Jolyon Palmer's GP2 Diary - Bahrain
The GP2 Championship leader reflects on a thrilling weekend in Bahrain and has his say on the driver weight issue in F1.
By Jolyon Palmer - @JolyonPalmer. Last Updated: 10/04/14 12:59pm
After around five months without racing it was great to finally get back to business in Bahrain.
Testing gives you some idea of where everyone is at but you can never be sure. Once you hit the track for the first official session you normally find out a bit more about the true pecking order, but that wasn't necessarily the case in Bahrain because our free practice was the first session of any series for the weekend. That meant the track was extremely dusty, with no grip at all. It would change completely for qualifying.
I don't think I've come into a qualifying session with such little idea of who will be the pace setter and where I and everyone else will fit in around them. I love driving at night. There is no big difference in terms of grip, or how the car feels. The difference is all visually. The lights over the track mean that the track is all lit up very brightly but the difference is you have tunnelled vision, because you can't see anything else, as it remains in darkness.
I was absolutely delighted to take the first pole of the year - I thought before that we could be fighting for it, but for myself and DAMS to put everything together in the way that we did was great and it put us in the strongest position heading into the races.
The races themselves were quite strange. The mix of strategy on Saturday meant some people who started from the back of the grid, or even the pit lane, picked up good points and got into the reverse grid top eight, whilst others I was expecting to be fighting for victory seemed to struggle badly.
Tyre degradation seemed to really mix the field up across the two races and after finishing third after a bad start from pole in the Feature Race, I was absolutely delighted to take the Sprint Race win ahead of Simon Trummer and Julian Leal, because although they hadn't been the fastest drivers in qualifying, they both had arguably the strongest race pace and they pushed me really hard for the entire race.
The F1 race was a cracker on Sunday evening as well. Unfortunately I was only able to watch the first half of it as they weren't showing it at all in my hotel, despite showing a vast range of other sports. This pretty much sums up the lack of motor racing culture in Bahrain!
It was good for F1, though, to have an exciting race because I think that Melbourne and certainly Malaysia were a bit disappointing in terms of entertainment. Having Lewis Hamilton fight with Nico Rosberg like that at the front is exactly what racing fans want to see. Having two of the best drivers in the world be allowed to scrap tooth and nail for the victory is something we haven't seen for a while, especially from team-mates and it's a refreshing approach from Mercedes to allow them to race. Hamilton drove fantastically and fully deserved his win, even though it didn't look like he had the outright pace, he outfoxed Rosberg in wheel to wheel combat. Let's hope the next race in China is as entertaining as this one!
The big issue I have with F1 at the moment though, is the problem of driver weight. Because of the new regulations, the weight limit has changed for this year, but as no one really knew the actual weight of the cars until they were finished being built at the start of the year, the limit is understandably on the low side (despite increasing from 2013).
It's been well publicised that some drivers are struggling to get down to the weight limit and are dieting to extreme levels in order to get closer. This is a matter that I feel strongly on, being taller (just over 6 ft, 184cm) and therefore heavier (around 70kg) than most of my rivals in GP2.
Even in GP2, the taller drivers are all watching their weight, because to a certain point the lighter drivers are ballasted up, but if you are over that limit then you are running heavy and lose performance. This limit is at least achievable, and whilst I have been running heavy in the past, I am now comfortably within the weight limit.
In F1, though, this limit seems to be very extreme for a lot of teams. The problem is that drivers will do anything they can in order to find lap time and if you are losing time just by being heavier (10kg costs around four tenths per lap), then you have to do something about it. There comes a point though where this is surely dangerous and the drivers no longer have the required strength and endurance to compete in a grand prix, so they must balance their weight deficit with having enough strength to compete. It seems totally unfair on the taller drivers then that they should be punished so hard for something they cannot control.
Adrian Sutil has been quoted as saying he is losing around 0.5 seconds per lap to Gutierrez, purely because he is heavier. The easiest solution would be to increase the weight limit (which they plan to do for 2015, by 10kgs) to make it fairer for everyone, but smaller drivers, like Massa, aren't happy with this, as they want to keep their unfair advantage, at the potential cost of the health of the taller drivers.
It can affect people's careers and the lap time loss is more than just the weight deficit. In reality there can be a psychological loss because a driver like Sutil will go into a qualifying session, knowing he has to beat his team mate, in the same car, by effectively over half a second if he wants to actually start ahead of him and that can cause you to drive more desperately and not do the best job.
I hope F1 increases the weight limit for this season and by a sufficient amount that makes it a level playing field for everyone.
I have around a month before the next round in Barcelona. In that time I will be going down to DAMS for briefings and simulator sessions, up to Silverstone for my brother Will's first race of the year in BRDC F4 and I will be spending the rest of my time keeping fit and sharp in the month off. I'm looking forward to Barcelona already where I'm sure there will be new challenges and challengers alike.
Follow Jolyon on Twitter: @JolyonPalmer