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Bianchi looks to bounce back at Silverstone

7 July 2011

If there's a big surprise in this year's competitive GP2 championship, it's the poor showing of Lotus ART's Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari test and reserve driver who arrived on the scene with high expectations.

He finished in third place in the championship in 2010 and then pressed Romain Grosjean hard for the GP2 Asia title at the start of 2011, taking his first GP2-level win with victory in the season opener Abu Dhabi feature race.

Unfortunately for the 21-year-old Frenchman, his GP2 Asia campaign was frustrated when the series was curtailed because of the political unrest in Bahrain that saw the series come to a premature conclusion at the hastily arranged round at Imola: Bianchi's chances of still stealing the title ended when he retired early in the sprint race, and Grosjean duly went on to take the crown.

Still, it all seemed like good preparation for Bianchi going into the 2011 GP2 main series, and sure enough it started well with third place in the feature race at Istanbul Park, Turkey behind Grosjean and Sam Bird. However, contact with Grosjean at the start of the sprint race saw Bianchi spin, and by the end of the race he could only recover to seventh place - out of the points.

Bianchi would manage to finish in the points at the next feature race at Barcelona despite a 10-place penalty for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying, but that was the last time he has scored in the GP2 season. A starting-grid crash with Giedo van der Garde in the Spanish sprint race earned him another grid penalty for the next weekend at Monaco, where a gearbox problem saw him once again end the race in contact with van der Garde, and then a rash move on the opening lap in Valencia saw him make contact with Marcus Ericsson - for which he received a penalty for the following day's sprint race.

Bianchi now urgently needs to get his season moving again with some solid performances, although the question is whether to continue going all-out for wins - which has arguably been the cause of many of his turbulent weekends so far in 2011 - or whether just to regroup, build confidence and focus on picking up a solid number of points.

In one respect, going for the conservative points-centric approach appears a waste of time - he's already 26pts off Romain Grosjean, who leads by one point from van der Garde after four rounds, with five to go including this weekend's season mid-point at Silverstone. But some solid results and podium positions would at least restore his reputation, which is beginning to see some experts wonder if Bianchi simply has what it takes to compete at the top level of motorsport - which could have ramifications for his Ferrari role.

"My position in the first part of the championship has been compromised by several errors on my part," admitted Bianchi in a Ferrari press release this week. "Mishaps and the unexpected aside, things have always gone very well. This has pretty much compromised my expectations for the championship."

However, Bianchi insisted that it was far from a case of all being lost, and that he was determined to come through the disappointments of the first half of the season.

"I'm not beating myself up over it," he said. "On the contrary, with a clear mind, I want to start winning as soon as possible.”

The fight-back starts with this weekend's round at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone, and Bianchi says that "It's a track I liked right from the start," adding: "The sequence of fast corners is demanding but gives you a great feeling."

However, Bianchi points out that "The only downside of the English track is that's it's difficult to pull off an overtaking move. The corners are very high speed and so, following a car closely produces a significant loss of aerodynamic downforce. That makes the car harder to control and increases tyre wear."

Pirelli have already said that their selection of a medium tyre compound for Silverstone is "a daring decision" designed to "spice-up the action" as it means tyre wear will be an even greater factor over the race distance. Cars and drivers that can look after their tyres will be in a good position to take advantage of less forward-thinking drivers who will struggle as the races progress and may end up off the track as they reach the limits of the rubber's grip.

Bianchi will at least be helped by the 10-place grid penalty handed to his compatriot and close rival Romain Grosjean for the Silverstone feature race, following Grosjean's own crash at the start of the sprint race in Valencia.

And Bianchi knows that he has a fast race car underneath him from Lotus ART, after his young team mate Esteban Gutierrez went on to dominate the Valencia sprint race and claim his first GP2 victory.

"As far as the driver and the team are concerned, there are no problems in terms of performance," he said confidently.

"Unfortunately, the first part of the championship was packed with lots of negatives," Bianchi admitted last month. "I made mistakes, then there was some bad luck and there were times when the team was also unable to reach its objectives. We have used this long break to go over the situation in detail, me and the ART team people together. I spent a lot of time with them trying to understand what went wrong and how to fix it."

This weekend will be the proof of whether the lessons have been learned and whether Bianchi's luck is finally turning. Silverstone hosts a 30-minute practice session from 10.55am, with qualifying in the afternoon from 2.55pm.

The feature race takes place after F1 qualifying on Saturday afternoon at 2.40pm and will be held over 29 laps of the newly-configured venue. The sprint race will run for 14 laps on Sunday from 9.30am.


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