to work preparing with the DAMS team for Monaco. This will be an important weekend to continue scoring points and carry on my championship challenge, because at Barcelona we got it back on track really nicely.
I’ve been to Monaco a few times but I’ve never driven on the Monte Carlo track. Obviously it’s a circuit where everybody knows the layout, the bumps and key areas, because we’re all motor racing fans and we all love watching races from Monaco. But we still have to go through all the nuances to make sure everything works. I’ve approached it a lot like I did Macau in my Formula 3 days really, doing a lot of preparation work in the simulator. That all helps make sure that when you hit the track everything goes as smoothly as possible.
On any street circuit, you know that you’re going to be a little bit out of control for the first couple of laps of free practice, but doing all that preparation means that as many things as possible can be on autopilot, and it certainly lessens that element of stepping into the unknown.
I’ve always done well on street circuits in my F3 days. I was quick at Pau on my first visit and scored a British F3 podium, I won at the Norisring in European F3, and I was pole first time in Macau and won it second time. I don’t know what it is really; I just seem to enjoy them. The thing is, although there are certain similarities in the techniques for different street circuits and the transition to how you drive them in GP2 isn’t too much of a big deal, I’ll be in a much bigger and faster car now.
Monaco has a different structure to the weekend to the other GP2 races. For starters, everything happens one day earlier, so we start with free practice and qualifying on Thursday, and race on Friday and Saturday. Also, we’re split into two groups for qualifying, each of which only gets 15 minutes. But at the end of the day it won’t make much difference to my approach. I just want to go quickest and start from pole, which is so crucial at Monaco. The split groups will help because traffic is a nightmare in qualifying here, so hopefully that takes some of the doubt away.
I’m not sure yet whether mine will be the first group to qualify or the second. Being the first means you’re going out on the F1 rubber laid down from free practice, which everyone loves, whereas if you’re in the second group you can get good data from your team-mate’s group. In my case that’s Pierre Gasly and I’m sure that would help as he’ll definitely be quick – or, vice versa, my data could help him if my group goes first!
Apart from Monaco being such an epic place, the other thing I’m really looking forward to is using the super-soft Pirelli tyres for the only time in a race weekend. We tried them in testing in Abu Dhabi and it’s a great tyre with loads of grip, which I really enjoy. You’ll only have one or two laps with them operating at their peak, which is a sensational feeling, and I love the pressure of having to deliver straight away in that kind of situation!
Qualifying takes place in two groups at 16:15-16:31 and 16:39-16:55 on Thursday, after practice at 12:00. Race One on Friday is run at 11:15 over 42 laps (or one hour) and each driver must complete one compulsory pit stop. This cannot take place within the first six laps. Unlike Formula One, GP2 drivers do not have to start the race using their qualifying tyres.
The grid for Race Two on Saturday at 16:10 is determined by the finishing order of the first race, with the top eight positions reversed. Race Two is run over 30 laps (or 45 minutes), with no compulsory pit stops.