- The Inside Line
From Macau to Formula OneKate Walker May 15, 2014
A racer's racer, when asked to reflect on his best memories from his life spent in motorsport, Force India reserve driver Dani Juncadella points straight to the street circuit to end all street circuits - the infamous Macau Grand Prix.
"My best memories come from the near past, which was 2011/2012 in Formula 3, especially when I won the Macau Grand Prix in 2011. I think that's the best memory I have so far. I think it's the best race in the world.
"This past year is the first time I wasn't there for the last three years and I really missed that race. And when I was watching on TV I was, I don't know, I really wanted to be there and I didn't even enjoy watching from home. Even if there was no sense doing that race but still brings me a lot of memories and every time I see the race I won again on TV, it gives me goose bumps. It was a really a special weekend."
A special weekend it may have been, but the 2011 Macau Grand Prix was far from an easy one for the young Spanish racer. Instead, it was a case of triumphing over the kind of adversity that is part and parcel of a racing driver's life.
"We had a very strong car; my team-mate won the European Championship that year. And we were really strong straight through the weekend and through practice, and then in the last free practice I crashed the car, which was a terrible mistake because then we only had two hours until quali and the car was completely destroyed. I just made into quali by five minutes and the car was completely out of balance because they didn't have enough time to repair it. I qualified 14th and it was a really big disappointment.
"And then with penalties I started eleventh for the pre-final race and I went out with used tyres. I kept my new tyres for the final race and even with that I managed to finish sixth in the pre-final and then the final was from sixth on the grid. The win was not realistic, but I was quite optimistic because I had the best tyres of the whole field and I'd got a really good start.
"On the first lap I was third and then there was some luck involved with the Safety Car because [Marco] Wittmann was leading and I was three seconds behind. I wasn't catching him, but then the Safety Car came out and I was smart enough to make the move. Those last six laps leading the race were really spectacular and when I won I couldn't believe it because when I finished the quali at fourteenth I was sceptical about having a good weekend. It was really special."
While there was the elation of a surprise win that weekend in Macau, Juncadella acknowledges that there was also a much more important lesson to be learned about his own strength of character, and the importance of never giving up.
"That's the thing. I was really, really… Mentally, I was really down when I arrived at the hotel. After qualifying I remember I was even crying in the hotel. I just felt the weekend was completely over but then with the penalties the team gave me a call and they said that I was starting 11th for the pre-final and I thought 'let's take some positives from that. Maybe now I'm in the mix, now I'm in the fight.' The pre-final went well and then from sixth on the grid I was again very optimistic and I was really motivated. I think that's the good thing: sometimes you have to find something that helps you not give up."
Having learned that valuable lesson in Macau, Juncadella is currently continuing his education with the Force India team, where the Spanish reserve driver will be trackside at every grand prix, taking part in the occasional Friday practice session and the in-season tests, including the laps he completed for the team in Barcelona on Wednesday.
"It's good to be at the [race] weekend doing similar things to what the official drivers do. It's experience for the future, but also it's good to know what's being talked about and what's being done. I think that's the best preparation if one day you are going to get to see it if you have a chance. The best part for me is having these testing days because you get the most time in the car. In free practice it's only one-and-a-half hours."
But what about the period of adjustment between the occasional F1 test session, or one of the handful of anticipated Friday morning runs, and the DTM car Juncadella spends the rest of his racing time in?
"It's always hard, but I think it always helps if you are not driving the same car in the same track one after another. If it's a different track you have different memories. The last time I drove [at the Circuit de Catalunya] I drove a GP2 car, so it's not that hard. Maybe if I drive in Hockenheim in free practice it might be strange because the last five times I've been there it's been with a DTM car.
"You just need to switch to a different mentality and drive the car that's given to you. Obviously the first three, four laps if you're coming from a race weekend in DTM are going to be a bit strange. Test days are the best moment to get used to it because then you have the whole day so you can take some laps or a few runs to adjust."