Poor tyre choice hampers American on a damp Chinese track
Scott Speed wanted rainy conditions for the Chinese Grand Prix and he got them. In fact it rained long enough for Speed to qualify 11th, his best starting spot in his debut season, and for him to run as high as eighth in the race. He ended up placing 14th.
With no testing duties between the races in Italy and China, Speed enjoyed some time off at his base in Austria. I did a lot of training and am feeling really good, he said, after arriving in Shanghai.
Speed won a Formula Renault race, held in conjunction with the Chinese Grand Prix, in 2004 at the Shanghai International Circuit. But he found things to be very different in his Toro Rosso.
I drove this track two years ago in Formula Renault, said the Californian native, after Friday practice. But honestly today felt like my first time here as I dont remember anything, and of course it is different in a Formula One car. But the track is not hard to learn. I am not sure if I would describe it as fun to drive, but it is definitely interesting and understeery.
Rain in the afternoon hampered the team's progress. Getting through the usual Friday program was tricky today - trying to get enough running in the dry in order to analyse everything properly, he explained, after setting the 19th-fastest time. But I think we are on the right track.
Things certainly were on the right track for the American on Saturday, when, thanks to the rain, he set the fifth-fastest time in the morning practice session. That afternoon, again with a wet track, he ended up qualifying 11th to beat his previous best qualifying performance, which was 13th for the United States Grand Prix in July. Speed easily made it through the first round of qualifying. In the second session, he clipped the wall because of the slippery conditions, but he managed to get the car back to the pits.
I had a big aquaplaning moment on my first lap, he explained. Then I spun and hit the wall coming into the pits, and the guys had to push the car into the garage to check for damage, so just getting back out there was a surprise. With just a few minutes to go in the second qualifying session, the American was ninth in the times. But then Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica improved their times, and Speed dropped down to 11th.
The track was very wet but the intermediate tyres were definitely the quickest choice except that the slightest bit off line, and you were aquaplaning, Speed said. There were like two little dry tracks appearing on the surface, and you just aimed for them as you were braking. If you missed them, you did what I did and went off the track.
Speed missed the final qualifying session shootout because he was outside the top 10. Still, he was ecstatic with his outstanding performance. It is a great result for the guys in the team and a strong start position for tomorrow, he said. We always said we wanted a wet race to give us a chance, and so Id like it to rain again tomorrow.
He got his wish, and it rained on the morning of the race. With a wet track, Speed was able to combine his driving skill with the Michelin rain tyres to vault to eighth on the opening lap. The track was still damp when Speed made his first pit stop. His crew fitted a new set of intermediate rain tyres, and that proved to be a mistake. The ideal tyre for the conditions was a worn down intermediate rain tyre rather than a new one. Speed struggled for traction.
As the track dried even more, all the drivers pitted for dry weather tyres. Speed did so, as well, and after that his pace improved. But he had lost too much time earlier in the race, and so he headed for a 15th-place finish. Later, when Super Aguri's Takuma Sato was disqualified for a rules infraction, Speed ended up being classified 14th.
Speed will now head to Japan for this weekends Japanese Grand Prix. But where in Japan?
The team wants to send me to the Suzuka circuit to hang out for three days in the middle of nowhere, Speed said. I am trying to convince them that I need to go with (my team mate) Tonio (Liuzzi) to Tokyo!