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A strong start

12 April 2013

In Davide Valsecchi's second exclusive column on Crash.net, the Lotus F1 Team third driver and 2012 GP2 Series champion looks back at the opening two rounds of the 2013 season - with Kimi Raikkonen already on top of the podium and Romain Grosjean also enjoying a solid start to the new campaign...

Hi all,

I'm speaking to you from the paddock in Shanghai ahead of the third round of the F1 season, and it's been a good start to the year for us at Lotus.

Things have been positive so far and after the opening two races, we are already in a strong position in the championship standings. This weekend we have the Chinese Grand Prix and then a week afterwards we go to Bahrain, and it looks like both could be good races for us. There is a lot of confidence that we'll be able to deliver a strong result in both races, and we need to wait and see if we can get the results that we deserve.

The season started for us in difficult conditions in Australia where qualifying for the first race had to be delayed until race day because of the rain. I've encountered those kind of conditions myself while racing in GP2 and there were times when it got so bad that the organisers and the FIA would step in and end the session. Spa in particular is a circuit where it could happen quite often.

From a drivers point of view, it can be quite enjoyable to drive in the wet when you are alone on the circuit, but when you have a field of cars together, there is always the chance of an incident happening and for that reason, it was the correct decision to put qualifying off until the following day.

When it does rain heavily, visibility if the first big issue when you are following another car but there is also the issue of aquaplaning. When visibility is low, you can't always see the standing water on the circuit and may not be prepared for it. You could suddenly find yourself spinning on a straight with other cars passing by you, and in those conditions, it is better to stop for the safety of everyone involved.

The race was obviously a fantastic one for the team, but if I'm being honest, there was a lot of excitement inside the garage all through the Melbourne weekend. Going into the event, there were a lot of questions, as we didn't know how competitive we would be and didn't know how the car would perform compared to our rivals.

Not long after the race started, we realised that it could turn out to be a great one for us. The team made a good call on the strategy and we were lucky that we had a driver like Kimi who could make the most of that strategy to take the victory.

It was a great result for the team as they had worked hard over winter testing to produce a quick car, although we also had some reliability problems during the off-season. By the first race, the team delivered a car that was quick, that was reliable and that allowed us to get the victory – and which also allowed us to challenge for points in Malaysia.

The main problem for us in Malaysia is that we suffered with the conditions in qualifying and then at the start of the race. Kimi's grid penalty didn't help and made it more complicated, and the damp conditions for the opening laps also weren't good for us. However, Kimi and Romain did a great job in the race and sixth and seventh meant we picked up more good points for the team.

The early stages of the race at Sepang were interesting because of the conditions and because drivers had to make the right call on when to change their tyres. Sometimes when it is like that, you'll find that the engineers don't want to make the decision and they'll keep asking the driver 'Do you think it's time for slicks?' because no-one wants to make the wrong call and change tyres at the wrong time!

It can be difficult, but we made the right call at the right time. As a driver, you have to look for a dry line appearing and if your lap times are close to what they would be on the slick tyres, then you know it's getting to the point where you should change.

After Malaysia, and even now here in the paddock in China, there have been a lot of discussions about team orders because of what happened towards the end of the race at Sepang.

When people ask me what I think about team orders, it is a difficult question to answer, because as a driver, you always want to win a race and achieve the best result that is possible. If you look at the Malaysian race, the drivers had been racing in very hot conditions trying to get the maximum result possible and were then told to hold position when they were close to a victory, which is difficult to stomach.

However, you have to remember that the team is bigger than you are, and sometimes you have to hold the line and do what you are told. At the end of the day, it is the team that gives you the work and you have to follow instructions.

Also in Malaysia, my former GP2 rival Jules Bianchi had another good race and is getting a lot of plaudits for his performances. He is doing a great job and congratulations to him for what he has achieved so far.

I wouldn't say I'm happy to see him doing so well, because what will make me happy is to show that I deserve to be racing in F1 and to be racing myself, but I am proud of what I achieved in GP2 when you look at the level of competition there has been in recent years and look at the drivers who have then gone on to F1.

The next crop of GP2 racers started their season in Malaysia and going into the first rounds, I was tipping Fabio Leimer as the man I thought would be champion this season. However, I have to admit that I was impressed by Stefano Coletti at Sepang.

He is a good driver but maybe he wasn't strong enough in the head until now. He has improved a lot and I think he can now fight for the championship – he certainly impressed me the most in Malaysia.

Back to the job at hand however and we are now getting ready for this weekend in China. As I said earlier, we are confident about our chances and we showed last year that we can be competitive in Shanghai as Kimi was running second towards the end of the race before his tyres went away.

I think it's realistic to think that Kimi and Romain can both fight for a place in the top five and when you get into that position, you are in a position where you can fight for victory – you just never know.

Davide Valsecchi


To keep tabs on the Lotus F1 Team's progress in 2013, simply follow this link: www.lotusf1team.com


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