In her latest column, Tatiana Calderon looks back on an eventful finale to the MRF Challenge season in Chennai, where she succeeded in sealing the runner-up spot in the championship.
Welcome to my latest Motorsport.com column! After a month-long rest since the last MRF round in Dubai, I was back in action again last weekend in Chennai for the final round of the series.
The weekend may not have gone exactly as I’d hoped, but to come away with P2 in the points after such a tough season in Formula 3 last year was still a great result, and a massive confidence boost ahead of what’s set to be a very important year for me.
Chennai is a very tricky circuit – very bumpy, which makes it almost impossible to overtake unless you are able to force someone into a mistake. This made qualifying crucial, but unfortunately things didn’t go quite according to plan in that department, and I had only myself to blame.
I was two tenths up on one of Pietro Fittipaldi’s laps – the pole lap – but I slid wide at the last corner and cost myself a lot of time. And because of yellow flags and traffic, I couldn’t make my second best lap count either, so I was starting P7 for the first race, and only P6 for Race 3.
Then, when I saw that Pietro was on pole, it was really frustrating – grid position is king around Chennai, so I knew it was going to be nearly impossible to be able to close down the 18 points gap between us to win the title. It was definitely not the best of days, probably the low point of my whole season.
In the first race, I made a good start to pass Nikita Troitskiy for sixth, and then I was just behind Mick Schumacher. He overtook Tarun Reddy, who made a mistake, which gave me the opportunity to pass at the last corner. That left me fifth, which I think was the maximum I could have achieved in that race, and it put myself in a good position for the reverse-grid Race 2.
At the start, I dropped behind Alessio Picariello going into the first corner, and after that I was busy defending third from Schumacher. Things were looking good for a podium – a win, even, as Reddy and Picariello managed to crash into each other while squabbling over the lead – but sadly that’s not how things turned out.
Schumacher was never close enough to pass me, and he just came from nowhere and hit me at Turn 8. Later on, he was at it again, this time diving up my inside at Turn 4 and forcing me off the road – I just kept my foot buried to the floor and cut a big chunk of the track out. Luckily the stewards were too busy investigating the other incidents to notice!
I still managed to finish fourth, but if Schumacher hadn’t hit me, I would have won the race, and it was so frustrating to think that I still could have been in with a chance of winning the title without that.
From that point on, I was just focussed on keeping hold of second in the points from Troitskiy. We were battling over third place in Race 3, and I tried everything to put pressure on him, but he didn’t make any mistakes. That meant the pressure was on for the last race, as he was only three points behind.
I made a good start in the decider, so I was third and following Schumacher – but I probably followed him a little too closely and wore out my tyres. Behind, Troitskiy was putting a lot of pressure on me, but then all of a sudden I couldn’t see him in my mirror, which was such a relief!
He ran off the road, meaning it was then Pietro who was behind me, and I made a few mistakes as my tyres started to go away. But I really wanted to be on the podium for the final race, and luckily I was able to keep him covered to the finish and make into the top three for the seventh time in 14 races.
If it wasn’t going to be me who won the title, I was happy for it to be Pietro. We worked really well together all season sharing the same engineers, and it was nice to have him as a teammate. We have a great relationship, and it was nice that our ‘team’ was able to finish one and two in the points.
Looking back on the season as a whole, the whole experience has been a blast. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Abu Dhabi for the first round back in October, but I’m so glad I took the plunge – to be able to fight for wins and podiums again has been great, and ideal preparation for the season ahead in Europe.
Speaking of which, I’m very close to being able to share my exact plans for this season with you all, so stay tuned on Motorsport.com in the coming days for a very exciting announcement!
Until next time,