Hockenheim came and went in a blur, an extended moment of madness that passed by in the eye of the hurricane that was July. With four race weekends in a month it was clear that July was always going to be telling in the fight for the title, and the German round showed that momentum was moving towards the local driver.
Ryan Sharp arrived in Germany convinced in his ability to beat his teammate, but suffering in the comparison resultswise. Sharp was unwavering in his belief in his ability, but Olivier Pla’s win in race two in Silverstone had been a blow – not finishing is never a good result, particularly when you teammate finishes first, but to have this happen at his home race was the final blow – he had one more weekend to turn his entire career around.
The German round brought home to everyone in the paddock how popular the series had already become – Ernesto Viso and Gimmi Bruni were asked to take a busload of fans around the circuit, explaining their approach to every corner as they arrived, and they enjoyed themselves so much that they volunteered to take a second group on the same tour.
And later the now usual signing session took place with the German speaking drivers starring – Mathias Lauda, Neel Jani, Nico Rosberg and ring in Heikki Kovalainen were in place as one thousand fans turned up, the majority showing their credentials as race fans by arriving with photos of the drivers from their former careers as Euroseries and Formula 3000 drivers rather than appearing with Ferrari caps, as most of the fans at the other tracks did.
After the session Rosberg was to get a taste of the future – being the third driver for the Williams Formula One outfit meant that he had a second signing immediately after the one for his principal job, and he continued to sign hundreds of autographs more without complain before returning to focus on the job at hand.
The skies were pregnant with the threat of rain as the drivers took to the track for free practice, and while Sharp was trying to remake a name for himself, Scott Speed was pushing to step up from his perennial third place – he was four tenths quicker than anyone and looking like he was headed for a dominant performance, but in qualifying Nico Rosberg struck back, claiming pole by half a second over the American, with title rival Heikki Kovalainen stuck back in ninth position just before the skies finally broke.
Rosberg tried to downplay his performance: “Driving around I didn’t think it was going to be so special – it was okay, but not that special” – but it was clear that already that he was eying up a home win to add to his growing reputation in the paddock.
“We’ve got to make a few changes in the set up,” he noted, “because there are always things you can improve on the car, especially for the race. If it rains? I was really good in karting and back in the day, and I think it should be okay now, especially after topping the wet test in Paul Ricard.”
The invocation of the almost holy test session for the ART team should have been a warning to everyone else on the grid – the faster of the two drivers in the most improved team was at the front of the grid for race one, and the others were going to have to be at the top of their game to get close.
Local hero Haddaway, a school friend of Alfonso de Orleans in the paddock as a special guest of Racing Engineering, turned up on the grid to see his first GP2 race, and he proved to be even more popular with the photographers than the drivers; he waved and smiled with ease, clearly comfortable with his Hasselhof levels of popularity in his adopted homeland.
The drivers were happy with the distraction – concentration before a race is at a premium, and anything that gives them a level of time to themselves is to be savoured. And with Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone making an appearance on the grid, the drivers had no one but their own engineers to deal with as they pulled on their helmets ahead of race one.
It was enough for Rosberg – he tore away from the grid when the lights went out, pulling out a huge gap over his teammate Alex Premat as he went. As the race developed Speed pushed hard on the rear wing of the Frenchman, but the season had shown that the American was unlikely to overtake and Premat withstood the pressure. All of which meant that Rosberg in front could stretch his lead to almost fifteen seconds, which behind them Nelson Piquet caught up quickly.
On lap 34 the Brazilian, by now on the tail of his rival and unwilling to wait, barged his way through when Speed ran slightly wide into turn one, and with so few laps remaining Premat, Piquet and Speed ran nose to tail across the line behind home hero Rosberg, the first one-two for any of the teams over the season, with Kovalainen a distant fifth.
“We’ve just really improved the car race by race, and it’s really at a stage now where I must say it’s working really well,” Rosberg stated, ominously, after the race, “and that just makes it fun for me to drive.”
Borja Garcia was on the front row for race two, the man his boss described as by saying “at the moment he learns the track in practice, sets up the car in qualifying, and qualifies in race one”, but he dropped like a stone at the start as poleman Olivier Pla walked away for his second win of the season.
Behind him Giorgio Pantano and Scott Speed filled the podium ahead of Rosberg, who tried too hard to overtake the pair and spun before finishing on their tails as Kovalainen scraped a fifth place just ahead of his teammate. It meant that the gap at the top of the table was shrunk to just six points, while further back Pla’s win was too much for his teammate – Sharp scraped twelfth and thirteenth over the weekend, and advised Dave Price that he wouldn’t be back in Budapest.