The first round of the F3 Euroseries did not prove kind to the newcomers in the ART Grand Prix camp, with only established F3 runner - and pre-season favourite - Jules Bianchi racking up any points at Hockenheim.
Of the three other, rookie, drivers signed for 2009, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Adrien Tambay all endured varying fortunes. Each proved to be fast and well integrated into the team, but found fate conspiring against them when it came to breaking into the points. That said, however, it does not mean that lessons have not been learned for future rounds.
Fifth in qualifying for race one, Bianchi crossed the finish line in the same position at the end of a race where his wisdom and patience were rewarded. The following day, from fourth on the grid and with a car adapted better to his driving style and track conditions, he was able to mix it with his rivals and fight his way up to a first podium of the season. The eight points secured at Hockenheim leaves him fourth overall in the drivers' classification, just four points behind the leader.
“Fifth place in qualifying was not the one we were hoping for but, with changing conditions, we have to take it and go on," he noted, "[Mika] Mäki overtook me at the start and I couldn't try and make up for the lost ground because I was missing half a second in pure performance.
"We worked hard with the engineers and the car was much more efficient the day after. I could push hard and overtake several cars and climb my way up to P3, even though my car was not that well-balanced after [Robert] Wickens destroyed my diffuser in an optimistic manoeuvre. Our set-up was not always ideal, but I'm confident for the coming races because we have great potential.”
For ART's three rookies, however, the weekend proved to be more chaotic. Bottas qualified in the top ten, but his first race lasted just one lap as he stalled on the formation lap. Having not been pushed back into the pits as the regulations stipulate, he took the start of the race normally, he was later black-flagged. With the reversed grid system, the Finn then started 28th on Sunday and could only hope to gather more experience and see the chequered flag - which he did from 16th place.
“That definitely was not the best way to start the championship!" the FRenault graduate commented, "ART has a tradition at Hockenheim and I have mine for the season opener - I was on pole last year in Formula Renault, and I stalled on the grid!
"Joke aside, I wanted to do a practice start but released the clutch too fast and the engine died. I did not understand what the marshals did because they did not push me into the pits like they were supposed to do, so I engaged first gear and rejoined the pack. Then I heard I was black-flagged...
"In race two, I destroyed my nose at the first corner because there was nowhere to go and I could not avoid somebody really slow. But I kept going, I was alone and my race pace was interesting. I won't lose my confidence from one bad race weekend, as I will learn and won't make the same mistakes. This is car racing, sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, I just hope I won't have too many bad ones.”