9th October 1997-10-20
I’ve not finished with F3 yet.
My fourth place at Silverstone in the AUTOSPORT British Formula 3 Championship has left me feeling a lot more positive about next season. People said that to jump from eighth on the grid to third was incredible, but I’ve done it before.
It’s great when you get it right. You know you’ve done a good job and I knew the Fortec team would be pleased to see me come round third. It’s just a shame I lost it with five laps to go.
In my first years’ racing in 1994, I was crap at starting. But since I thought about it a bit more I’ve been making blinders.
The run up to Copse past Mark Webber was a bit hairy. I was gauging how close I was to the wall as he closed me down, but I was committed to getting past. I wasn’t going to back off. He’s a hard driver, but he’s not an idiot and I didn’t think he’d put me into the pit wall. There’s a bit of respect between us and eventually he gave way.
Keeping Mark behind was really tough though. He was just a little bit quicker everywhere, except for the last corner at Luffield. I’d been consistently pulling out about a tenth-and-a-half there. Then the one lap that I didn’t do it perfectly he got a good run on me, I had to defend the tine to Copse and he outdragged me up to Becketts.
It’s a game of cat and mouse. If you’re behind you have to make sure that the guy in front is looking in his mirrors all the time and he tried all the tricks.
I was absolutely gutted when he finally got by. After 20 laps I thought I could hold him for the whole thing. The pressure was always on. I was happy with third, but I wasn’t going to throw it off trying to stay there by blitzing it through Copse flat.
Both myself and my team mate Brian Smith have been inconsistent throughout the season except when the rains come down, and that points to the engine a little bit. The car has been pretty much the same, but we’ve only sporadically been at the front unless it’s been wet.
Mitsubishi engine tuner HKS has worked hard all year and things have improved a lot, but the new Evo 3 engine has been a bit unreliable. However, it’s HKS’s first year working in England and they are bound to have problems.
People have said this season that I’m more of a racer rather than a qualifier, and traditionally that’s true. That’s one of the things I’ve had to work on this year to improve. But Brian is recognised as being really good in qualifying and I’ve been pretty close to him all season.
A big problem, though, is that we haven’t had the engine ignition tweak that can be turned up for qualifying which allows you to do one very quick lap.
We have struggled to get a one lap wonder out of the engine. If you look at our race laps, they are very close to our testing laps. It’s frustrating if you’re well up in testing and the race but back in 10th on the grid, because Formula 3 is all about a good qualifying position.
When you’re back in the midfield in the race, you have to he tough and that has led to me gaining a reputation for being a bit hard as a driver. I give as good as I get, but no more, and I always stand my ground. Looking back to Oulton Park in June, just because I didn’t let Jonny Kane past, people said I was overdoing it. But I had no reason to let him through. He may have been quicker, but we were racing, and it’s up to him to get through. I would never hit anyone else deliberately.
Having a reputation like that, there are days when the finger is pointed at me and it’s not my fault. It’s a bit unfair Yes, I’ve made some mistakes, but being made the scapegoat every time gets a bit wearing.
Another thing that some have scoffed at, but has been really good, is having Uri Geller helping me be more positive. When you’re inexperienced, you don’t understand fully what’s going on and all you see is a lap time, so when those are bad your instinct is to push harder to compensate – so it’s been good to have Uri helping me. He’s worked with sportsmen from Grand Prix bike riders to Premiership footballers and it’s all a matter of positive thinking.
At the start of the year we were looking at finishing in the top three or four. Pre-season testing times told us that we were right up there. So really it’s been a disappointing season. I’ve got unfinished business in F3. I know the pitfalls we’ve fallen into this year and I’d like to have another go next season. Our Silverstone form was where we should have been all season and a win or a podium at Thruxton would be a good way to tie up the season really it’s a bit too late.
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