Red-Flagged On The Nurburgring Formula 1 Track

Courtesy of Panorama Magazine – October 2013

“All drivers out of their cars and down to race control. The race director would like a word with everyone.”

Never in my entire career have I had any session during a weekend red flagged and brought to a ‘pause’ per say, so the race director could have a chat with all of the drivers. Although, there is a first time for everything I suppose. Prior to this race weekend at Nurburgring, I was told that track limits were always an issue. The problem is, is that in order to be on pace with the leaders you have to cut the track like the others if you want to give yourself a fair chance!

The race weekend had essentially just gotten underway and the ‘track limits’ issue was already in full effect. We made it only about 6 laps into our practice session, before it was red flagged and all drivers were called to the control tower. Everyone was very confused as to what was going on at first, until the race director spoke the first words. “I see no one really listened at the drivers meeting! We’ve set track limits for safety, not to just make up rules. I ask you all to please abide by them. Now you all can get back in your cars.”

All 35 drivers began sprinting down pit-lane to get back into our racecars, because the clock was ticking on the session and every lap is precious when you have to learn another new circuit. Early in the season, we raced on the full Nordschelife, but never had I driven this Grand Prix layout that Formula 1 uses. On paper it looks relatively simple, but with downhill brake zones and tricky chicanes it surely proved to be everything besides simple.

Our practice session was back underway and I felt to quickly be getting comfortable with the new circuit. We were 8th quick and I was very happy with the cars balance so far in the session. We decided to use a set of new tires that we had left over from a previous race event, to see how the cars balance was on better rubber. We ended up going quicker, but not by much because we lost a little bit of the balance. At first both my engineer and myself were very frustrated because we should have been quickest overall with new tires, but in the end we learned a good lesson before we went into qualifying. If we had just went straight into qualifying without knowing our balance was going to change on new tires, we would have been in a far worse situation than we had experienced in practice.

Saturday morning arrived and it was time to qualify. Some tweaks to the setup were made to compensate for what we had learned in practice, so I had quite high hopes for our qualifying results. Q1 went the best it had been all season by recording a lap good enough for a P6 starting position for race 1, but Q2 did not go as well. On my fast lap I made a big mistake in the brake zone of the final chicane and completely ruined the lap. I was very frustrated with myself and I felt the disappointment from my engineer, which was also tough. This meant we would have to start P13 for race 2.

In race 1, I didn’t have the greatest start due to excessive wheel-spin and I fell back to 7th position. The entire race I was pushing and keeping pace with the leaders ahead of me, but just didn’t have that last tenth of a second to move up the order. For myself, the race was rather uneventful because everyone was running exactly the same pace which makes passing that much more difficult. Once race 2 came around, I was really eager to make a strong performance to make up for my qualifying mistake. On the start, I managed to gain one position and was on the tail of the train behind the 7th place car. On lap 6, I went to the inside to made a pass for P11 but had my right-front tire lockup. This created a huge flat-spot on the tire, which created substantial understeer as well as a massive vibration. From this point on I really had to go into ‘bring it home’ mode with my injured tire. It was not the way I wanted to end the weekend, but the only way to find the limit is by stepping past it. Unfortunately I stepped just a little bit too far past it.

Even with the weekend not ending the way I had wanted, having my entire family there at the track for the first time in Europe was very special. It made me realize how lucky I’ve been to have their support for these past 15 years. After all, they flew 5,700 miles and still went on a track walk with me before it started. I guess you can say, once a racing family always a racing family. —Connor De Phillippi 

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