It would be impossible to have a better start to a season than to take maximum points from the race and that’s exactly what Fernando and I managed in Bahrain. I had waited so many months for this first race, but I was excited rather than nervous about sitting on an F1 start grid for the first time since last year’s German GP. I never had any doubt about my condition, because everything I did felt exactly the same as it did before my accident. When I was fitness training, it was all going in the right direction and all the activities I did in normal life were as before. All I had in mind was to do a good job for everyone, to get a good start for the season, not to do anything silly. It’s always important to go well on the first race weekend, but in my case it was even more important, because if I had made a mistake, some people would have immediately said, “you see, he is not the same as before.” That would not have been nice because even if I had made a mistake, it was not going to be connected to my accident at all. Anyway, as it turned out, the first race weekend went very well for me and for the team: that was down to the fact we have a good car and the team did a perfect job over the weekend in Bahrain.
The only problem I had was the engine running hot during Sunday’s race. We had to manage the situation as best we could, which meant I had to run a richer fuel mixture for around thirty laps, which therefore increased consumption. As a consequence, I had to try and save fuel, changing my driving style in some areas. Now the team is working flat out to make sure this problem does not reoccur in other situations.
The Bahrain weekend confirmed what we knew from February testing, namely that there are four teams at the front, Red Bull, us, McLaren and Mercedes. We were pretty happy with our car and we did a good job in qualifying, even if Red Bull took pole, going slightly quicker. In the race, the Red Bull maybe had a slight edge on the softer tyre and we had the advantage on the harder one. In testing, the Red Bull might not have been the quickest car in terms of lap times in winter testing, but I had noticed their pace over the longer runs had been very strong, so its speed in Bahrain qualifying was not a surprise. Overall, we were very similar and that reinforces the need to try and improve our car at every race through the season. It is a very close competition between us so this development work will be more important than ever.
The race weekend threw up some interesting lessons and I would say we learned a lot about the tyres for example. There turned out to be a big difference between the two types we ran in Bahrain qualifying and also in the race, the hard was much better than the soft for us. We need to bring this knowledge to the next race, because we must work to understand the different levels of tyre degradation from one track to another. It is a factor that can affect race strategy in terms of choosing the right time to stop, or what tyre to use for which part of qualifying.
I have seen in the media some criticism that maybe the tyre rules and lack of refuelling made the Grand Prix boring to watch for the spectators, but I think it is too early to comment after just one race. However, it is true that the situation at the start of the race is that we are six to seven seconds slower than in qualifying. Running on very low fuel to get a good grid position, you have a massive amount of grip, but then, on Sunday, you have a very heavy car with absolutely no grip in the early laps. Added to this, if you are following someone closely, trying to overtake, you lose more aerodynamic downforce, so these two factors combined mean it is even harder to overtake.
On Sunday night, I flew home to Brazil to see my wife and son, because now that we are a family, it is harder for my wife to come with me to the races. It will be easier to have more time together after the Malaysian Grand Prix, as we will move back to Monaco for most of the season after then. I leave for Melbourne on Sunday, which is a very long flight, so arriving early on Tuesday means I have plenty of time to adapt to the different time zone and prepare for what I hope will be another successful race weekend.