The Monaco weekend was a change from the normal, with the teams setting up in a multi-storey carpark built into the cliff underneath the Palais Princier rather than under tarpaulins built off the side of their trucks, and the views out over harbour, the casino and the sea made a nice change from the usual view of another teams pit or an industrial garbage bin.
Arriving a day early due to the traditional Friday rest day, which wasn’t going to apply to GP2, the drivers found they had less to do and more time to do it, with most deciding to spend time shopping or zipping around on their scooters rather than stopping in the fleece inducing cold of the carpark.
For those who were affiliated with a Formula One team – Kovalainen, Carroll, Rosberg and Speed – the weekend was a good send, a chance to see and be seen in the most popular paddock of the season, to promote themselves in front of the most high powered audience of their young lives. For the others it was a chance to try and find a way up, or at the very least to work on their tans in a glamourous location.
It was also the home race for a number of drivers – Piquet, Rosberg and Piccione – and they were more pumped up than usual to perform well in front of their friends and family. As was Yoshimoto, who had brought a number of sponsors over from Japan at great expense to show them what he was capable of.
Added to which it was Monaco, the one race you can tell even non-motorsport fans you’ve won and have them understand its importance.
Because of the number of series running on the weekend free practice and qualifying were run just half an hour apart on the so-called rest day, meaning that any damage in the first session would severely hamper your qualifying. Olivier Pla was the fastest in a very sedate practice.
Qualifying, as expected, was more eventful – the combination of so little track time and the challenge of threading the needle through the unforgiving walls surrounding the famous circuit meant that an action-packed session was guaranteed.
The session opened dramatically when Can Artam struck Piquet on the approach to Mirabeau in an incident that was much discussed in the paddock. Olivier Pla and Ernesto Viso also found the barriers, albeit under their own power, and the resultant stoppages in the session meant that Ryan Sharp and Xandi Negrao were unable to set a time within 107% of pole.
When these repairs were added to Yoshimoto and Jose Maria Lopez being unable to set a time at all due to mechanical maladies, the increased workload created the usual gloom among mechanics visiting the tight circuit when it came time to get back to work on their cars.
Kovalainen managed to find a clear line through the mayhem to record the fastest lap of the session and claim pole position, ahead of Gimmi Bruni and Carroll. “The plan was to take it easy at first in practice and to find the way,” the Finn noted after the session, “and on the second set of tyres to push. I was lucky it was exactly the right time to go out."
The Monaco lifestyle was having its effect on most of paddock. When Paolo Coloni went out at the end of the day he somehow managed to have his jacket stolen, along with his wallet and mobile phone, but all were replaced by the next day when he escorted Mathias Lauda to a number of sponsor events on yachts all around the harbour.
It’s hard to stay upset when you have a glass of champagne in your hand and are watching a spectacular sunset over the sea in front of you, and he was far from alone in enjoying the hospitality of the principality.
But when the racing started these thoughts were long gone. Kovalainen made the most of pole and was easily the first man through St Devote, with Bruni and Carroll unable to keep up with the Finn’s early pace. Viso was out after an early stop – he left the pitlane with the red lights at the exit still showing and was black flagged next time by, completing an appalling weekend for BCN.
Carroll was the first of the leaders into the pits, two laps before Kovalainen who was held up when his left front tyre stuck – his mechanic kept pulling at the errant wheel before finally moving to the other side of the car, but the damage was done and he was a lap down on new leader Bruni.
The Italian pushed to make as big a gap as possible before stopping, but was unable to quite do it – he was out just behind Carroll after making his pitstop. Despite the Ulsterman tapping a barrier and bending his steering column slightly the tight confines of the circuit meant that Bruni was unable to find a way past, and Carroll took the win by just six tenths from Bruni and an impressively strong Rosberg.
Carroll stood proudly on the podium, his red face betraying the physical nature of the fight he had just won. He was the first double winner of the new series, and for a man whose career has always been underfinanced being able to call himself a Monaco winner was going to do him no harm at all.