Life in GP3: Dino Zamparelli's column
On the weekend GP3's stars of the future took top billing in Valencia, Dino reflects on a maiden points finish which has given him much encouragement for Silverstone
By Dino Zamparelli. Last Updated: 19/06/13 1:52pm
Rounds three and four of the 2013 GP3 Series took place behind metaphorical doors in Valencia last weekend.
With GP3 typically warming the F1 crowds up during the European season, it was a rare one-off race weekend for the drivers without the pressures of the big crowd or, quite frankly, the rubbish track-time slots.
Who are we kidding? Getting on track last thing on Friday evening and then first thing on Saturday morning isn't particularly ideal. But we get a good race time on Saturday and Sunday...so swings and roundabouts. I'm not complaining!
Simply though, we were the main bill. I put this down to the fact that we were the only thing actually racing over the weekend. So apart from the odd bit of Spanish drifting going on in the paddock area, this was purely and simply a GP3 race weekend.
It was only a two-day event, which meant we could get there on the Friday morning and have a day to relax and get used to everything. This is a valuable day that drivers get to spend with their engineers. Everything from track walks, run plans to set up directions. This day is almost as important as any other. The choice is simple; go into the weekend as confident as a tiger v an ant with asthma, or as clueless as a 92-year-old man with the latest iPhone. Ok may be not to that extreme, but you get my point, time with your engineer is invaluable.
And so Friday came and went, Saturday was soon upon us with high temperatures and sunny conditions. The format was one Free Practice session in the morning, followed by a 30-minute qualifying session in the afternoon. The races would be played out in front of the adoring crowds on Sunday.
The Free Practice session was tricky as always with traffic on circuit. With everyone trying to tee themselves up in the final corner for a good lap, it creates a sort of bottle neck on the circuit. Thus the FP session is only really useful for collecting data and understanding the car and the circuit. I hadn't been the Valencia circuit in a while, so it was good to get back in and use the session to find the optimum balance for qualifying.
Qualifying was good fun, I was fairly lucky with traffic and unlike Barcelona, I was able to relax a bit more and drive the car to its limit. I made some positive changes with my engineer and managed to qualify in eighth place. For me this was great progression. I was only 0.5 seconds off pole position, but one of my laps unfortunately did get screwed by someone coming out of the pitlane.
Analysing the sector times, if I was able to put them all together, I would have been in fifth spot on the grid, only two tenths off the pace. So I was fairly happy with how it went, despite the traffic on the lap.
Getting a bit of traffic on your hot lap is so incredibly frustrating. There's no other way to describe it other than doing a Sudoku puzzle challenge. Ever done one of those? Imagine doing a really challenging Sudoku puzzle, you spend 20 minutes on one, you think you've cracked it, you get to the end, you write the last number in...and then you realise you've gone wrong somewhere because the number isn't correct! That's what getting traffic on your hot lap feels like! Nonetheless, I was happy with eighth and I could easily race from there.
Race one took place again in sunny, hot conditions. Not one driver was entirely sure how the tyres were going to last. We had an indication from practice that the tyres might last quite well, but no one had actually done a full race distance on these tyres, in this heat. As it turned out, it wasn't so bad. The only thing that was bad, was that I finished in ninth spot, one place back from where I started - but more depressingly significant than that, it was a place behind eighth and the reverse grid pole.
A mistake in the final few laps saw me lose eighth but I had to be content with the race pace and the progress was clear to see. But losing the chance of a front row start for the next race is like eating the nicest meal you've ever had in a restaurant, and then picking up food poisoning. It's quite literally sickening.
I picked myself up though and decided that the two points from finishing ninth were a small consolation and that I still had a chance to pick some points up in race two. Having said that, I was then stuck to the rear wing of the car ahead for pretty much the whole race. The Valencia circuit isn't well known for being an overtaking-friendly one, only if you've got much fresher tyres than the guy ahead, or if the guy ahead makes a mistake, can you really pass. This time round I got overtaken by a driver who had much fresher tyres. So my end result was tenth.
So it was a ninth and tenth from my second GP3 weekend which represented my first few points of the series, and a strong showing to go with it. Naturally I was disappointed with letting eighth slip in race one, but I was overall very happy with how the weekend went. I learned a huge more about the tyres, the car and myself; and I'm extremely excited about taking all that I've learned over the first two weekends into Rounds Five and Six at the British GP next weekend.
Back to reality for us GP3 drivers now. We're going to have to get back into the F1 way of things, i.e. waiting all day to get out on track and then hope the surface isn't too bad! But who cares, it's the British GP. There isn't a more exciting prospect for a young British driver, in a British team, with British supporters and British family...now to go and win it!