Whirlwind Week For Speed
March 13, 2006 | 3:03 P.M. EST
Speed, from Manteca, Calif., became the first driver from the United States to race in a Grand Prix since Michael Andretti in 1993.
The race in Bahrain was the first of 18 in this year’s schedule that includes Speed’s home United States Grand Prix on July 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Attending a lavish party is not all that normal for an F1 rookie, but then Speed’s team owner – Red Bull – is putting more glamour and fun into the sport. The party, with the theme of “Arabian Nights,” took place on a private island March 9, the day before the first day of practice. It was there that Speed’s team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, and sister team Red Bull Racing officially launched their 2006 cars.
The Toro Rosso cars feature dramatic paint schemes with a huge, charging bull on the backs and sides of the cars.
"I love a party," Speed said. "After winter testing mainly in Europe, I love the warm weather."
While this race marked Speed’s F1 debut, he had driven before on the Bahrain track. Last September, he raced in the GP2 series season finale at the track. And then he tested an interim version of his F1 car last month at the track.
"Having tested here in an F1 car certainly makes life a lot easier than if you haven’t tested before," Speed said. "I think Montreal, Malaysia and Australia, tracks I do not know, will be a lot more difficult in terms of learning the track procedures, compared to Bahrain where I already have a bit of track experience. It’s a big help."
On Friday, his first official day on the F1 tour, Speed set respectable times that put him in the middle of the practice pack.
"It sure feels a lot different coming here with the new car after we tested here with the old one," he said. "This one definitely handles differently. Everybody is seeing quite a lot of oversteer at the moment because the track is dirty."
On Saturday, Speed qualified 16th after making it through the first round of F1’s new knockout qualifying system.
"I’m used to qualifying with all the other cars out on track at the same time," he said, "but all the same it did feel a bit different, this being F1, with a bit more pressure. The first part of the session went very well, although I got a bit held up at the end of it by Jacques (Villeneuve).
"Then, in the second part, the tire temperatures were not quite where we wanted them, and I got pulled in to the weigh bridge, which meant I didn’t get a second run in. So, maybe we could have gone a bit quicker in the second part, but now we can play with the fuel load, which puts us in a strong position for the race."
Speed finished 13th his first Grand Prix. While his teammate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, finished 11th, Speed set the fastest race lap of the pair.
"I’m pleased to have got through to the checkered flag in my first Grand Prix without making any mistakes," Speed said. "The balance of my car was not quite right during the first stint, but we were able to fix that at the first pit stop. After that, I think our pace improved and was good."
Like many of the drivers and crewmembers, Speed was so busy that he had little time for sightseeing in Bahrain.
"I didn’t really venture too much outside the hotel, circuit, race car and then back to the hotel," he said. "I am normally so busy that is all I have time to do. We are staying at a nice beach resort, so I wouldn’t go anywhere else if I could anyway!
"'I was here for a couple of days doing some training in the hot weather, and it was really nice. It was the first time I have tasted salt water and been on the beach since I can remember."
On the Sunday night after the race Speed flew to Dubai and then the following morning he flew on to Kuala Lumpur to start training in the tropical humidity for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
"I need to try to acclimatize to the humidity, which is going to be quite a difference to Bahrain," he said. "It is hot in Bahrain, but it is an easy hot: It is dry; it is no problem. The heat does not bother me. It is the humidity."
All in all, Speed’s F1 debut went well. His first season in F1 is a learning one, and by completing a full Grand Prix distance he gained valuable experience.