Jolyon Palmer's GP2 Diary - Italy
Our GP2 columnist looks at how good and bad luck can affect a driver's career
By Jolyon Palmer - @JolyonPalmer. Last Updated: 17/09/13 1:38pm
I've always been a believer of the saying, 'you make your own luck'. Racing drivers are renowned for their long and ever growing list of excuses and just to blame poor races or results on 'bad luck' seems about the most feeble of the lot.
After this weekend though, I think it's a good time to reflect on drivers' good and bad luck throughout a season and how simple luck can change the course of a season and also therefore, the course of a driver's whole career.
It just so happened that after a very strong Friday for me, topping practice before narrowly missing out on pole position, I had a brief chat with Mark Webber in the evening. Amongst some general chat he was kind enough to give me a few pointers on the race ahead and what to look out for.
Unfortunately one thing he didn't mention to me was how to control a car on three wheels! Mark is renowned for his bad luck in F1 and things like wheels falling off after pit-stops only seem to happen to him and never to Sebastian Vettel in the other Red Bull. Indeed, I think twice this year it has happened already. Unfortunately from the moment the wheel wasn't put on correctly in my Feature Race I not only lost out on a podium but also a whole weekends worth of points as I would have to start from the back on Sunday. To compound my misery I couldn't even use the better prime tyre as the wheel was too damaged from coming loose and bouncing across the gravel. So instead of being able to at least use brand new primes, we were forced to race with used options, from 22nd on the grid.
It is interesting, however, if you look at the patterns of good or bad luck how things could have worked out differently over a season. I don't count stalling on the grid (as I did back in Malaysia), or speeding in the pit lane (as Stefano Coletti did in Monza) as bad luck, as it is almost always a driver error and therefore a case where you do make your own bad luck.
In GP2 I'd say the biggest example of good versus bad luck was in Monaco. A number of title challengers had qualified badly; Coletti was 14th, James Calado 17th and Felipe Nasr was 9th. On a track where overtaking is extremely difficult it looked as though these three drivers were going to lose a large points haul to drivers such as Sam Bird and Fabio Leimer who had qualified third and fourth.
As events turned out, there was a big pile up at turn one taking out half the field including Leimer, myself from sixth on the grid and many others. Coletti was out and Bird had his rear wing taken off. About 10 cars somehow wriggled their way through the chaos, including Calado and Nasr whose weekends turned in a split second from being extremely challenging to being a gift and it being quite difficult not to score big points!
Sam Bird was very fortunate that he was able to get round and fix his rear wing (he went on to take a commanding victory) and arguably the luckiest of them all was Coletti who, despite being out of the car was able to get back in and drive round to take the restart, whilst no one else was allowed in a marshalling/ race control mix up. He ended up scoring a big haul of points including a sprint race victory.
Marcus Ericsson and DAMS have been one of the quickest pairings over the course of the season, however a couple of errors early on - crashing out in Malaysia and then stalling from second on the grid in Bahrain - put them on the back foot. Since then though they have also had some pretty bad luck, losing Feature Race wins in both Barcelona and Silverstone, due to a problem at the pit stop in Barcelona and ultimately contact, and a harsh drive through penalty decision at Silverstone. A recent surge up the standings was also halted in Monza for him as he managed to pick up punctures in both races, including from a safe third (after my wheel came off) in the feature race.
I could bemoan my own bad luck this season as well, but no one likes to hear a driver complaining about his or her bad luck, so I'll spare you the details! This season in GP2 could be very different though without the hand that fate has dealt. Arguably Leimer could be 30 or 40 points up the road from anyone in the championship and have one hand on the title and a good chance of an F1 break in 2014, having lost around a 20 point swing in Monaco to most of his championship rivals. Ericsson, despite a few errors early on in the season could still be in the hunt and I'd like to think that with a bit more luck on my side I could have been a lot higher than my current ninth in the standings as well. However, as it has played out, it makes for a very tense showdown in Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
Looking back at F1, it seems that Sebastian Vettel always seems to get the lucky breaks at Webber's expense. It hasn't always been the case though. If you look back to Vettel's first title in 2010, he had as much bad luck as anyone in a season, losing at least two victories through reliability problems alone, whilst Webber seemed to have the upper hand, until his error in Korea arguably cost him the championship. Maybe if he had taken those points in Korea that he should have done and thus taken a title, things would have been very different.
Fernando Alonso was saying after another dominant Vettel victory in Monza, that it will take some bad luck to stop Vettel winning a fourth consecutive championship this season. Whilst Red Bull will do everything to ensure this doesn't happen, you can never rule it out in motorsport, and with a driver as tenacious as Alonso in pursuit Red Bull and Vettel will not be able to rest on their laurels until the job is done, even though it is hard to look past them in the championship race now.
But if you look at last year you could argue it was luck that gave Vettel the title in the final race in Brazil, as after spinning and being hit on the first lap, his car was somehow still drivable and he managed to salvage the critical points he needed when most times you would expect cars to be too heavily damaged after the contact he suffered. Therefore Vettel is now a three-time World Champion and Alonso isn't.
Ultimately what this goes to show is that luck can shape the careers of drivers in series such as GP2 or GP3, where we are all desperately needing results to prove ourselves to be worthy of a position at a higher level and giving an excuse of 'bad luck' counts for absolutely nothing. Also in F1 luck can be a big factor over a whole season.
What I think is that over time these things even themselves out and suddenly opportunities start to fall for the people that deserve them, at least I hope so anyway!
Follow Jolyon on Twitter: @JolyonPalmer