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


  1. By the way, here's a video of the last few laps:

    The action starts around 5 mins, after Parente pits. The commentators seemed very keen for Parente to win (it would have made a good story) and bear in mind that Pastor's a bit slower than usual because of his car not being quite right, but they say some nice things about him at the end once they stop being excited by the chase. (But again I say, well done Parente. That was a hell of a race!)

  2. Great read, you really convey the emotion of it all across very well!

  3. Good to meet you if only briefly. Was bad timing what with the GP2 just starting - I wanted to get to our nice vantage point above the fence!
    Pastor did well to hang on.

  4. Thanks Connor :)

    And Pat, yeah it was nice to meet you. Pity about the GP2 starting so soon, because I *HAD* to watch it (you probably can't tell at all, but I quite like it) ;) Lovely to put some names to faces though, thanks for coming to find me!