After so much sun all season it seemed as if some rain was overdue, and there was nowhere it was more likely to appear than Spa-Francorchamps. The famous Belgian circuit is famous for its unusual micro climate, and fans of wet races were in for a treat – every session was rain affected. Despite having permanent pits for the first time this year, the teams were set for a gloomy weekend.
The Coloni-Bruni spat seemed to have come to a head at last, with the driver appearing for Durango despite the initial arrival of Ferdinando Monfardini in the paddock. A war of words rumbled on between the two teams, while everyone else ignored them and got on with setting up their cars for the tricky conditions.
The sodden free practice session ended with the top five drivers in the championship topping the timesheets albeit with Nico Rosberg one second faster than Heikki Kovalainen on the Finn’s debut at the circuit. The only other man who looked fast was Nelson Piquet, although he was unable to show his hand as the session was red flagged after a number of accidents around the track.
Bruni was behind both Coloni drivers in the session, but in an even wetter qualifying he was on track at the right time to win the lottery – he took pole position on the almost undriveable circuit in a session that was red flagged three times for crashes by Nicolas Lapierre, Rosberg and Giorgio Pantano.
Rosberg looked to have given away a big advantage to his title rival – his crash at Eau Rouge meant the German would line up eleventh on the grid, while a more conservative approach meant Kovalainen was fourth and in a good position to claim a solid result. Rosberg was phlegmatic about the result: “I have everything to win and nothing to lose, so I’ll just go for it tomorrow.”
The race started on a dry track under an ominous looking sky, with Alex Premat taking the lead at La Source before a safety car period for some stalled cars. A second safety car period for a spinning Yoshimoto split the grid when most drivers took the opportunity to pit but Kovalainen, Carroll and Lopez took the risk of staying out and waiting to see if the drizzle than had now started was going to become a full downpour.
Two further safety cars, for crashes by Bruni and Giorgio Mondini, gave the trio the opportunity to come in without penalty, but the rain was never quite strong enough to switch to new wet tyres. Behind them Piquet was driving like a man possessed, tearing through the field and eventually getting past Carroll, showing that the risky strategy had failed. The trio came in under normal racing conditions with just six laps remaining.
Piquet had the race under control and won his first GP2 race convincingly, ahead of an impressive Ernesto Viso who managed to keep Rosberg at bay for his best result of the season. Kovalainen, looking for anything he could find to resuscitate his stuttering challenge, spun off on the last lap as he tried to overtake Mathias Lauda for eight position and the race two pole position that went with it.
The Finn was as understated as ever afterwards, noting “It was not really the best day, but what can you do?” Rosberg by comparison was ecstatic to finally take the lead in the championship, laughing as he said “it’s about time!”
Race two was delayed by more than an hour to allow repairs to be effected to the armco after a heavy crash in soaking conditions in an earlier support race, with the rain barely improving as the lights went out. Carroll tore off from pole to dominate the race, finishing well ahead of Borja Garcia and Scott Speed.
Viso was repeating his fine performance from the day before, overtaking drivers seemingly at will to put himself up to third place before crashing heavily at the top of Eau Rouge on lap nine and ending his race. Further back Bruni got loose at the bottom of the hill and tapped Yoshimoto into a spin, with the Japanese driver impacting the wall solidly before bouncing back into the middle of the track.
A pursuing Neel Jani had nowhere to go - his team heard him say "there's a car ahead" before a long, long scream and then silence. The sickening crash left both drivers with nothing but scrap around them, but thankfully both men eventually emerged from their cars, albeit with the Swiss driver temporarily blinded by the impact and needing assistance to get back to the medical centre.
With debris all across the track there was no other option but to red flag the race, and eventually the results were amended to reflect those at the beginning of lap nine, two before the red flag results from lap eleven. It meant that Viso, who was disappointed to have crashed out after a strong race was able to claim another trophy for his cabinet from Speed, who had collected third at the chastened podium ceremony.
Racing Engineering and BCN reclaimed what they could from their destroyed cars before setting about acquiring new ones for the final round in Bahrain, while further down the paddock Rosberg was celebrating his three point lead in the championship with his team, who had just claimed the initial team’s championship title.
His team boss Frederic Vasseur was delighted, passing champagne around as he stated “at the beginning of the season and we wanted to win one race, and when we won we thought ‘okay, now we have to win another one, and another one, and another one.’” Further up the paddock a tight lipped Kovalainen slipped out of the paddock with a haunted look on his face - for the first time this year the pressure was on him, and it came at the worst possible time in the season.