Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Two quick thoughts....

1. As I mentioned in an earlier post on here, when I was little I told someone that when I grew up I wanted to be a "pitlane blonde" (you'll have to read it for that comment to make any sense)  

Well, admittedly I'm not really blonde, but in my own little way, this weekend was kinda it wasn't it? So, there's another of my dreams come true:
To top off a great day, I got given a free hat! Can't complain.

2. Formula One-wise, I grew up supporting Johnny Herbert. I supported Ricardo Zonta too. I've supported Jenson through some tough years. Same for Mark Webber. I support Timo and Bruno and 'Bob' (ALG). As such, I'm used to celebrating the minor victories - finishing ahead of your teammate, getting some points, maybe the occasional joyous day of getting a podium. A rare win thrown in just to make the world sparkle.

And yet right now I find myself in a truly bizarre - and yet wonderful - predicament. My favourite F1 driver is the REIGNING WORLD CHAMPION. (Yes, it's totally worth shouting it in capitals. I would shout it out loud in the street all day if I didn't worry about getting arrested for disturbing the public peace). 

And my favourite GP2 driver is the BRAND NEW GP2 CHAMPION. 

This is AWESOME. I think I'm just going to sit and soak it up while I can.  Because after a lifetime of supporting the underdogs, I still can't quite get used to this. :-)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

An emotional rollercoaster and a half...!

Here's a day in the life of a slightly over-emotional GP2 fan....

*Before the race starts*

Yay! Sam Bird is on the front row! I've followed his career for years (since he kicked Jenson's butt in a timed lap at a charity karting event I was at in '05) and he's steaming towards F1. He's had a fairly torrid season in GP2 this year, he's been mighty quick but it's been coupled with the poorest luck. However, he's still made that work for him in a way, there's a petition to rename a corner in Turkey "Sam Bird Corner" because he overtook there so many times (it's an "impossible to overtake there" corner), he's repeatedly fought his way up the field in a way that will definitely catch a few eyes on the F1 paddock, and he's not done anything hugely stupid. Good to see him back at the sharp end of the grid.

Boo. Pastor (my favourite, as you know) had a bad quali session and ended up 8th, his lowest qualifying this year. This is the penultimate race weekend of the season, and as long as Sergio Perez doesn't take 7 points out of his lead, he could tie up the championship here at Monza, and we won't have to wait NINE WEEKS until Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, Pastor has been frequently caught out this season when he's been in traffic, so 8th is not a good place to be. It is what we shall refer to from now on as "The Danger Zone". (OK, so we might not actually refer to it as this, it depends how I feel).

Phew! Perez only qualified 7th. Pastor can keep him in his sights.

*The race begins*

Yay! Sam Bird has a blistering start and takes the lead at the first corner.

Phew! Perez has an aggressive start and immediately pulls across the track and pushes Pastor out to his right. But Pastor is brave and holds on, gets 3/4 of a length ahead of Perez, and moves back across the track to take his line, Perez can do nothing but let him take the place. (Remember Perez needs every point he can get, so he's not going to nerf Pastor out the race.)

Uh oh... It's pleasing that Pastor's up to 7th and is now sitting ahead of Perez, but he's still in The Danger Zone (hey look, it's stuck!) - and so there's no time to relax.

*A few laps later*

Yay! Sammy is awesome. He's in the lead, and he's rocking it. This is the position he was born to be in.

What the...? What.....???? NOOOOOOOOOooooooooo....!!! (I think that's the most accurate way of describing it, without using un-family-friendly words) The SexySexySafetyCar had just come in, and I'd watched Pastor go into the first corner calmly ahead of Perez. The camera cuts away, and thens cut back to an onboard shot of car 15 traipsing over the gravel. Pastor. Something's clearly gone wrong. And I mean VERY wrong. This is why we call it The Danger Zone.

As far as I can tell from the replays, Pastor had gone into the corner at a non-ridiculous pace and in a non-stupid way. There were lots of cars around. The car in front of him, Romain Grosjean (who incidently took him out of a previous race, so I'm calling shenanigans) suddenly slowed down and almost came to a complete stop. There was no time for Pastor to react, and nowhere for him to have gone if he had done (there was a car immediately on his right, and although there was no one to his left, he was too far right to have ever got to that gap). Well, there was ONE way to go... and that was up.  So up he went. He had a little fly over Grosjean, then had a bounce across the gravel trap. He got back to the pits and changed the front of his car, but it clearly was more fundamentally broken than just needing a new nose.  Boo. :(

So now Perez was 8th (he'd dropped a spot in the melee) and Pastor was right at the back and clearly not going to last long. This wasn't what I would call good. 8th is a terrible position for Perez to be in, as it means he'll start tomorrow on pole. Let's just hang on and hope Perez somehow doesn't get any points.

*A lap or two later*

Stop breathing. There's a white car in the wall. There is a white car. In the wall.

Heart stops beating until it's confirmed. It's Perez. The white car in the wall is Perez's white car. He's out of the race.

(At this point you must picture me making some kind of inhuman squeaking sound, jumping to my feet, and bursting into tears. As I said at the start, slightly over-emotional.)

The problem is, and I'm sure I've said this before - I LIKE Perez. I have no reason not to. He is smiley and seems very nice from what little I've seen of him. And he's a very good driver. And so I felt terribly bad for being so pleased that he was out of the race, and he'd had quite a big shunt and was clearly feeling a bit sore as he got out the car, so I really hope he's absolutely OK and I in no way wished him any harm. I didn't want to him to CRASH out of the race. I just wanted him to BE out of it.

Glee/Disappointment So at this point, we (the commentators, me, the Rapax team) reckon the championship is Pastor's now. And whilst this is what I've been waiting years for, it was bitter-sweet, because that really wasn't the way I wanted him to win the title - he pitted twice after his accident (interestingly at the second pitstop, one of the pitcrew was clearly signalling that he shouldn't be let out yet, that something needed sorting first, but he was still let out - luckily it wasn't anything too dangerous, as nothing fell off the car or plunged him off the track). But then the car clearly wasn't working, so they brought him in and retired him. Not really the finish of a champion. But big hugs all round for the Rapax team as Pastor got out the car.

Wheeeeeeeeeeee! And Sammy won, by a good 8 seconds or so. BRILLIANT. I am ever so, ever so pleased for him.

Confusion hits But actually.... Pastor's championship title isn't definite yet. After much online searching (it's a reeaally bad day for the GP2 website to die!)  and discussion and tweetifying, we all figure out that actually, if Perez wins all 3 remaining races, with a clean sweep of fastest laps and pole position across the board - he will win the Championship. Because for some slightly inexplicable reason, sprint race wins are deemed equal in championship terms as feature race wins. For the feature race, the winner probably qualifies somewhere up front, they manage the pitstop window to perfection, and they race a long race to the win. In the sprint race, the winner finished in a mediocre spot the day before (8th place gets the pole), and they just put their foot down and zoom to the end. In fact, sometimes Perez could be deemed as having fought slightly less hard at the end of a feature race, in order to secure a better starting position for the feature race.  So should a sprint win REALLY count the same as a feature race, when it comes to "most winningest"?? Hmmmm.

I know that winning a sprint race is still a good thing, I'm not saying it's easy or should be worthless, but...  If it comes down to deciding a championship on who's the "most winningest" (I swear that's not a word...!) then shouldn't features count slightly differently to sprints? Feel free to join the debate.

Anyway, so now the Championship rolls on to tomorrow. The odds of Perez winning and getting fastest lap are slim (as he'll be starting towards the back). But it's possible. So I'll be marshalling at Silverstone, but I'll have my fingers hugely crossed for Pastor still.

And not only fingers crossed for Perez not getting all the points on the board. But fingers crossed for Pastor having a decent race. There's this whole "Maldonado can't drive in traffic" thing, which I'd like him to be able to lay to rest at least a little bit by the end of the season. As it is actually a load of codswallop.

I've just, as I type this, investigated all his sprint race results this year. And it proves my point well. In 8 sprint races, he's had two accidents. One where he made contact with Grosjean and it was deemed by commentators at the time as 50/50 (so he wasn't driving wildly, it was just unfortunate) and the other was that whole black flag nonsense that I've talked about at length before, after he and Perez made contact (so apparently Perez can't drive in traffic either?... oh no wait, he's the Sprint King). Otherwise his only non-finish was due to a mechanical gremlin at the start of the sprint race at Spa. His sprint results have otherwise been: (start position/finish position) 3rd/3rd, 7th/11th, 8th/6th, 8th/4th and 8th/4th. So he's hardly a liability. Two incidents in sprint races, and he's branded by some as incapable of driving in traffic without causing an accident. This isn't 2008 anymore. He's changed. But the naysayers had even tricked me into thinking he couldn't really do sprint races. He CAN do sprint races. *cough*just not the last three*cough*.

I hope he kicks butt tomorrow. The pressure is pretty much off now. He can just DRIVE.

I hope.

He'll be way down the order though, surrounded by people who drive like he used to sometimes drive. This position on the grid isn't just in The Danger Zone... this is, um, I dunno, The Grid Position of Doom ?? Or 'potentially-but-hopefully-not doom' anyway. But that's less catchy.

Is this blog long enough yet? Oh yes, I think so. Maybe I should start planning these out, rather than just typing as the words fall out of my head and ending up with the longest bits of nonsense ever. Oh well, sorry! x

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The marshals at Spa

My friend Chris and I have both recently joined the Silverstone Marshals Team, so we took great interest in watching what the marshals at Spa got up to:

Smoking on Post
One of the first things we noticed was that the majority of the marshals were smoking on post, during the races. That has got to be a bad idea, surely?? I couldn't really get my head around that. A lot of them would have an umbrella in one hand, and a fag in the other. I know you've got a few seconds after a crash to let things settle before you run out to the rescue, but this still doesn't seem like the optimum marshalling stance to me.

Red flags
OK, for this one I'm not saying that this was the marshals being rubbish, as I assume it must have been down to the way the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is designed, but the number of red flags was ridiculous. 

In the support series, if someone went off the track then it would be red flagged almost without exception whilst they busied themselves with removing the car. The biblical rain played its hand of course, but it seemed strange that most crashes just immediately got the red flag treatment. (There were 7 or 8 red flags on Friday - admittedly the weather was horrible, but still). There were fewer red flags on Saturday and Sunday, because they'd bring the safety car out during races instead. (And we saw the safety car so many times that for a little while the 5 of us even stopped shouting "SEXYSEXYSAFETYCAR!!!" every single time we saw it).

I'm not really sure what they'd do to fix the situation though, as I assume the main problem was the combination of getting the recovery vehicles to the stricken cars and the repeatedly torrential rain meaning that the young guns struggled to keep the cars on the track.

The funniest track action came courtesy of a marshal during one of the support series sessions. One guy crashed his car backwards into the tyre barrier, clearly injuring his rear wing in the process. You could see that the wing was broken at one side. 

Along comes a marshal, clambering over the tyre barrier behind the car. The tyres are quite high, so when it came to jumping down from them, the marshal put a hand on the rear wing of the car to steady him as he jumped down.

However, the wing was (obviously) broken, and wasn't strong enough to hold the weight of a grown man. As he leant on it, the entire wing just snapped off the back of the car!! I imagine the team wasn't best pleased about this..! (but gosh it made me laugh).

When I've been at Silverstone, the guys have always told me that drivers can get a bit funny about you touching their car because they worry about you breaking them by putting pressure on the wrong bit.  If ever I get near a car when I'm on post, I will now always think of the image of that marshal collapsing onto the gravel with bits of rear wing falling around him...!! I'll try my best to never re-enact his comedy moment.

Best seats in the house
Being a track marshal at Spa looks like a BRILLIANT idea. They have the most absolutely stunning views of the track, and without any of those pesky fences in the way. There were several posts where we would point at them and be like "imagine being THERE!". Once we've got some marshalling experience under our belts we'll have to consider trying to get a place out there, that'd be awesome. Even if I will feel like the odd one out by not smoking on post.....! ;-)

My next day marshalling is a week today (Sunday 12th) at Silverstone for the Le Mans Series. It's been ages since my last go, so I just can't wait! I'm going to start off in the paddock, which will be cool to experience... I'll probably come back here to tell you all about it.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Spa - GP(naught-point-)2

So, as I mentioned - I went to the Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It was utterly amazing. I genuinely gasped the first time I saw Eau Rouge looming up in the background, and we stayed to watch the start of the F1 FP1 from the F1 Village so that we could watch the cars go up Eau Rouge, and it was incredible. My friends and I just looked at each other with ridiculous grins on our faces every single time a car went up that amazing hill...

A photo will never do it justice. Especially not this photo.

Anyway, I'll talk more generally about the trip and about Spa later. But first things first - let's talk about GP2. The GP2 was ace.

Of course, it didn't start so well. The cars were only out for a few minutes of the practice session on rainy rainy Friday before someone crashed and the rain was so heavy that the red flag came out and stayed out. We watched the time just tick away until the session ended without the track being open again. Such a pity.

A little while later, it was time for qualifying. Race Control decided to go for the world record of number of red flags shown in one session. There were at least 4 red flags. It should have been a 30 min session, but there were so many breaks that it lasted at least twice that long. In fact, one break was so long we walked all the way from Pouhon back to Eau Rouge (via the F1 lorries and the blimp) before the green light came back on in the pitlane. It was tense but good, and Pastor ended up third which was acceptable.

Pastor on the big screen, Eau Rouge at our side.

Saturday dawned (with the occasional spot of sunshine), and poor Herck had his pole position taken away from him for yellow flag related naughtiness. This put Pastor onto the front row, which is where I like him to be. The race wasn't exactly straight forward for Pastor on Saturday, in fact it was his toughest race of the season. He put in a very solid performance from the start and JUST managed to leap ahead of Jermone d'Ambrosio at the pitstop. It was heart-stopping stuff, but he came out his box mere centimetres ahead of d'Ambrosio who'd pitted at the same time. (Alternative rubbish blog titles: "DAMN, Brosio!" or "Ooh ahh, it's d'Ambrosia")

Pastor wasn't quite in the lead though- Alvaro Parente was out front, but he still had to pit, after which Pastor would be P1. But before he could pull away from d'Ambrosio, something went a bit wrong with Pastor's car. We've not found out what went wrong, but his way of describing it in the press conference was that something in it was 'rubbing' and so he started to lose time and d'Ambrosio caught and passed him again.

Interestingly, Pastor says that he let Jerome through without fighting him so that he didn't lose time battling. It was a long-term strategy for the race - letting d'Ambrosio through, sacrificing 2 points and hoping that the trace of smoke spotted coming out of the rival car earlier in the race would turn into something bigger.  This was judged to be a the lesser of two evils when the other alternative was to fight the attacking moves from d'Ambrosio, stress the car out with the defensive driving, get caught up by the rest of the field, and probably get passed for the win (and more?) eventually anyway due to the lack of pace from the broken car.

I admit my initial reaction to this was - "WHAT?!". Pastor is a racer and a fighter and he does not give things up easily. This is what caused him to crash out of so many races in previous years - his inability to let go once he'd sniffed the chance of something. Admittedly he's tamed this wild streak immensely, but it still seems so un-natural to give away a win. (It sounds like the team told him he should, as Perez was out of the points at the time so it wasn't sacrificing too many championship points to his main rival).

But when I think about it, that one decision gave him the chance to win the race. If he'd lost any time fighting d'Ambrosio for that position, then they'd have lost time to Parente and Parente would have been able to simply leapfrog into the lead after his last-minute pitstop. And the smoke that Pastor had seen come from d'Ambrosio's car earlier in the race DID turn into something bigger - at one point, Jerome's car gave up the ghost and drifted to a halt. Pastor had his place back. And he was still a good 7 or 8 seconds ahead of Romain Grosjean, who was now third.

For a moment, everything was serene. Then with only 3 laps to go, Parente (who had started 19th and absolutely drove his socks off) came in to pit. Just as a few little spots of rain started to fall. He rejoined the track just in front of Grosjean - about 7 seconds down on Pastor. But Pastor's car was struggling round (the Eurosport commentators kindly referred to him as "a dead duck", but I don't think they realised his car was broken) and Parente was on the right tyres - tyres that are known to perform at their best for around about the first three laps. And he had three laps to go. He absolutely FLEW. He took three seconds out of Pastor's lead in the first lap. I swear my heart stopped beating.

When they started the last lap, Parente was a second or so behind Pastor, but he was driving like Billio. (I assume Billio drives quickly). When they came past us at Pouhon, Parente was only just a corner behind. I swear I stopped breathing. I peaked out at the track and the TV screens between my fingers for the rest of the lap - I couldn't bear to watch, but didn't want to miss it.

As they disappeared out of view, Parente was visibly catching Pastor - but Pastor was driving inch perfectly in the spitting rain, not over-driving, not panicking, just calmly putting his car in all the right places and getting it to the finish line as fast as he could. I resigned myself to the fact that Parente would overtake him, Pastor was powerless to it. Oh well. Second place wasn't bad, I guess. Let's try not to be too miserable when it happens. Don't let it ruin the weekend.

But Pastor kept going, kept holding on. He went deep into the Bus Stop and Parente got half a look, but Pastor still had it under control and managed to cross the line 0.2 seconds ahead of the other car. Wow. (Yeah, see, the blog title almost makes sense now..)

But it brings me back to a previous point - if Pastor had lost time by fighting with d'Ambrosio, then he would have been gobbled up by Parente with ease. So somehow, letting Jerome past ended up gaining him places. Funny how things work out in the end.

Pastor coming out of Pouhon
I must take a moment to say that both d'Ambrosio and Parente drove incredible races. Jerome was terribly unlucky that his car died on him, and Parente was immense to almost win after starting back in 19th. He played the game ever so well by waiting till the last minute to pit, and if he'd won then he'd have deserved it and even I would have (grudgingly!) admitted that. But Pastor drove incredibly well, and incredibly maturely, and if his car hadn't been slowed down a bit by the rubbing then he would have romped away into the distance.

Of course, whilst Pastor was racing for his life (well, for his title), all wasn't well with my other GP2 favourite, the unfortunate Sam Bird. Sam is an incredibly talented driver (I always tell people about how he was quicker than Jenson at a charity karting event a few years ago) but he's just having horrendous Johnny Herbert/Mark Webber luck this season. He can't catch a break. He's good at Spa and was looking forward to it - but he got taken out at the first corner of the feature race. I was a bit heartbroken for him. The sprint race wasn't much better. Roll on Monza... we've just got to keep the faith that one day he'll start getting the results that he deserves.

Also, we'd gone to all the effort of making him a sign and he only got to drive past it about three times...! Not that he'd have seen it at all, but it's the principle of the thing.

The world's most unimpressive sign - but I did draw it in the dark...
Incidentally, lots of people who left straight after the F1 quali and didn't stay for the GP2 walked past us to get out, and they would stop to read the sign. And they'd sort of smile, and then look confused, and then look blank and walk off. I felt like shouting after them all "Just you wait two years - then you'll know who the hell Sam Bird is!" But they were probably foreign so wouldn't have understood. ("Le oiseau? Je ne comprende pas!")

(And let's not talk of Sunday's sprint race. Pastor's car didn't last a whole lap, Sam had a miserable race and Johnny Cecotto (my second favourite Venezuelan) lasted five laps. And, to add insult to injury, Perez (second in the championship battle) won, so closed the gap up to Pastor again. I like to pretend Sunday's race didn't happen...! Thankfully, Saturday's race was awesome enough to make up for it.)

My pointless Pastor banner enjoys one of the best views on the circuit