At last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, Alexander Rossi became the first American to take part in a Formula 1 race since Scott Speed in 2007 when he took over the No. 53 car for the Manor Marussia team. Here is his account of the weekend. -Ed.
Going into Singapore, it was all excitement. I knew that I was finally getting the opportunity to do a full grand prix weekend, which is something I have been so close so many times last year. I was going into it just on cloud nine, basically, and being able to rejoin the Manor Marussia team I’d been part of in 2014 made it even better.
The positive feelings carried over immediately as I got in the car. I also knew that I was in a good position because I had been on the Singapore track before – in 2013 in GP2 – so it wasn’t a case of learning a new car and a new track at the same time.
Stepping in past the midway point of the season could have been a stressful situation, but the whole situation was remarkably relaxed compared to what it could have been. I’ve also known my teammate Will Stevens for a while, so that was another area that made this opportunity pretty smooth to handle.
The introduction to the weekend was a bit of a blur, and then it was just about adapting to the car as quickly as possible in FP1. I was confident to push but, unfortunately, I crashed and I wasn’t very happy with myself. It was one of those things where it was such a little mistake, but because it was at the end of a run, and the tires were past their prime, and it was just one of the corners where there was zero runoff…so I hit the wall.
It really dampened what was a really positive Thursday and Friday, and personally, it put me on the back foot because it’s the last thing you want to do in your first practice session. It would’ve almost been easier if it was in FP2 or FP3 – the very first time you’re in the car, your worst nightmare is crashing.
And, you’re naturally worried about how the team will respond when you get back to the garage, but everyone was totally cool. Even the media reaction was cool, really. I was beating myself up more than anyone else, which is normal. There was no negativity. It happens. You shake it off and move on.
I was just really looking forward to getting back in the car in FP2 and putting it behind me. The team did a great job of pushing forward to get me back out. Although we missed an hour, I was able to get some laps in and at least was able to finish the session by getting a lot of laps in. By the end, we knew that our single-lap pace was more or less OK.
We didn’t have a lot of time to do a long run, which is normally what you use FP2 for. We were going into Saturday really behind because we hadn’t done a long run and we had no idea what our pace would be over a full stint in the race. Obviously, with the high temperatures and it being a street track, we were on the super-soft Pirelli tires, and tire life and performance is a critical factor. Leaving FP2, we had no idea where we were at.
Everyone was quite anxious going into Saturday, and we ended up having a really solid FP3. Our long-run pace was very good, and my confidence was sky-high going into qualifying; but because I missed so much time in FP2, I also missed the performance run we had planned as well. So all through Friday and Saturday, I was comfortable to push, but I didn’t quite know the exact limit of the car because it was a street track and the car was quite a handful at times to drive over the different surface conditions.
There’s a lot to consider: Pushing too hard and risking another crash wasn’t an option, and we didn’t have all the time we wanted because of FP1, so it was a case of making the best of the situation and trying to be smart about our remaining time.
So, all the way through Saturday, I wasn’t really maximizing everything as much as I should have. Again, that was down to me. I was very disappointed Saturday afternoon and evening for not qualifying higher than I did. I had been quicker than my teammate all through FP2 and FP3, and even the first part of qualifying and then to lose P19 on the last lap left me feeling quite upset with myself.
Anyway, I knew that our long-run pace was good for the race. That was what kept my spirits up.
Going into Sunday, the excitement I had at the beginning of the weekend returned. It didn’t hit me that I was actually going to do a Formula 1 race until Sunday because even qualifying still feels like another practice or test session. Only when I was pulling out of the garage to do the lap and take my place on the grid, I realized I was going to finally achieve the dream I’d been chasing for 13 years.
As soon as I started the formation lap, it felt like another race. The lights went out, and I went for it on the first lap and tried to pass my teammate – and was able to do that. And then from there it was just about finding my feet in terms of what our race pace was, and looking after the tires. It was all very well under control…until the radio stopped working, which made my life quite difficult.
Obviously, in F1 there’s a lot of communication from the pits to the car. It was halfway through the race when we lost all communication. I was having to make some decisions on the fly, and I was having to read messages from the team on the pit board while trying to prepare for Turn 1. It was a little bit chaotic, but I think I we were able to manage it quite well. Our pace was really good the whole two hours. I got out and I felt quite pleased with how it went, and now I’m just looking forward to doing it again this weekend in Japan.
Thinking about our race in Singapore, I think that the team was happy – in Formula 1, you know you’ve done a good job if the team is not upset. Yeah, everyone did a good job, but it wasn’t anything over-the-top because there’s still some things that could have been better and we need to improve upon for Japan. That’s how it works in Formula 1: It’s always about what could have been better, and that’s why every team is only concentrating on improvements. If you are the ones who won, you’ve still got more work to do.
My personal approach is similar, but it’s not every day where you make your Formula 1 debut, so I soaked the experience in more than I would any other race. I think the team was pleased after what was a difficult Friday, and by the fact that we ended the week on a high note with both cars at the finish and taking P14 and P15. Working with the team was seamless right from day one, and that made all the difference for me.
We’re in a bit of a race among ourselves, and whether it’s my team or Will’s crew, both sides of the garage are working hard to beat each other; it’s their own sense of pride to have one car ahead of the other.
I have a good relationship with Will, and it was quite clear that we were going to push each other on track this year, especially in qualifying. I think for the first weekend, it was a very good beginning for us representing Manor Marussia and we look to improve upon it from here. I’ll be judged against him, and he’ll be judged against me in the four races I have left.
Singapore was a great start, and we move to the legendary Suzuka circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. I’ve had a lot of support from home in America, and I’ll be pushing in Japan to extract the maximum from the car for my team and everyone who’s supported me and helped me along the way to reach Formula 1.