Despite being unable to convert his hard-earned pole position into victory at Hockenheim, Britain's Sam Bird left the opening weekend of the 2009 F3 Euroseries in confident mood, believing that he could be a factor in the title race.
As early as Friday morning, the celebfilms.co.uk
-sponsored driver stated his intent by setting the third fastest lap of the pre-event test, before going two better during the afternoon's free practice session, clocking the fastest lap of 1min 36.328secs as a warning to his international rivals.
There would be much more to come, however, as Saturday morning's qualifying session found Bird and other expected contenders taking turns at the top of the table. With less than three minutes left, and lying in third place, Bird produced a personal best in sector one and an absolute best in sector two before seeing his efforts thwarted by a slower car in the final part of the lap.
With only seconds left on the clock, however, he would get one last chance to shoot for pole and, after personal bests in sectors one and three sandwiched another 'purple' time in the middle part, he claimed the first pole of 2009, with a time of 1min 33.657secs that would not be matched all weekend.
That high would not last too long though, as Bird's opening race played itself out in the first few metres. A below-par start enabled Stefano Colletti and Roberto Mehri to edge ahead and, despite being visibly faster than either man, the Briton would spend the remainder of the race attempting, in vain, to regain his starting position.
Third place was, nevertheless, a podium finish and a solid way to start the new season with a new team, and the Mucke Motorsport pilot was confident that he could produce something as good from sixth on the reversed grid in race two the following day.
This time, Bird made an excellent start but, as he pulled alongside French title favourite Jules Bianchi to take fourth place, he found the ART driver squeezing him perilously close to the wall, forcing a lift on the approach to turn one, with the loss of crucial momentum. The moment relegated the Mucke car to seventh place and out of the points.
Once again, however, Bird was not to be denied and, showing unrivalled pace throughout the remainder of the race, he harrowed the man in front of him without ever being presented an overtaking opportunity until a three-stage attack on the penultimate lap finally paid dividends. Beginning at the Spitskehre hairpin, Bird finally regained sixth place from Atte Mustonen by the exit of turn five, securing for the last point on offer.
“It was a decent start to the season for me, with pole, a podium and points in both races” Bird reflected, “I'm obviously disappointed that I didn't win race one, because we really had the pace to do so, but that was down to my start - which wasn't the best.
“However, I want to say a big thank you to my engineer, Jörn Becker, and the whole team at Mücke Motorsport for the awesome job they did all weekend. I come away from Hockenheim with the knowledge that I now have a car with which I can really compete, so I can't wait for the next round!”