It’s rare that the outside world imposes itself on a racing paddock, a self-contained world away from everything past the circuit gates, but the bombing attack in London was the main topic of discussion as the various teams arrived at Silverstone. A number of people were late arrivals as a result – Alfonso de Orleans was stuck in the underground, others were delayed by airport closures – and it was a brief reminder of mortality in a realm that generally prefers not to think about the subject.
With added security popping up all around the paddock the teams universally decided to show their respect by affixing black bands to the cars before trying to take their minds off current events by throwing themselves into their work. It was a relief to get to free practice and a bit of normality. Adam Carroll struck the first blow in the session, topping the times ahead of Scott Speed and Gimmi Bruni at his home circuit.
Qualifying was an echo from the past when Nico Rosberg just pipped Nelson Piquet to pole, a reflection of qualifying in Formula One twenty years previous. When journalists discovered the previous result they obviously tried to link the two sessions for the sake of a story, but for Piquet his result was more important for what it meant now than for what it was being compared with.
“1985 - that was just when I was born. For me, my car was better here, and I think we can still improve. I think it all works out when you feel good in the car, you're concentrated and do a good lap - it helps. And I know the circuit quite well, so I am very happy.”
It was clear the session was a relief for the Brazilian after the start of the season had not gone as planned, and that the team that bore his name wasn’t working as well as he hoped. Notoriously shy around people he doesn’t know, Piquet struggled to open up to journalists about his season, but at last he felt that a win was around the corner, a result that he could point to without needing to explain why things hadn’t worked out.
But it wasn’t to be – Piquet’s car broke down on the way to the grid, and he was left stranded by the side of the track as the rest of the field filed past on their warm up lap, his already dark eyes turning black as he turned in on himself, a defence against people asking him about yet more disappointment in a season of plenty.
It was an early present for Rosberg, and he grabbed it with both hands at the start as, with no one on the grid next to him, he tore away into an unassailable lead. Heikki Kovalainen, third on the grid, indicated his intentions by pointing his car towards the empty space, but he simply didn’t have the pace and was left behind by the man who had rapidly become his principal rival in the championship.
Premat made an early stop and the strategy worked out – the lead pair came in together and when they reappeared on track the Frenchman was third but the race was over, and Rosberg had his second win of the series, and ART had their first double podium of the year. “I’m really happy,” he smiled afterwards. “We were able to open a safe gap for the pitstop, that worked out well and we came out in front, and then I just controlled the gap to him until the end.”
Sunday was to throw up a complete surprise in the unlikely shape of Olivier Pla. The ginger Frenchman had had a wretched season so far, spinning so often that some people in the paddock were betting on which lap he would spin out of each race. He scraped into eighth place on Saturday, but no one outside of DPR was prepared to entertain him holding onto the front of the grid at the start of the race, let alone at the finish.
Pla is an extremely intense driver, and would often be found sitting at the end of his team's truck scowling with concentration, working himself up into a fury as he replayed the previous race in his head. The more bad luck he had the more severe his intensity would be, but it’s this same intensity that allows him to race – if he could channel it in the right direction it was clear that good results would come.
And so it proved in race two – after a strong getaway at the start he got to the first corner first and kept him there, despite race-long pressure from Piccione and then Speed, finishing half a second ahead of the American to claim a momentous win which made the demons evaporate.
Behind them Kovalainen and Rosberg ran like a train through the field, fighting each other all the way, and finished the race on Speed’s rear wing, but the top three in the championship were unable to steal Pla’s moment in the sun.
“It was a lot of fucking pressure!” he laughed in the paddock after the podium celebrations. “Before the safety car it was okay – I could manage the gap to Piccione, but after the safety car I began to move the car and had a big degradation of my tyres, so that’s the reason why I came back a bit to the others. I was so happy for every mechanic, for everybody on the team – this win is for all of them. It is fantastic!”
After the bad luck he’d suffered earlier in the year no one in the paddock begrudged him his moment of infectious joy – everyone knew what it felt like to have lost in the past, and after a long and emotional weekend it felt good to have something to smile about at last.