If Bahrain was shaping up to be the most important weekend of Heikki Kovalainen and Nico Rosberg’s young lives – and it was – then they weren’t about to admit they were thinking about it as they arrived at the circuit.
“I think all of the weekends have been important, so I don’t think about it that way,” Kovalainen noted. “I’ve got no pressure at the moment, so I can relax and just fight, and I am attacking now instead of defending, so that’s good.”
“I’ve had my first real week off since April where I could just concentrate on my training,” Rosberg reflected, “and the whole week was just dedicated to getting my energy back, and I spent some time with my girlfriend and things like that.”
The truth, as ever, was more prosaic: Kovalainen had two weeks to reflect on losing the lead in the championship for the first time in the season, and pressure had been on him all year to win for Renault. Rosberg had a cold for a week or so, and felt dreadful but was unable to admit it for fear of showing a chink in his armour. Both men have an easy humour with most in the paddock, but the pressure meant it was forced, a deliberate sign to signal they were unaffected, honest.
For both men the best moment of the unfolding weekend was when they could get into their cars: after two weeks away they could get back to what they do best, to where they feel most relaxed – the car.
Qualifying was run over two sessions, and Kovalainen stated his intentions by topping the times in the first, just ahead of Rosberg and Scott Speed. However, Rosberg struck back in the second to claim pole, where he would be surrounded by Kovalainen and his teammate Nicolas Lapierre. “I’m really pleased,” Rosberg smiled after the session, “two points already, and every point counts.”
With the race on that afternoon there was little time to wait, and that suited the title rivals down to the ground. The pair ran side by side down to the first corner, but Rosberg had the better line and let Kovalainen into turn one. Unfortunately three cars were left stranded on the grid and the safety car was called, which led to the decisive moment of the race – the safety car was in one lap later, and Kovalainen followed it into the pits.
It was a risky strategy but one which had worked in the past, and Kovalainen was out in twentieth but with clear air in front of him, allowing him to run at his own pace in the opening stint of the race.
Rosberg now led Lapierre and teammate Alex Premat, and the trio weren’t about to wait for the now departed Finn. Kovalainen ran as fast as possible, and was up to eighth on lap eleven, when Rosberg’s engineer clearly decided not to risk anything for any longer and brought his driver in, followed closely by the other leaders.
The stop was good enough – Rosberg re-emerged just in front of Kovalainen, and pulled away almost immediately. ART had obviously won the battle for speed, as Premat caught and dispatched the Finn five laps later, just ahead of Ferdinando Monfardini, who was now driving the race of his life for Coloni with Vilander having to return for the final race in Italia 3000, the latest twist in that particular saga.
Heartbreakingly it didn’t last – his car stopped by the side of the road and all of his good work was undone. At the front Rosberg was pulling away with ease, and with his teammate protecting him from Kovalainen and also setting the fastest lap of the race all he had to do to win the championship was finish the race.
Rosberg finished the race, and he was the first ever GP2 champion.
“There’s worse things than that, for sure!” he laughed after his team had finally put him back on the ground after carrying him along the paddock. “It’s an unbelievably happy moment for me, to have won the GP2 championship. It’s unreal – when you look at the list of names in the series you think ‘shit, this is going to be a difficult one to win’. To have had a difficult start and then come out on top at the end is just amazing.”
“It’s very disappointing of course,” Kovalainen noted dolefully, “I’ve got five victories, and they’ve all been very good moments, so from that point of view there are some positive things to think about. Although at the moment I don’t feel too great about them.”
He wouldn’t feel too great about the final race of the season either, after spinning out in the scrap for the first corner. The BCN pair of Ernesto Viso and Hiroki Yoshimoto started from the front row, and Viso won the battle for turn one before stretching out a lead.
Rosberg and Premat were slicing through the field like a hot knife through butter, and it was only a matter of time before they arrived on the tail of the Venezuelan. Viso wasn’t about to give up the lead without a fight, and Rosberg followed him for lap after lap. His advantage was too great though, and the German finally sliced past at turn one and was gone.
Premat needed second place to guarantee third in the championship, but Viso had other ideas – his laps were inch perfect, one after the other, and while the gaggle of cars from sixth to thirteenth split by mere seconds and were passing and re-passing each other at will, Premat could not find a way past to claim the position.
And so it finished – Rosberg was the first man to take two wins in a weekend, Viso held onto a strong second place ahead of Premat, and Scott Speed took two points for fastest lap after starting in the pits to claim third in the championship by just half a point.