Jolyon Palmer's GP2 Diary - Abu Dhabi
Title fights, podiums, and post-season testing in the Persian Gulf
By Jolyon Palmer - @JolyonPalmer. Last Updated: 08/11/13 2:29pm
Abu Dhabi is a great place for a final round of the championship. The facilities are the best we have all year and I was lucky enough to be staying in a hotel just over the road from the GP2 pit lane which meant I could stay as relaxed as possible during the weekend, perfect for me.
Coming into the last round there was a lot at stake, mainly the Drivers' Championship. I ended up lining up between the two rivals Sam Bird and Fabio Leimer on the grid. There was nothing to lose for Alex Rossi (from pole) or myself so I knew we could attack and race quite aggressively with these guys and they would have to think about the championship. I saw Bird's car move before the lights were out and was confident he would have a poor start so as the lights went out I darted into the space where he should have been and went wheel-to-wheel with Leimer down to turn one. As planned, I kept my foot in around the outside of him, as he had to think of the championship, and claimed the lead.
Rossi and I were evenly matched in the early part of the race and started pulling a big gap to third place. I pushed hard early on but kept enough left in the tyres to eke out a gap before the pit stops. Caterham pitted Rossi and just changed the rears and rather than covering him that lap we tried to go one more to give me an easier run to the end on the options rather than his primes. Ultimately Rossi did a great outlap on the fresher tyres and passed me as I came out of the pits and I had to settle for second. I felt it was a race we really could and should have won, but Rossi and Caterham did a great job and were quick all weekend, so they fully deserved it.
Bird's stall on the grid meant the Drivers' Championship was settled if Leimer finished in the top four. He managed that and in rather anti-climactic fashion, took the title. I think this year it's hard to argue both Leimer and Bird were the class of the field over the whole season and they rightfully deserved to be fighting it out at the last round. I'm pleased for Leimer to win the championship. I think he has probably been the most consistently fast driver I've raced since Romain Grosjean so I'm sure he will impress if he gets an F1 chance next year.
On Sunday the only fight left was between Carlin and RUSSIAN TIME to see who could take the teams' title. With us ahead and starting second and seventh to Sam Birds tenth it really seemed like Carlin's to lose, but after I was delayed by Felipe Nasr's crash at the first corner and dropped to 15th and Bird made a good start to get up to fourth, we were in a difficult position. I needed to get to eighth to win it back for Carlin. I fought back quite quickly to pass a few cars and get within touching distance of that eighth place, but then, after contact with Julian Leal after I passed him, I was forced to retire in what was a disastrous race for Carlin. That meant RUSSIAN TIME took the teams' title, despite us being level on points, because they took more race wins.
Tom Dillman, one of their drivers didn't race on Sunday. He had a nasty incident with Jon Lancaster which reminded us all a bit of the dangers of single seater racing. Lancaster's car ended up on top of Dillman's head and he picked up a neck injury as a result.
What was a big coincidence is that the F1 doctor called up for Abu Dhabi was the same doctor that operated on me in completely different circumstances, when I crashed a quad bike back in 2007. I was rushed to hospital and Dr Tom Konig removed one of my kidneys! Anyway we met up with him for a drink on Saturday night and it was fascinating for me to hear about what had happened to me and also to get a medical insight into racing. Ultimately I think motorsport is dangerous but as drivers we accept the risk. A lot is done to help with safety but I think at some point you have to draw the line and as drivers, mechanics, marshals or spectators you accept that there is a small element of danger.
I spent a few more days in Abu Dhabi for the post-season testing to drive for Racing Engineering and DAMS, seeing what their cars are like and evaluating options for 2014. There were a lot of promising rookies testing and some returning drivers as well so I think 2014 looks like it will be a very competitive season. I am completely focussed on returning to GP2 next year for a full title assault.
For now though, it is time to relax for a bit, reflect on the season and prepare to come back stronger. I've had a great year, both in terms of results and also I've really enjoyed working with the guys at Carlin and I'd like to thank them for their hard work this season. It's been a season full of ifs buts and maybes, many highs and lows but I've loved it all and now can't wait for 2014... See you there!
Follow Jolyon on Twitter: @JolyonPalmer