In Davide Valsecchi's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Lotus F1 Team third driver and 2012 GP2 Series champion looks back at rounds three and four of the F1 2013 season - including a double podium finish for Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in Bahrain...
Last time I spoke to you, I was in the paddock in Shanghai preparing for the Chinese Grand Prix, where everyone in the Lotus F1 team was hoping we could bounce back from the result in Malaysia, where both Kimi and Romain had to try and fight back from a tough qualifying session.
As I said at the time, we felt confident heading to China and it turned out to be another good weekend for the team. Shanghai itself is a wonderful city to visit and the circuit is also very good. It produced an entertaining good race on track and we were all happy to be there, especially when we had a podium finish to celebrate at the end of it.
We knew ahead of the race that there was going to be a lot of fans cheering for us thanks to an advertising campaign that our sponsor Unilever had produced that featured Kimi. We had a lot of support on the back of that, and it was enjoyable to take part in an event that they held on the Thursday before the race.
The actual race itself went well and showed what can happen when we qualify towards the front of the field. In Malaysia, we'd been caught out by the conditions in qualifying so, even though the car was competitive, our result in the race had already been compromised.
In China, we were able to qualify well with Kimi on the front row of the grid and he drove a great race. He had a bit of a problem at the start and lost a few places, but then he came back strong as the race went on and, even though he had contact with another car that damaged his nose, he still managed to finished second. Without that, who knows what might have been possible? He might have been even quicker...
If I'm being honest, I felt the contact with Sergio Perez that damaged his car was a bit unfair as he pushed Kimi onto the grass. I think it was incredible how Kimi performed after that as there was a loss in performance because of the damage but he was able to stay calm and showed good pace for the rest of the race. The team also managed the situation well, and they were clever to realise that the damage wasn't bad enough to mean the nose had to be changed, as that would have cost valuable time. As it was, Kimi could push on and finish on the podium.
I've been asked if I think Kimi could have won the race if he'd had a better start, but the simple answer is that you never know these things. After his retirement in Malaysia, Alonso drove an incredible race to win, so it isn't as easy as just saying that, if Kimi had got away from the line better, he would
have won. However, if he had finished the first lap in first or second place then anything could
have been possible as Kimi is a great driver.
Romain was unlucky to finish ninth in China as he drove a good race but, when you are in traffic, you don't always get the result that you deserve. It was a hard race for him, but he did well when we they got to Bahrain.
Already this season, I think we've shown what we can do well as a team when we put a driver in a good position in qualifying. If the team can give Kimi or Romain a car that will allow them to qualify at the front of the field, they can deliver a strong result.
With that in mind, we were all a bit disappointed in Bahrain when Kimi could only qualify in ninth place and Romain was in eleventh as that wasn't the position we expected to be in at all. The race however was a different matter...
We recovered from qualifying in a fantastic way, and the car was unbelievably quick on race day. Kimi was on a two-stop strategy and it was the right call to make as it allowed him to come through to finish second, but the fact that Romain was able to make three stops and join him on the podium was a sign of how strong the E21 was.
Could they have finished higher if we'd qualified better? Like I said about Kimi's start in China, it is hard to know. There were times in Bahrain when Sebastian Vettel looked unbeatable but, at the same time, Kimi is a great champion and, if he'd been on the front two rows of the grid, then there is no doubt he would have been able to push Vettel all the way, especially at the end of the race when his pace was really strong. When you have a driver like Kimi in the team and he has a car as good as the E21, then it is always possible.
For Romain, the podium finish will come as a big confidence boost for him after a more difficult start to the season. He has driven well this year and has been scoring points, but in the first three races of the year, he just hadn't been in the top three or four. The team was confident that he could deliver a result in Bahrain and, even after qualifying, he was able to have a good race with a strong car under him and he delivered the result.
I'm confident that he will be a lot closer to Kimi for the rest of the year and is going to score a lot of good points for the team. In Bahrain, he drove a perfect race, did some good overtakes and had strong pace which makes me sure that there will be more results like Bahrain to follow for him. It's important for a driver to have a lot of confidence to fight at the front of the field against drivers like Vettel and Alonso, and the podium finish is good for Romain as it gave him that boost.
The double podium means that we'll go back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix second in the championship, which shows that we are one of the top teams at the moment, and it was great to see both drivers on the podium in Bahrain. Of course, it would be nice if one of them had been on the top step, but we have one win already and have started the season strongly. We just hope that we can continue our run of form when racing resumes in Barcelona.
Qualifying is going to be key there and, like I've said, if we can put Kimi on the front two rows, then we can expect everything from him as I feel he has the best race pace so far this season. Romain can also challenge right at the front if we give him a car to qualify well.
These next few races are important as they are the first ones in Europe and people are bringing in new parts, so we will see where we stand compared to the other teams, but we are looking forward in a positive way.
We'll be bringing some updates to Barcelona ourselves, but I can't tell you what they are as I don't think the team would be happy if I gave our rivals the chance to find out what we have planned! Let's just say that we are working hard to improve a car that is already very good and we'll see if the hard work pays off when we arrive in Spain.
Personally, I've been doing work on the simulator to try out different things and have also done some aero tests in the car to see how certain things are working, so it'll be interesting to see how we now perform when we get to Barcelona.
We expect to be challenging for the podium again there and I think that is more than a realistic goal for us. However, it is important that we work hard and don't get complacent as it is very easy in F1 to make a mistake that can cost you a lot or you can have a technical problem like Alonso had in Bahrain with his DRS. Luckily, we haven't suffered with any mechanical issues so far this season and we hope that that continues.
So far this season, we've seen four good races with a lot of battles on track and three different winners in Kimi, Fernando and Sebastian. It is enjoyable for me to see these battles close up and my dream is to join them on track as soon as possible and I am working hard to make that dream a reality.
I'm doing the best that I can to help the team to improve, and to improve myself as a driver so that when the opportunity comes along, I am able to race with those guys and show that I'm worthy of my place in F1.
With that, it's back to work.
Until next time,Davide Valsecchi
To keep tabs on the Lotus F1 Team's progress in 2013, simply follow this link: www.lotusf1team.com