So, as I fly off to India for the first time to resume my duties with MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS, I can reflect on the final round of the World Series by Renault championship and on my race season in its entirety.
After swapping the lead of the drivers' championship all season with Jules (Bianchi) and Robin (Frijns), I arrived at the Barcelona "final" in third place but less than a win away from the lead. I knew that the outcome of the championship was not entirely in my own hands but my aim going into the weekend was to outscore both of them.
Things started quite well on Saturday when, starting from the second row of the grid, I took the lead of the race by turn two and began to stretch my legs at the front. However, the Arden Caterham car of Felix da Costa came with me. They say the best form of defence is attack and I certainly pushed hard, gradually building a big gap between myself and the rest of the field, which included my championship rivals... "The rest of the field", that is, except the Red Bull liveried car of da Costa that followed me like my own shadow.
While I worked overtime to push my car to its limits, I could see da Costa almost in cruise mode behind me. Had the race organisers mistakenly released Red Bull Racing's RB6 F1 car onto the track early for its demo run? Joking aside, that's what I felt like I was racing against.
With only a few laps to go, da Costa made a bold move and threw his car to the inside of the chicane. I saw him coming and with valuable points at stake, I had to yield to avoid contact. I tucked straight into its slipstream in the knowledge that my best opportunity to regain top spot would come immediately going into turn one. But by the time I got there, he was already approaching turn two! My concern that the speed differential was caused by a technical issue on my own car was dispelled by my pit crew informing me, via the pit board, that my gap to Frijns in third was eight seconds and increasing. As da Costa scampered away into the distance I had to settle for second and enjoyed a small measure of consolation from the fact that I had kept my championship challenge alive by beating Robin and Jules and closing the points gap.
As I would later find out, the fastest lap of the race was in fact not da Costa's... it was Alex Rossi's in the sister Arden Caterham car. Well done to all the guys at Arden Caterham. For the past few races, they have been in a league of their own.
Sunday qualifying was pretty awful in the wet. We had shown promise in free practice one in the rain by posting the second fastest time but by making some changes in an attempt to look for that precious missing tenth, which we knew could prove crucial in the title race, we ended up destroying the balance of the car. I did make up some positions courtesy of another good start and ended up outscoring Robin and Jules again but it wasn't to be enough.
The "coming together" between Jules and Robin has been written and talked about a lot. I had a front row seat to witness the event and my view of it is clear: I think that Robin's manoeuvre was no mistake. Having said that, I will pay Robin a deserved compliment: he is an extremely talented young driver who makes few mistakes. That being the case, it is quite unfortunate that when he does make a "mistake" by out-braking himself and missing the apex, who else should be just outside him but his closest championship rival Jules Bianchi...
The final race of many a championship, not least in Formula One, has featured such "racing incidents" and it is a shame that this one should end in this way. This year has seen some hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing, which is what the spectators want to see. I have raced against Jules for a few seasons and he takes no prisoners but he is fair. As to whether the incident on Sunday was accidental or contrived will be debated for a long time.
At any rate, I feel that, over the course of the season, the Fortec-Frijns package has probably been the most consistently competitive and that they therefore deserve the title. As of the ISR-Bird package, our car has been far too hit-and-miss with too many rounds where it was wide of the mark. Despite that, we finish the championship just ten points off the top.
But I look back on this season with no regrets. I feel I have driven well, extracted every ounce of performance from the package at my disposal and maximised my opportunities. My team should look back at the season with pride as well. They gave everything they had and any mistakes that occurred were innocent. I will not forget the warm support and the honesty of Igor Salaquarda and his team.
My top-three memories of the season? Two of them are obvious: winning from pole at Monaco and winning my home race at Silverstone. The third is less so: coming through from last on the grid at Spa in the pouring rain to finish 5th after having been disqualified from a front row start because of a fuelling error. Of course I would much rather have started from the front row - perhaps my missing ten points were right there - but boy what a rush!
Many people have been asking me about my plans for next season. My own focus for now is to support MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS as much as I can until the end of this one first. Regarding 2013, all will be revealed soon and you will be the first to know!