Well done Porsche… but Audi will be back
There are only 1700km between the Shanghai Audi International Circuit and Fuji International Speedway, and yet in many respects they’re worlds apart. While there has been incredible progress in terms of increased knowledge and understanding of motor sport since I first raced in China in 2006, it is still very much in its infancy. This couldn’t be highlighted more by the fact that we visit China on the back of the race in Fuji where there are some of the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and crazy fans in the world. I’m glad to say that unlike my debut race in China (A1GP in Beijing), where the majority of spectators were army personnel who had been ordered to attend and fill the grandstands, the spectators in Shanghai were genuine fans who showed enthusiasm for the sport as well as knowledge and understanding.
It was my first time driving the circuit and based on what I had seen from previous races, and listening to other drivers, I didn’t have high expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised and I actually really enjoyed it. Despite one of the wettest track walks I’ve ever done, all of the practice sessions were held in the dry and it was clear to see that the Porsches were extremely strong, especially in the long runs. However arriving at the track on Sunday morning all that practice had become pretty much worthless as rain appeared during the night and continued to fall.
For the second race in a row I took the start in less than ideal conditions. It’s always interesting when all the testing has been dry and you have to drive the track in the wet for the first time in the race. Heading into the first corner on lap one is a complete unknown. It’s a great feeling driving the first few laps, getting a feel for the track conditions and the grip level and realising you have a car capable of fighting for the win.
As was the case in Fuji, both Audi R18 e-tron quattros were extremely competitive when the track was at its wettest and this was evident by the fact that at mid-distance, both our cars had taken turns at the front. Unfortunately – again as in Fuji – when the track started to dry, and in particular when it was in the in-between phase, the Porsches were very quick. Despite the Porsches’ advantage there was still hope of a double podium for Audi as the No18 Porsche spun and struggled to restart, which put it back in fourth place. In the end, its pace and the fact its final stop was considerably shorter due to it being out of sequence with the Audis meant it was able to jump both cars for a Porsche one-two.
Porsche also has an advantage in that they are able to run several laps longer than the Audis due to their extra fuel capacity. This can mean they have one stop fewer to make (depending on the track), but the other advantage that has been overlooked is that they are always able to react on the strategic calls we make at Audi. In Shanghai we took a gamble on the No8 car and put ‘inters’ on at a time when the track was potentially still too wet but had started to dry. It’s the sort of brave call that can make all the difference against your rivals. However with Porsche pitting significantly later they are able to make calls based on our decisions and are therefore always in a position to play it safe. Personally I would like to see all three manufacturers able to run the same number of laps, and therefore go head to head in the strategic stakes.
Regardless, you can’t deny that Porsche have done an incredible job and fully deserve the manufacturers’ title that they secured in Shanghai, so congratulations to them.
By the time you read this Porsche are likely to have added the drivers world title as they head into the final race with a 12-point advantage. Our ‘sister’ car still had a chance and whoever were crowned World Champions will fully deserve it. Most importantly it has been an incredible year for sports cars as a whole and you can guarantee Audi will be focused on getting the titles back in 2016.