9 April 2016
Celis targets race readiness for 2017
Force India reserve Alfonso Celis Jr has set his sights on being ready to secure a F1 race seat next season, but admits that there is a lot of work to do in the meantime...
Despite his limited racing - and F1 - experience, Force India development driver Alfonso Celis Jr has set himself the goal of being able to step into a race seat next season.
The Mexican joined Vijay Mallya's team alongside countryman Sergio Perez and Germany's Nico Hulkenberg over the winter, raising a few eyebrows after a relatively low-key background in Formula Renault and GP3 but clearly putting additional focus on the team following the return of the Mexican Grand Prix to the 2015 F1 schedule. The youngster caused another stir by lapping in the top half of the times during pre-season testing in Barcelona, but admits that means little despite his ambition to secure a full-time ride in the top flight.
"[Testing] went well, I was in the top five on the first and second day," he confirmed, "but it is my first year in F1 so I have a lot to learn. I have to be patient and improve each time I get in the car so that, by the end of the year, I can see an improvement."
Celis returned to the cockpit in Bahrain last week, taking over Perez's car for FP1, but struggled to move himself off the bottom of the timesheets after a moment in turn four.
"I was on the used tyre and pushing a bit," he explained, "I could feel the rear a bit degraded, so [there was] some snap oversteer, but it was controlled. I was used to Barcelona where it was very grippy, in comparison the [Bahrain] track was green. It is just easier to reach the limit of the grip. You have be a bit more careful, [and] that was the determining factor that made me step it down a bit. It is important for my experience to complete the session and the run plan [but] it is also a bit important to finish the session with the car in one piece. It made me think to bring it a step back to keep the car in one piece."
Despite not feeling able to push throughout the 90-minute session, Celis felt that he had made another important contribution to the team's development of the VJM09.
"I would say it went well but, in first free practice, the track is busy," he reflected, "Compared [to testing], it is double the cars so it is important to be aware of traffic - there is a lot to play with and more factors for me.
"We had a lot of new pieces, so aero parts needed to be with a lot of switches at the beginning of the run and, at the end, I could push a couple of laps. I left some margin, but I even improved on the used tyre. It is positive I could help the team - I did all the switches and the data collected successfully, so that is the important part.
"I just look forward to keep improving and getting close to my team-mates. Towards the end of my free practice programme, hopefully we are quite close. For sure, my personal goal is to end the year in a place where I have shown some performance and I show I am ready to be considered as a driver for next year."
To that end, Celis insists that the financial backing he might bring to the team is not important right now.
"It is not about that," he claimed, "The team has given me opportunity and chances in the car. I have some investors that have invested in me to help bring some budget, so I could do some work [but] it is not about sponsorship, though that will be an aspect obviously. I will have to work on it for next year if I want to race, but for now I am doing what I can and showing on track why I should be in the car."
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