A charging Charles A surprising double penalty picked up during qualifying put paid to any hopes Charles Pic had of taking a podium place. Starting from 18th spot on Saturday's grid, he managed to climb up through the field to finish...
A charging Charles
A surprising double penalty picked up during qualifying put paid to any hopes Charles Pic had of taking a podium place. Starting from 18th spot on Saturday's grid, he managed to climb up through the field to finish 6th, rescuing something from a weekend that had started so badly, although on the Sunday there wasn't a lot he could do starting from back down in 36th place out of the blocks. For someone who in three races out of four until this one had started on the front line, and who was lying second in the overall Eurocup standings, the least we can say is that the trip to Hungary was outlandish!
The first surprise awaiting Charles was the circuit itself. The Hungaroring has never before played host to Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup racing, not even practice. "This circuit is difficult and unforgiving. Don't even think about wheel blocking or undesteer!" said Charles during a debriefing session. "When you go through the series of bends out on the incoming half of the track, any error you make in one bend automatically carries over into the next one." The young man from Montelimar missed one practice session out of the four planned due to a fractured engine mounting bracket. Nevertheless, he was feeling in good shape for the 35-minute qualification session.
You need to clock two good times during qualification when you race in the Eurocup. Your best time decides from where on the grid you will start race 1 and your second best lap is for race 2. You are allowed two sets of tyres for what is a severe test. "On the first set of tyres I made a little mistake in the 3rd sector, and as I went out again after changing tyres I got stuck behind two slower cars that hampered my progress in the flying lap, which ought to have been my best one given the setup we had adopted. So I can't say that it all went according to plan but still, it was enough to get me qualified in a reasonable position in both races, at least compared to my closest rivals in the championship. Until, that is, they dropped those penalties on me like a ton of bricks!"
Called up before the stewards, Charles was aghast when he learnt they were docking him his two best times for not keeping inside the track markings. "I understood from the pre-race briefing that they would dock us the lap time if we put wheels over the white line, which is fair enough. It's true, that happened to me twice. But in each case I eased off to make it perfectly obvious to everyone that I wasn't taking advantage to clock a good time. I never realised they were going to dock me my two fastest laps - ones that I had completed without putting a foot wrong - just because I attacked a bit too hard and made a couple of mistakes in different laps."
Come the Saturday, Charles found himself back in 9th row on the starting grid instead of 2nd. He got off to an excellent start. A melee amongst the leaders enabled him to slip into 8th position during the first lap. After managing to get past Roberto Mehri he had Henki Waldschmidt, one of his closest rivals in the championship standings, firmly in his sights and it was during braking going into the final lap that he managed to get past his man. "The car wasn't handling as it should. One of the back wheels was out of true because of a cracked wheel nut." Which only goes to make this spectacular climb through the field all the more impressive.
So Charles notched up five unexpected points. However, race 2 was a lost cause given that he had to start the race from right back down in 36th place on the grid. On the Hungaroring the back markers start from way back in the bend before the grandstand straight, they can't even see the start lights! "We worked out a system with my chief mechanic whereby he would let me know as soon as the lights went out. We weren't able to use it though, because the back lines were still rolling when they signalled the off! I picked up six or seven places on the first lap but then I clipped a car that I was trying to get past going into turn 9."
Of course, it's always good practice for a Formula Renault rookie to battle it out in the pack and get plenty of overtaking manoeuvres under his belt, but as far as his European title hopes are concerned, Charles could have done without it on this occasion! He is now lying third on the overall leaders board for the Eurocup, but Brendon Hartley has widened the gap at the top. The next round of the Eurocup is not going to be easy for Charles either. Over in Donington, all he will get is about an hour's open practice in which to get to grips with a circuit with which many of his rivals are already familiar. Rendezvous in England then, next September 8-9.