I went straight from the previous weekend’s Macau Grand Prix to reset myself into GP3 mode for the Yas Marina circuit. Obviously after being in the Formula 3 car it felt very different to get back into my DAMS GP3 car, with a bit more power, a bit less grip. But I adjusted quite quickly. We started free practice using the hard tyres carried over from the previous event in Malaysia and I was in the top five. Then I had a run on the super-soft Pirellis that were mandatory for qualifying and the races in Abu Dhabi, and my run was compromised by traffic so I was ninth. That was nothing to shout about but I was happy that the pace was there and ready to push in qualifying.
On my first run in qualifying I was the fastest of the three DAMS drivers and in the mix, so all was looking good. Unfortunately for my second run I was sent out with the cooling fan still attached to the car. As a result, I had an engine failure and was then given a penalty for unsafe release so I had to start race one from the pit lane…
It was a team mistake and they said sorry, and I have to accept that. It’s just human error, and we’re not robots. It was a costly mistake but what do you do? Do you complain about it or do you forget about it and crack on as a team and try to recover?
Realistically, the best I could hope for was to somehow try to get through the 22-car field and into the top eight, so that I could be at the front of the reversed grid race. I believed I could, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. As I came out of the pit exit, I could see the field were already going through Turn 7!
In the end it was a really clean, well-managed race for us. I knew there would be a lot of tyre degradation because even one push lap in qualifying was taking 20 per cent out of the tyres. So I put my money on taking it easy and hoping everyone would struggle later on. There was a safety car, which closed the field up a bit, and a couple of people dropped out. With three laps to go I was just into the top 10 but thought I was at risk of not making the top eight, so I went hell for leather and pushed, and I finished seventh.
That put me on the front row for the second race. We’ve struggled a bit to get the best starts this year and I was didn’t know what other people’s strategies would be, but mine was to do the minimum I could and use the tyre life I saved at the end. I wasn’t overly worried about not leading out of Turn 1.
Into Turn 1 I was briefly down to fourth from my second-placed slot, but the three cars ahead all ran wide and I said, ‘Thank You very much.’ I knew they were heading wide, so I set myself up for a good exit and came out in the lead. From then on I was just doing enough to stay ahead of Jack Aitken. He was pushing harder in sector one than I was, so he got a bit closer than the team wanted a couple of times. But it was a well-judged race and I pulled away again towards the end.
'You’re only as good as your last performance according to the old cliché, so this is mega.'
My two weekends in F3 and then here in GP3 have changed my fortunes around a lot at the end of 2016. And it also helps a lot when it comes to discussions with teams for next year. But for now, I’m just delighted to win my last race of the season!
I should finish by thanking everyone at DAMS for a really memorable year – we started with a pole in Barcelona and finished with a win at Abu Dhabi. Also a big thank you to my sponsors (Contact Transport, Thomas’s Vehicle Solution, Fleetcare and High 5) as without them this wouldn’t happen and also my trainer Gerry and my manager James and our adviser Didier. Most of all though, a massive, massive thank you to my Mum & Dad for all their support – Thank You!
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