Stephane Richelmi has had a rough patch of late in the GP2 Series. Since his maiden victory in the series back on his home circuit in Monaco, the DAMS driver has seen the confidence gained from that victory drop away with a series of unlucky and mistake-laden races, and he has not set foot on a podium since Monaco in May.
Richelmi believes his season is below his expectations so far, despite having taken that first GP2 Series win. He was hoping to build on the momentum he took from the end of 2013, but he currently sits in tenth place in the championship, well adrift of the championship lead.
“For sure, under my expectations,” said Richelmi to The Checkered Flag. “For my third year in GP2 and my second with a good team as DAMS, I wanted, at least, to do better than last year.
“Maybe it’s too early to analyse properly but for sure, it’s a mix between bad luck & personal mistakes which affected us a lot. After seven meetings, I didn’t have a ‘good’ Race one… After last year, I thought I could only improve myself and aim each weekend for the podium places. But the motorsport reality caught me back.”
After taking his maiden GP2 Series win around his home streets of Monaco, Richelmi was feeling confident about his chances of more good results in the following races. However since the race at the principality, the Monegasque driver has struggled, with a combination of bad luck and small mistakes costing him the results he fells he deserved.
“I was in confidence [after Monaco] and aiming for others win as soon as possible,” said Richelmi. “Without speaking in details, I can tell you that I’m really disappointed from what happened. Lack of performance from my side in Austria and Silverstone but also losing too many positions because of the starts (change the procedure after this). In Germany it’s coming from the qualifying where I could [have been] P2 without traffic and a little mistake and in Hungary, mainly coming from the broken engine after only one lap in Qualifying.”
His first event after his Monaco win was at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and he unfortunately left the circuit having failed to score in either the Feature or the Sprint race. He cited a bad start and the failure to pass the MP Motorsport machine of Cypriot driver Tio Ellinas to falling out of contention.
“It was really complicated to warm-up the tyres there and with my soft driving, I didn’t feel well,” reflected Richelmi. “I was P22 before my last lap in qualifying, a strange feeling! I managed to start tenth in Race 1 but with a really bad start, I put myself in traffic.
“I wasn’t able to overtake Ellinas and lost a lot of time. So much that almost all the drivers on the Option-Prime strategy passed me. Then for the sprint race and without any degradation on the tyres, was hard to overtake.”
Silverstone in 2013 saw Richelmi take a great podium finish, but this years event saw more disappointment. He lost his fastest lap in qualifying due to exceeding track limits by the smallest amount, and then suffered by having to start on the wet side of the track in the race.
“After being P2 in race last year and having a good pace, I was aiming for the top,” insisted Richelmi. “We had the performance in qualifying because without a mistake from my side in the penultimate corner, the front row was possible. They also deleted my fastest lap because of going 1.5 cm off the track…
“So instead of starting fifth, I stared eighth and on the wet line. Once again the degradation was really little and couldn’t do better than eighth, even being close to third. In Race 2, everything was done at the start.”
He struggled in qualifying in Germany and felt he was out of position, feeling he had the pace to start on the front row of the grid. He then struggled with grip in the race and took home one point for tenth place in the race. In race two, his event was over before it started with a first corner crash that saw the Monegasque driver retire in spectacular fashion with flames engulfing his DAMS car.
“The first thing in Hockenheim is the qualifying; I should have been P2 but that’s why GP2 is tough,” said the Monegasque driver. “Then making a risky strategy and having too much rear brake, damaged my tyres and I finished tenth.
“For the accident [in the Sprint race], it was a combination between a driver on my right impeding me on turn-in, and another on slicks tyres on my left being really slow.. In the contact, they touched an oil pipe and the fire started…”
A second retirement of the season followed in a point-less weekend in Hungary, after a collision with the Campos Racing machine of Kimiya Sato in the Feature race that ultimately wrecked both their races and saw Richelmi’s car end up in the barriers. He made some good moves in the Sprint race but could not get further up than eleventh.
“I tried to pass him [Sato] at the inside of turn nine because in the race, everyone kept to the inside on exit of turn eight so it’s a good spot to surprise the other,” said Richelmi. “But he turned on me, so with the left part of my front wing, I touched his front axle and so right after, as he was slow, I touched his rear right tyre with my wing and caused him a puncture. I tried to pass by the outside as [Marco] Sorensen was in the inside but when I was next to him, he lost the car and we crashed.”
With four rounds and eight races to go, Richelmi knows he no longer has a shot at the championship, the lead of which is currently held by his DAMS team-mate Jolyon Palmer, but the Monegasque driver is insisting he will attack the last few races and try and get back onto the podium for the first time since Monaco.
“I will push the maximum possible,” insists Richelmi. “I have nothing to lose, I just want to do great races and take podiums, and I can take some risks than the people playing the championship cannot.”