American's emotions run high after Albert Park thriller
A mixture of agony and ecstasy best sums up Scott Speed's Melbourne weekend with Toro Rosso. Speed grabbed eighth place in the final seconds of the race after Jenson Buttons retirement. It handed the delighted American his first world championship point in only his third Grand Prix start. Unfortunately for Speed, however, officials later penalized him for passing Red Bulls David Coulthard in a yellow-flag zone and demoted him to ninth place.
While it was a disappointing change of events for Speed, few could argue that he still drove an outstanding race, avoiding any trouble to earn his best finish yet in his rookie Formula One season.
After the previous Grand Prix, in Malaysia, Speed, team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi and other members of the Toro Rosso team headed straight for Australia.
We were planning on going to Cairns, Speed said, but there was a typhoon there in the last weeks, so we went to Surfers Paradise. Training was the main objective. I did a lot of cycling and a few days in the weight room. We also relaxed, did some surfing and tennis. It was the first time I had ever tried surfing, and it was a lot of fun. It was weird because I was better on the first day of surfing than the second one.
Speed had never seen the Albert Park track that plays host to the Australian Grand Prix, but he had driven many laps on it with computer games before he got there. At the end of Fridays first day of practice, the Californian was 17th quickest from 28 drivers.
The out lap felt intimidating as it was very slippery out there, he said. Then, after I saw (Toro Rosso third driver) Neel (Jani) go off, I thought Oh, man, this looks like a recipe for disaster. So at first it was difficult to push hard enough to keep the temperature in the tyres. So that was intense.
Qualifying on Saturday did not go as well as Speed had hoped. He set a lap time quick enough to make it through the first round of eliminations, but crossed the start-finish line just after the session had ended. He lined up 18th for the race.
I had a good start to the session even if as expected it was tough to warm up the tyres, he said. The second run was better still until I lost the car in Turn 14. Were not sure exactly what caused that; maybe it was down to the tyre pressures we were running. Up to that point, I was on a lap that would have easily been good enough for 13th or 14th place. My final lap was also good enough for 14th, but I did it crossing the red light.
Sundays race was an incident-packed affair, but Speed managed to avoid the accidents, spins and debris that caused other drivers to retire. In the closing stages of the race, he was in ninth place and fending off challenges from Coulthard. Speed was heading for his first top-10 Formula One finish.
At the time we were ninth, he said, and I was just thinking: Get a top 10, stay in front of David, just be smooth.
As the pair entered the finally corner, they encountered a massive cloud of smoke from the blown engine of Buttons Honda. Buttons retirement just yards from the finish line elevated Speed to eighth and Coulthard to ninth.
I came out of the corner with David right behind me, Speed said, and I saw a big cloud of smoke. I kept going flat out. There was oil on the track, and I got into a big slide but I was able to finish the race ahead of David. And the team told me I was eighth!
The Toro Rosso crew and Speed were ecstatic. He had scored the first point of his Formula One career and the first point for the Red Bull-owned team.
It is a dream come true! Speed said after climbing out of his car. The most emotional experience of my life was when I came into the impound area and my whole team was on the fence cheering like I won the race. The whole team went crazy. It was like a victory. I worked very hard to get into the position.
But then came the agony of defeat. Race stewards determined that Speed had passed Coulthard when the yellow flags were waving for an accident by Liuzzi. They levied a 25-second penalty to Speeds overall race time, and that dropped him to 11th, handing his point to Coulthard. Speed was, perhaps understandably, emotional - stewards also fined him US$5,000 for using abusive language toward another competitor during the post-race hearing.
It was a surreal day, to say the least, Speed said. This post-race incident will only increase our drive and focus to be serious point contenders during the remainder of the season.
Speed, Toro Rosso and the rest of the Formula One teams now look forward to the first race of the European season, the San Marino Grand Prix on April 23.