The 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 season reaches its halfway point at Silverstone this weekend with Marcos Martinez and Bertrand Baguette equal on points at the head of the classification
Third place James Walker has emerged as the strongest qualifier in the field but his season has been scarred by accidents. Walker took time out from preparations for his home race for a candid talk with AUTOSPORT.
Q. With a deficit of 10 points to the leaders and 10 races remaining, what are your thoughts ahead of Silverstone?
James Walker: The story of my season has been the DNFs. If hadn't been for those we would be leading the championship easily. A couple of mistakes have cost us a lot. I have been saying at every race that we need to take strong points, but then I said that at Budapest and went out and made a stupid mistake. Will I be disappointed if I don't win this weekend?
Probably, but I don't think I'll be too disappointed with two podiums or even a second and a fifth. Any weekend where I can close the gap on the leader I class as a good weekend.
We took two points out of Martinez in Hungary, okay Baguette pulled a little bit away from us, but it wasn't the disaster it could have been. The accident I had was just caused by pushing too hard. I spoke to [P1 Motorsport team-boss] Roly [Vincini] afterwards, and he said that he'd rather have something like that happen when we're quick rather than be in the position [my team-mate] Daniil [Move] is in where there's a lot of head-scratching as to why it's not happening for him.
In Hungary I was actually coming in on the right lap, the same time as all the guys who finished on the podium. With the way that race panned out we would have looked like heroes.
Q. Do those accidents play on your mind at all?
JW: I don't really let it linger. I think that with the people we will have at Silverstone this weekend, and all of their support, I'll have enough to be concentrating on and it won't enter my mind.
Q. Before the season you mentioned that the new testing restrictions could play into the hands of the more experienced drivers, and so far the standings support that. Do you envisage more drivers joining the title-fight in the second half of the season?
JW: I don't think there is a title fight at the minute. Mathematically it's wide open and realistically there must be five, six, seven guys who can win. I thought [Oliver] Turvey was a surprise winner at Monaco, although he may not agree with that assessment. I'd expect there to be a few more surprises during the year.
Q. You're in your most successful World Series season to date, have there been any changes to your approach?
JW: I don't overcomplicate things by looking at the timing screens and worrying what everyone else is doing. Last year I would stare at them almost as if I was trying to make them blow-up. Now I can ignore them from Thursday until we have finished qualifying when I'll ask the mechanics where we are. We are in a fortunate position where we are quick.
Obviously I still go through all of my own data, but I don't sit and devour everything thinking 'what tyres did Molina use to do that,' or 'how many laps did Baguette run new tyres'.
I have also grown to dislike the reverse grid races, whereas last year we based our whole weekends around them - because at Fortec we didn't really have the speed. The reverse grids force you to overtake slower cars and there's always a risk.
At Spa I could have accepted sixth place but tried to move up and went off in an incident that didn't have to happen. It makes things difficult, but I guess that's how it should be. It should test you.
It will always be difficult to go through qualifying, a Super Pole, a reverse grid race and then a pit-stop race without hitting any problems. Left to our own devices, such as in the second race at Spa, we've shown we can win.
Q: You have been on the front row at every round this year except in Hungary. Do you anticipate that your form will translate to Silverstone?
A: Our car was good at Spa and I think with Silverstone being another high-speed circuit we can be competitive. One of my personal goals this year was to show that we have the pace in qualifying and, as you say, we have been on the front row everywhere except in Budapest where we qualified third.
At Budapest we had a bit of nightmare in practice where we couldn't run any new tyres. In previous years that might have caused me to panic, but Roly said he had a solution and he thought we would be quick. I can trust him. If Roly thinks the car will be good, it will be good. We always we seem to have a plan B up our sleeve and can handle being thrown something unexpected.
From my previous World Series experience of Silverstone I think it can be overawing being at a race weekend in front of 150,000 people. Last year the race fan in me said 'this is cool', whereas now we're here to win a championship.
Q. Did you have any fruitful meetings in the Formula 1 paddock when you attended the British Grand Prix?
JW: I was at Silverstone for the grand prix for all three days and we had a very useful meeting back in Jersey towards Formula 1 for next year. I'm now organising a visit to Spa and Monza. We had thought that everything was settled in F1, after the nightmare with everyone wanting to split. The aim is to win this championship and be in F1 with one of the three new teams.
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