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We just didn't cut the mustard in Dijon...

19 October 2009

In his latest exclusive column for Crash.net, Mücke Motorsport F3 Euroseries star Alexander Sims reflects on a trying weekend in France that saw him once again demonstrate impressive pace, only for a 'rookie' error to cost him victory in race two. Heading towards the season finale at Hockenheim, though, he remains adamant that all is very much still to play for...

What a tough weekend's racing at Dijon, though it could definitely have been worse – and considering our position after qualifying, we did well to salvage some points.

It all started with an incredibly busy week beforehand, which wasn't ideal. I had a huge number of meetings, and was constantly rushing around getting things sorted in time for going away to Dijon. In hindsight it was too much, and I have learned from it.

I had to get up at 4:45am to go for my flight from Heathrow; the day of travelling wasn't a problem – it just took a while. I got to the track around 4.30pm, so eleven hours after leaving home, and waited for my engineer Michi to arrive. When he did, we walked the track and did the usual things. I was pretty tired, though, and so went back at a reasonable time to get some sleep.

On Friday I was clearly still drained from the hectic week leading up to the race, and in all honesty wasn't performing to my best. I wasn't completely confident in the wet and struggled for pace. It dried out slowly, though, and with slicks on I managed to do a decent job and ended the test session sixth – but it was clear that I could have gone faster in places, so I made a mental note of that for qualifying.

During the qualifying session I managed the traffic the best I had done all year – both runs were completely clear for my three fast laps. The problem was, I was just slow! I kept trying to improve, but ended up going slower; therefore I would revert back to how I had been doing it and tried to draw as much time as I could out of it.

It was a really poor result, though; I was 15th-fastest. I had no excuse, as the car felt good and there was no issue with traffic. After looking through the data, it was disappointing news; I was particularly slow in the two corners that led onto the longest straights. I would lose a bit through the corner, but with the long straight afterwards I lost a tenth-and-a-half overall on each of them. The times were close and two tenths would have put me eighth, but there was no point in dwelling on that. I didn't do a good job and had to work out why. Looking at it now, I think my preparation was not as good as for the other races, and that was a big factor in why we had a poor weekend.

After qualifying, I knew we would need a good race to get into the points positions, and thankfully that happened on Saturday. I had a reasonable start and made up a couple of places, and then over the course of the race I overtook a few cars, some drivers got drive-through penalties and others crashed out. I ended up eighth, which then put me in a completely different position for starting Sunday's race due to the reverse-grid rule.

A few of my friends had made the trip to come and watch, so it was great for them as well that I was on pole for Sunday's race. I didn't get a great start, though, getting wheelspin and losing traction. My team-mate Sam Bird pulled alongside me, but I had covered the inside line so it was still my corner. I braked at the right point and Sam didn't, which enabled me to keep the lead on the exit of turn one. There was mayhem happening behind me, though, and this brought out the safety car.

Numerous cars were stricken across the track and gravel traps, and the race had to be red-flagged. We sat on the grid waiting for the mess to be cleared up, and after ten minutes we were going again. With a safety car re-start I had to bunch the field up and get a good break. I did this well, and went over the line with a large gap behind me. This was important, as at Dijon there is a very long straight, so slipstreaming and overtaking are very possible when the car behind is close enough. Sam wasn't, though, so I kept the lead and got on with the job.

For many laps things were going well and our pace was good, but then into the second-to-last corner on lap 13 I turned in a metre or two late and ran slightly wide on the damp track. That meant Jules Bianchi who was behind me was close enough to slipstream and comfortably overtake me. This spelt disaster, as I then struggled to adjust initially to the 'dirty air' effect and understeer you get when lapping behind others, and made two further mistakes whilst pushing on the damp track. I dropped down to fifth, and then held position until the end, though I gained a spot to fourth when Sam was later penalised. This was bitterly disappointing, as I had the pace to win when I was out in front. One small mistake transformed my race for the worse. This was a heavy price to pay, as on most other circuits it would have been possible to get away with it, but it was my own doing so I could not complain.

I got an unimpressive four points from the weekend, which normally would have been bad news for my bid for third in the championship. This time, though, I got away with it, as Valtteri Bottas who I am fighting for third had an even worse weekend and failed to score any points at all. We are therefore equal on points heading into the final round at Hockenheim this coming weekend.

I lost a real opportunity in Sunday's race and I'm sorry for the team, who once again put in an amazing effort all weekend long. All-in-all I know we should have come away with a win, but I'll learn from my mistakes and I'm totally focused on winning the rookie title in Germany and locking down third place in the championship battle.

Looking at the positives, we go into the final round with it all to play for, which is excellent. I know we are extremely strong at Hockenheim, and I am supremely confident we can end the season on a high.

I'll keep you posted...

Alexander

To follow Alexander's racing activities throughout the year, please visit: http://www.alexandersims.com/


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