Ma Qing Hua went into the GP2 season opener in Malaysia with a stomach bug that only got worse as the weekend wore on in the energy-sapping gruelling hot and humid conditions at Sepang International Circuit last weekend.
"My first GP2 race was always going to be a challenge, but it was even harder as I did not feel well," the Caterham Racing driver admitted on Saturday after at least managing to finish the Saturday feature race. "I am happy to have completed the race and learnt lots about the car and circuit. I really did enjoy the racing and I know that I can find more time with experience."
Ma had started from 19th on the grid but because of his poor health he limped home dead last among those still running at the end, in 21st place a lap down off the leaders. However, just lasting a full hour in the cockpit was achievement enough in the circumstances.
The severity of Ma's condition only became clear overnight when he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, which had led to extreme dehydration in the furnace-like conditions during the race. The track medical staff subsequently declared the driver unfit to take part in Sunday's sprint race. That left Ma's team mate Sergio Canamasas alone in flying Caterham's colours on the starting grid.
"It was a tough day, especially for Ma who wanted to race and has the heart of a tiger, but sadly because of his illness he could not compete and we hope he improves quickly," said Caterham's chief engineer Humphrey Corbett. "All credit to him for completing the [feature] race without incident and gaining vital track time."
Canamasas himself wasn't in a position to make major headway on Sunday in Ma's absence, having ended the feature race in 19th position after an incident in the race left his car all but undriveable.
"Sergio made up four places off the line but was unfortunately tagged as he tried to overtake Dillmann at the last corner, bending a track rod and damaging his front wing," explained Corbett of how the feature race had gone for the 24-year-old Spaniard. ""He suffered with major understeer for the remainder of the race and at the finish the carcass of the tyre was showing. It must have been incredibly difficult to drive so credit to him for bringing the car home to the flag."
"It was pretty tough as the car was very difficult to drive with the damage but at least I finished the race," added Canamasas.
With such a lowly starting position on Sunday, 15th position was the best that he could achieve in the repaired car by the end of the Sunday sprint.