I admit the Australian GP was less action-packed and had been criticised for many aspects including the starting grid with only 15 drivers. Critics are part of our sport for a very long time and have the ability to overshadow the positives out of, let’s say, anything. What if the Lotus drivers didn’t have an early demise to their respective races and what if Raikkonen didn’t have to stop in the closing stages? It would’ve got a lot interesting wasn’t it?
Well it didn’t happen and it’s part of the DNA of racing. Rather than being cynical let’s stick with the positives that came out of Melbourne and look ahead. That’s the outstanding performance of the rookies – Felipe Nasr, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Here we focus on the 22 year old Brazilian who turned his team’s fortunes around.
The Brazilian is regarded by many as a “pay driver” who bought his way into the sport. He believes after this strong performance in Australia he doesn’t deserve to be called such way. He said,
“I don’t know where this pay driver thing came from because I’ve always had people investing in my career, my family never had the money to do it. What’s the difference between being supported by Red Bull paying for your drive, and having sponsors that want to be with you?I don’t see where people get this impression that I’m a pay driver”
I would like to agree with what he had said there! If you’re so keen following his career you would notice that his climb up through the rankings was nothing short of impressive.
The former Formula BMW Europe champion finished in top two 14 times out of 16 races to claim the title from Daniel Juncadella by a massive margin of 104 points in 2009. Having backed by BMW the Brazilian driver was set to test drive for Sauber but unfortunately it was ill-timed as the German giant withdrew its F1 operations at the end of that year.
But two years later, like his idol the late great Ayrton Senna, driving for Carlin Motorsport the feisty Brazilian was crowned British F3 champion beating team-mate Kevin Magnussen by a mammoth margin of 123 points and earned his way into Daytona 24 Hours race finishing second in his class for Michael Shank Racing.
Having made a slow start to his GP2 career, it took him until 2014 to register first win at the sprint race in Barcelona. With three more victories followed he fought hard with the eventual champion and current Lotus reserve Jolyon Palmer for the title but could only finish third in the end. He was promoted to reserve role with Williams in 2014 and drove in five practice sessions before making the giant leap with Sauber.
The revitalised Swiss team endured huge success in pre-season tests as Nasr acclimatised himself in the cockpit. First he finished the first pre-season test in Jerez with the fastest time and then he topped the second day of final test and completed the last day with an astonishing 159 laps.
Marred by the legal tussle with Giedo Van Der Garde both Sauber drivers, Nasr and Ericsson, sat out the whole of first practice session. In FP2 and FP3 the Brazilian languished in the middle while clocking in more mileage. He missed out Q3 by a narrow margin to Pastor Maldonado but made it count when it really mattered in the race.
With only a pat at the wheel Nasr was lucky to not get heavily damaged and made quick grounds to move up to fifth when Maldonado brought out the safety car in the opening lap.He had a very good restart overtaking one of the Toro Rosso cars and then found clear track in front of him.
Capitalising his position up front the Brazilian was able to respond to the cars behind him as he had a clear track ahead. He managed to preserve his tyres for good and was cautious not to lose big lap times as he pitted with the lead pack and worked out his strategy well. The final stint on the primes was consistent too.
He kept a cool head throughout the race and fended off the challenge from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo twice to become the first Brazilian to finish as high as fifth on debut. He along with Ericsson’s 8th place finish gave Sauber a much welcomed 14 points after a dismal start to the weekend and a season without scoring any points.
The ecstatic Felipe Nasrwas quoted as saying after the race:
“I am very happy with fifth position in my first ever Formula One race. It is such a big relief for the team and myself that we are able to score points, and I am very pleased about this achievement. It was a tough race. Right after the start it was quite messy in turn 1, as another driver hit my wheel. I thought the car was damaged a bit, but after a few laps I noticed everything was fine. After that, the race went according to plan. There was pressure from behind during the whole race, which was not easy. That was an emotional race for me and everyone in the team.” – Suren Dhar