GP3 driver and Renault junior Jack Aitken checks in after a memorable first season in the Formula 1 feeder series.
Hi there WTF1ers, it’s been a full season of racing since I last wrote, and to begin the cliches, what a season it was.
Those in the know (virtual high five) will already be aware that I raced in GP3 this year, but what even they may not have known is that this was possibly the most talented grid of young drivers in recent history. No fewer than 8 drivers, were part of an F1 Junior program. 12 of the field had already won a Championship in cars, and a further 3 were World Champions of karting. Only a single driver had not won a race before the start of the season. He did the first round, then dropped out. So this was no average field of young racers, there will be drivers who go onto F1 from here, make no mistake.
Having just come off the back of my strongest year ever, being picked up by Renault F1 for their junior program, and not being that one driver to have not won a race in the series, I was feeling positive at the start of the season. That meant I was seriously looking to win against the odds. When you are surrounded by the best, you learn, and learn I did.
The season actually begins with Pre-Season testing, a chance for teams, cars and drivers to familiarise themselves with each other, and start preparing for the battle to come. Now there’s no other way of putting this; testing was a disaster for me. I was moving up from Formula Renault, a relatively big jump compared to some in the field, and my driving style may well have formed the marriage from hell with my new GP3 steed. We toiled to find answers as the first race approached, including an overhaul of my natural style, but time was not our friend. Soon it was time to race, ready or not.
As we lined up to start our year, we felt, not quite ready, but at least up for the fight. However, clutch problems caused a stall, and just like that our first round was over. Talk about an anti-climax… Unfortunately, the next few rounds proved difficult as well. A mix of my own errors and bad luck crippled our championship hopes before they’d even had the chance to begin, with an 85 point gap to 1st after four rounds. Although I’d managed to turn around a similar gap to my first major championship win last year, that was different for a few reasons. Firstly, the competition simply wasn’t as intense as here, and secondly, I was not a rookie as I am now. So a quick re-calibration of goals was in order, and knowing we were getting on top of our issues slowly but surely, we buckled up for the second half.
I do like a good comeback anyway. It started in Hockenheim, specifically Race 2 at Hockenheim. In Race 1 I finished a decent 6th, but was falling back at the end due to tyre wear. We spent all night looking at it (not an uncommon occurrence for us at this stage it has to be said), and well, I learned. Race 2 was a different story altogether. After taking it easy early on, I began my charge and quickly found my tyres in far better shape than others. I overtook people watching them flail at the wheel, desperately trying to grind some speed out of their cars, much like myself yesterday, whilst I floated by. It was surreal. I’d never been in a race like it before, and soon found myself up to 2nd, where I finished. First podium of the year, and like that we were on a roll.
In the next 8 races I finished on the podium another 6 times, and won. That came at Spa, where for the first time in my life Eau Rouge wasn’t flat, it was a proper challenge. Awesome. Add to that racing in front of a packed crowd of Aitke- I mean Verstappen fans, making it pretty special. Another cool moment was racing in the heat of Malaysia for the first time, coughnotsocoolcough… It’s well known that Malaysia is one of the toughest races on the calendar due to the extremely high humidity and heat. Even having spent months training and going out a week early to acclimatise, that first race was definitely one of the hardest of my life. You start sweating before you even turn a wheel, and it only gets worse from there, the laps accumulating heat in your body, your helmet, those long corners seemingly lasting forever, all made worse if you have someone chasing you down as I did! The massive flight of stairs up to the podium afterwards were worth it. Just.
The final story of the year came at Abu Dhabi, where I was too far from the leaders in the championship table to be fighting for the win, but I somehow managed to have an impact on the title fight anyway! Fighting for the lead in Race 1 with Albon, I went for a move and as he tried to hang on to the position his car went airborne over a kerb, and nearly landed on me. If you look closely at the slow-mo, you can almost see me having a “dafuq?” moment as the underside of his car obscures my view of the racing line.
So as you can see, although not as successful as I may have hoped, my season certainly still had its highlights, and like I said before, I learnt a lot. Even if in some ways I was disappointed, being in such a strong series this year is surely better than winning something that means less. I can walk away knowing I’m better than some of the best around in Junior motorsport, and as for the guys who finished ahead, I know I can beat them if I work on certain things, or even if things just fell slightly differently. Also, to top it off, I got to wear a bright yellow suit that looks like a peeled banana when I take the top bit off, that was sick.
Stay tuned for my plans for next season (you don’t actually have to don’t worry) (plsdo), and have a great Christmas and New Year!