Mark enjoyed his most competitive showing of the year at the European Grand Prix in Valencia. For three-quarters of the race he shadowed eventual winner Sebastian Vettel, only for a strategy call to work against him with 16 laps to go. He ultimately finished third behind Fernando Alonso but improved his position in the world championship to joint second with Jenson Button.
“Up until my last pitstop,” says Mark, “it was my best race of the year. It was nice to have Seb in sight and, as was the case in Turkey, my mirrors were full of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. The three of us were never separated by more than five seconds until the last pitstop and we couldn’t afford to back off for a moment.”
The decisive blow came when Mark pitted for his final set of tyres on lap 41. By stopping before Fernando, he hoped to extend his advantage over the Ferrari driver, but the opposite turned out to be the case.
“I thought a new set of prime tyres would be faster than the used set of options on Fernando’s car,” says Mark.
“Unfortunately, I was wrong: Fernando was able to lap faster than me and, in the end, that was enough for him to pass me. It was frustrating not to finish second, but there were still a lot of positives to take away from this weekend.”
Indeed there were: Mark qualified on the front row, just behind team-mate Vettel, and he didn’t put a foot wrong in the race. His only on-track frustrations came in traffic, when he lost a lot of time behind the Hispania of Narain Karthikeyan, and in the closing laps, when a suspected gearbox problem forced him to slow his pace.
“Overtaking has always been difficult in Valencia,” says Mark, “and two DRS zones didn’t seem to make much difference. The problem is that the straights aren’t really straight and it’s very dusty off-line, so it’s hard to out-brake another car.”
Mark now heads home to the UK, ahead of the next race at Silverstone. Between now and the British Grand Prix, the teams have got to get their heads around a rule change concerning the use of off-throttle exhaust gases.
“It’s a significant change,” says Mark, “but I’m not expecting it to shake up the order too much. All of the teams have got to adapt to the new rules, not just us, and I hope the RB7 will still be competitive.”