With the dust settling on the 2018 BRDC British F3 season, it was time for the F3 desk to catch up with the championship runner up, Nicolai Kjaergaard, on his eventful Silverstone weekend, his season thoughts and plans going forward…
In what had been a stellar season for the young Danish racer, the final weekend of the season was a tough one. Second in the standings and heading into a championship showdown with Swedish driver Linus Lundqvist, it was all to play for. But suffering what turned out to be a big injury, the weekend was over by the end of the first lap and with that any hope of winning the championship.
It’s worth noting that second place is an incredible achievement. In only his second year racing in British F3, finishing runner up to worthy winner Lundqvist shows just how much talent the Esbjerg-born racer has.
Sitting down with the F3 desk, we started by discussing the injury Nicolai picked up over the Silverstone weekend.
“So, on the Friday, one of the F3 cup cars hadn’t seen me so he turned in and hit my wheel”, Nicolai began. “Which then pulled the steering wheel around, caught my thumb and the tendon was pulled out of the bone and took part of the bone with it,” Nicolai continued. “So that’s the why I needed surgery, to put the tendon back on. That’s what they did yesterday [18th October].”
Not content with breaking one hand, the Carlin driver injured his other hand too! “The right hand is quite a normal fracture, just above the knuckle on the right hand. So it’s the left one which is the worse, but the right one is just a fracture.”
Looking at an eight to ten week recovery period, it’s hard for Nicolai to hide his frustration. With a test in Barcelona cancelled and next season preparation put on hold until Christmas, it’s understandable. I asked about next season’s preparation and what this injury means for it.
“Well I was supposed to be flying to Barcelona about now [21st October] to do a test, but obviously, that’s been cancelled. We should be able to go out after Christmas and hopefully find a seat by then… we can’t obviously do anything before Christmas, it’s just not possible.” Looking at the immediate future, Nicolai said, “I think the plan now is to sit down and relax and recover because after Christmas we are going to be busy.”
Drivers who leave a race seat for next season late are usually the drivers who miss out. Motorsport is littered with talented drivers who fail to secure seats for the next season and Kjaergaard is all too aware of this, particularly when courting teams in a new category. “Hopefully we will have a seat by then and then we can start thinking about the testing and preparation for the season because you don’t want to be talking to teams that late going into a new category.”
Looking back at the weekend’s racing, Nicolai’s championship challenge only lasted one lap. Taking evasive action as teammate Billy Monger returned to the track, Nicolai couldn’t gain control of the steering wheel due to the damage to his hand and came to a rest in the gravel.
“Well obviously for qualifying and race one, my left hand was already fractured. Then Billy went off in front of me and I had to avoid him. I couldn’t hold onto the steering wheel with my left hand, it was physically impossible: my thumb was completely broken which then meant that I had that over-steer snap. I just couldn’t control the car and I became a passenger and went off – and that’s when the fracture in the right hand happened.”
Clearly a weekend to forget, but not wishing to dwell on the negatives, I asked the Carlin ace what positives he could take out of the final championship weekend.
“I thought we had good pace, we had quite a good feeling about us and the car,” Nicolai said. “Obviously in qualifying we were second and fourth and that was even with a broken hand! So I was pretty confident I could have been right up there in first or second if I’d been healthy and able to push properly.” He told us that with all the pain, it’s one thing to drive, it’s another to concentrate while you are in all this discomfort.
Reflecting on what little racing Nicolai did in race one, the Dane was impressed with pace, “I think we had good pace even in the start of race one, we were able to challenge Billy for third place and keep up with them.”
It wasn’t just broken hands that prevented much racing, the good old British weather played its part and Sunday was a wash-out. Heavy, persistent rain combined with Silverstone’s now famous resurfacing issues made conditions pretty undriveable. In fact, the decision was taken to call the race-meet off midday through Sunday afternoon.
I wanted to know how the tricky conditions were to drive and asked Nicolai if he thought cancelling the rest of the day was the right decision.
“It was a good idea for them to start it behind the safety car but it was definitely too wet for racing when we started”, the Dane said of race two. “There was no way we could have raced. Obviously for me that was fine because I was driving around with two broken hands”, Nicolai laughed. “I was thinking, just stop this sooner. I couldn’t hold on to the steering wheel.”
Reflecting on race three, he said “I think it was quite similar conditions, it was impossible to race. I wasn’t going to race the last one anyway but the fact they cancelled it was a good idea because it was very, very difficult out there. It’s almost like with the new tarmac [on the Silverstone track] it doesn’t drain the water off the circuit.”
Silverstone’s drainage issues have been well documented this year, with the Moto GP event being cancelled in its entirety as conditions were too tricky to race in. With or without rain, carrying an injury, and with one eye on testing in Barcelona, Kjaergaard wasn’t going to race any way. “Yeah that was definitely not going to happen,” he started. “Obviously I thought I was going to Barcelona a week after to test in Euro Formula and it wasn’t worth starting with second place secured and first out of reach, we thought it best to not race.”
A mature and professional decision from someone who cares greatly about his career and has learnt to look at the bigger picture.
And on the subject of the bigger picture, I wondered what Nicolai had taken from his 2018 season and what were his highlights and his lowlights…
“I think the highlights were when we were at our best we were pretty much up the road form anyone else, that was a really good feeling”, Kjaergaard started. “One weekend we took two out of the three wins and we were on pole by more than three tenths. When it all clicked, we were up the road from anyone else.” And that is true: in a season dominated by Lundqvist, Nicolai was the only real challenger, coming into his own as an overtaking specialist. When in the zone, the Dane’s mature race craft was a joy to report on.
As for his low points, Nicolai continued, “Probably a bit too much crashing? Well, not really ‘crashing’, but being in races with contact with other drivers, where I have sort of been just unlucky – but when it happens three or four times, it’s not just unlucky. Maybe I was taking too many chances and I think that has ended up costing me a lot of points, in this campaign anyway.”
It’s being able to reflect on your game that sets the greats apart and Nicolai felt that being able to look at a season as a whole was a new skill to bring to his craft. “I think what’s changed this year is in the past I have been out there chasing single results, whereas this year I’ve had to put it all together for a championship and that’s been very new to me I think. If you are off [form] for just one weekend the disadvantage that gives you, you really need to be on it all the time.”
We finished up by looking at the future and Nicolai’s plans for the next few years. With a Euro Formula test postponed but still very much on the cards, it’s an international agenda for the Dane.
“Euro Formula is what we are thinking about at the moment. Infinity (Nicolai’s management) have discussed with a few teams but I don’t know anything about it yet. We will know more in a few weeks probably about exactly who we will go with.”
Overtake would like to thank Nicolai for this time and wishes him a speedy recovery.
Transcribed by Ian Page
Edited by Sara Page