Rookie diary - Caterhams Giedo van der Garde 02 Sep 2013
He may be 21st in the driver standings, but after a career-best qualifying with Caterham at last weekends 2013 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix, Giedo van der Gardes stock is definitely on the rise. In the latest instalment of our series charting the personal and professional progress of this years F1 newcomers, Van der Garde reflects on what has been an eventful - and enjoyable - first half to his debut season
The last race in Hungary before the break was definitely my strongest of the season so far and its exactly how I wanted to go into the August break. Ive been really clear all year - the first few races were a chance for me to learn as much as I could about the step up to F1, and, once Id started to find my way in the sport, then I could start to show what I could do. Beating my team mate and the guys were fighting was the main goal, and having achieved that in Hungary I am happy with the direction I am going in.
In the break I did some serious hot-weather training and for that I went down to Spain with my physio. Then I headed off to Italy for a few days with my girlfriend for a short break on the coast. It was great, really good, but then I wanted to get back to work. And the first race of the second half of the year - Spa - was immediately a quite big sensation: qualifying 14th was awesome - starting next to Sergio Perez in the McLaren! And even if it was not exactly hot, I could feel the higher level of my fitness.
Going back to the summer reflections, the other thing Im happy about is that Im basically having a really good year both in and out of the car. Sure there have been some tough times, but Ive used those to learn and improve. What Ive never done is let anything get me down - Im the same positive guy Ive always been, and I think the team likes that, likes having someone driving whos enjoying every lap. We keep growing together and its great to see what things like getting into Q2 for the second time after Monaco do for the whole team. Thats a great feeling and Im sure there will be more of that this year. (laughs)
The three highlights of 2013 so far are obviously Monaco, Spa quali and the Hungarian race. In Monaco and Spa everything just went right, and the relationship I have with the engineers meant that they trusted my instincts when asking for certain things like going out on slicks when it was still damp in Monaco. Thats a good feeling for a driver, knowing that the guys with all the data have the faith in their driver to back his call, and we delivered together. Hungary was different as that was the first race where I felt like I could push from lights out to the flag. The car felt great all afternoon and we made the right calls at the right times in the pits. Spa qualifying was one spot better even than Monaco, so after the Hungarian race it is a pretty good indication that the car, the team and me are on the rise.
On the flip side, the race in Canada was tough. I made a mistake there that I apologized for immediately and Ive made sure that I used what happened there positively so I can keep improving. We know what we need to do to make the car quicker and everyones doing what they can within the budget and resource restraints we have, but drivers always want more - more power, more grip. But, as Ive said before, were very realistic about where we are now and where the teams going in the future. This team is still halfway through its fourth season, and to just be in F1 is a big achievement in itself. For those reasons I dont envy the other drivers (just their downforce) and I and the team use it as motivation to keep fighting, this year and for years to come.
I knew very clearly where wed be racing when I came into F1, so my current position is kind of where we thought wed be. The main thing is to finish ahead of the team closest to us and we have eight races left to get back ahead of them. Last year the team did that with only a few laps left of the season, so lets see where we are after Brazil. Right now I know I have what it takes to be an F1 driver because thats exactly what I am! (laughs) Im sure big egos work for some drivers, for others its maybe something else that helps drive them. For me, sure I have a healthy ego, but I also know that if you put good things out into the world, youll get good things back. Thats really important to me and I hope its what makes me the guy I am.
Ive been around the paddock for a long time, and Ive raced a lot of the guys now in F1, and in the other series around F1 as well, so I have quite a few friends around the place. Being one of only 22 F1 drivers is really special, something Ive dreamt about forever. Its not just being one of 22, its also being one of only a few Dutch drivers ever to have raced in F1. Yes, at this time were not racing for podiums or, realistically, points, but I saw at a demo event we did in Rotterdam at the end of the August break what it means to the Dutch fans to have a local boy to cheer for. That was a special feeling - pretty humbling to be honest. Now I just have to keep learning, keep improving and take my chances when they come.
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