Briton Adrian Quaife-Hobbs made his long-awaited GP2 race debut in Sepang this weekend, which also marked his first appearance at the Kuala Lumpur track. After strong testing performances at the end of last year, the new BRDC Superstar headed to the opening round with high hopes of a strong performance on his first race outing with MP Motorsport.
Overcoming the extreme temperatures and humidity of Malaysia, the 22 year-old took to the track for the first time for free practice on Friday, and spent much of the session acclimatising to the circuit and his new car. Initially unhappy with the balance of the 600bhp, four-litre, V8 Mecachrome-engined Dallara, Adrian pitted to make some improvements, but was subsequently unable to capitalise on the tyres when they were at their peak.
“Practice was OK,” said Adrian. “But it’s a brand new track for me and it was important to learn the circuit. I wasn’t too happy with the balance of the car on the first lap, so we made some changes, which made it slightly more driveable however we just weren’t able to get the best out of the tyres when they were at their peak.”
With the competition this year extremely close, qualifying proved a close-run affair, with the top 16 covered by just one second at the flag. As in free practice, the reigning AutoGP World Series Champion had struggled to get heat into his tyres, and posted the 15th fastest time, although this was later promoted to 14th when a penalty was awarded to another driver.
“Qualifying was very close,” confirmed Adrian. “I knew the competition would be fierce this season, but the problem with the tyres really didn’t help, and I was struggling to get any heat into them. Despite that I guess P15 was quite good considering what we were up against.”
Saturday morning’s opening 31-lap race didn’t go entirely to plan for the BRDC Fairfield Trophy winner however. Lining up on row seven, Adrian suffered with a clutch problem off the line, which dropped him down the order. After two laps, he had caught up to team-mate Daniel de Jong, but on lap three the pair tangled at turn 15, causing instant retirement for them both, and resulting in a five place grid penalty for race two for Adrian.
“I had a problem at the start with the clutch, dropping me down the order, which was a shame as we had a good strategy with the tyres. On lap three, I was definitely faster than my team-mate; he’d previously looked like he was going to let me by in the braking zone, so I went to overtake him at turn 15 and we collided, Adrian explained.”
On Sunday, starting from the back row, Adrian made a better start, to hold position. A strong opening pace allowed Adrian to gain eight places, before getting stuck behind another car. With evidently more speed, but with less traction, Adrian was unable to find a way past, and crossed the line in P17 at the end of 21 laps.
Adrian concluded: “Naturally it’s disappointing not to get the results or have the speed we hoped for after a strong test outing last year and the promise of a good performance in pre-season testing in Spain. However I had a good few laps in race two, steadily moving up the order until I got held up behind another car, I just couldn’t get past him though as I couldn’t get traction, just lots of wheelspin.
“Looking ahead to Bahrain though, I’m confident we know what the problems were here, so hopefully we can address those before the next round and come out fighting.”
The next round of GP2 Series takes place in four weeks time, over the weekend of 19-21 April, in Sakhir, Bahrain.