With Palmer looking on, Wilson went first. The familiar, multi-branded helmet was slotted into place as he slid gracefully into the car. Formula One drivers, or at least the good ones, always give the impression of effortless ease. Wilson's progress seemed almost sedate. There were no sideways histrionics, just precise, fluid progress. And when he returned to the pits, the two-million-dollar man looked thoroughly unflustered.
Your host, by contrast, had an aching bladder and an adrenaline-fueled heart. Here was a unique opportunity to convince talent-spotter Palmer that two lanky Englishmen are worthy of his attention. I wrestled with self-imposed pressure, and my anxiety was reflected in my driving style. The measured inputs of my practice laps gave place to clumsy aggression. But if I was overdriving in front of half a dozen people, how would I perform in front of 100m TV viewers and a belligerent team principal?
I returned to the pits, and a laptop revealed my fate. At first glance, the telemetry traces seemed remarkably similar, but the summary at the bottom of the page told a different story. Over a 2.76-mile lap, I was 5.54 sec. off the pace. Not since a lady driving test examiner told me that I "simply wasn't up to scratch," have I felt so deflated.
Wilson and Palmer arrived to darken my mood. The quickest corner on the circuit is the most revealing. Wilson didn't bother to brake and turned in at 89.0 mph, whereas I had reduced my speed to 70.5 mph. Although our exit speeds were almost identical, he gained 1.7 sec. by carrying more speed through the corner
"But," I protested, "I was definitely on the limit through the corner; I can remember a big slide just after the apex." Palmer nodded before offering an explanation. "In the quick corners, the sensitivity involved in caressing the controls becomes very important. By just easing off and modulating the speed through the turn, Justin didn't unsettle the car.
"A lot of people think they're near the limit because it's sliding, but in reality they've upset the car. It's a lack of perception of what's quick and what's not. You've introduced oversteer that need not be there. If you'd had the confidence to go through the corner without lifting, the car would have been better balanced and you'd have found more grip. That's where the talent lies."
There is general surprise that I braked later than Wilson at the end of the main straight. "You've got balls, there's no question about that," Palmer said with a laugh, "but you've braked for much longer."
Wilson picked up the theme. "Because you braked later, you transferred more weight to the front and it became tail happy. That's why you had to brake for longer. Late braking is a technique." I lost 0.5 sec. through the corner. Only through the tight hairpin could I claim to be have been genuinely on the pace.