On the back of a season as fiercely intense as 2016, trying to sum things up is one of the last, big challenges. With Felix jetting across the Atlantic for his first taste of American racing, debuting in the DTM, dipping his toes into the waters of GT competition and bursting onto the electric scene in Formula E, picking out the cream of the crop from a year lived literally flat out is far from easy.
Yet in this December special, that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do. Portioned out over the next couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, we’ll present the definitive top five moments of 2016 – each personally selected and ranked by Felix, and described in his very own words.
Today: a slightly disguised performance in Hungary…
Leading the Mercedes charge in Budapest
Result: P8 (Race 1) / P11 (Race 2)
I got called up to do my DTM debut in Moscow, in the middle of the season when Esteban Ocon was replacing Rio Haryanto in Manor in F1. Having scored points in my first race, it felt like it would be hard to top that, but after a successful weekend at the Nürburgring – still with some room for improvement – I realised that I started to become a strong contender.
I was being hard on myself to try and improve, even if the results were already more than good enough to justify my place in the team. I was quite self-critical during those first weekends in the DTM, and that helped me to adapt quickly. It’s a very, very competitive championship and you need to give it everything you’ve got.
When they put the car on the ground in Budapest, I immediately felt I was on it. It was one of those times when you know you’re going to be strong. Unfortunately, however, we carried a weight penalty of something ridiculous compared to Audi and BMW, so we were more or less doomed to be at the end of the field on that weekend. That happens in the DTM from time to time.
Before qualifying on Saturday, I remember feeling a bit tired. I had an espresso and a Snickers bar trying to wake up a bit, and suddenly our chief engineer says: “are you not supposed to be in the car?”
We have a strict schedule with loads of activities and not so much free time, so occasionally – confused as I can be – it’s possible to mix up the times. I took my hot espresso like a shot and ran to mine and Gary (Paffett)’s truck to get changed. I jumped into the car, not feeling so tired anymore! People who know me will probably say that’s a rather typical “Felix” episode.
Once out on track, I felt really comfortable with the car and with my driving. I managed to do one very good lap early on, and my engineer Alban kept saying on the radio: “push, push, we have good pace!” I was able to improve by one or two hundredths in each corner, and put together one of the best laps I’ve ever done. I wound up P9 with all eight Audis in front of me and six BMWs just behind. The second-best Mercedes was P16.
I remember seeing one of the giant screens after the session, and that’s when I knew I’d probably maximised what we had. That remains one of the proudest moments of the year for me.
The race itself was nothing special. I finished eighth, again as the leading Mercedes, having Timo Scheider in my gearbox for most of the race. I was proud with the way I drove, though, making no mistakes despite that pressure on a track which is very technical in a DTM car.
I also think that Saturday in Budapest goes to demonstrate a few things about motorsport on a wider scale. Our sport is fantastic, but quite often just looking at the results does not reveal the full story.
That’s especially true in a series like the DTM, where the performance weights can disguise some of the really good performances. It’s part of the game and not something to complain about; it’s a system in place to make things more interesting for the fans, and it’s something you just have to deal with. Over a year, it’s supposed to even out.
I think it’s important for people on the outside to know, however, that some of the great drives can actually take place in the midfield. For me, that P9 result in qualifying in Hungary was one of my best-ever performances. I drove better than I’ve done on pole position laps in other series. It gave me a great deal of satisfaction and goes to show how complex motor racing is.
Coming up next: #3
Previously on the list: