8/15/2006 0 Comments
Life in the pitlane when you're waiting for something to happen on track is a strange place to be, a mixture of anticipation and boredom in equal measure. "It's wet, wet, wet."
"Does that mean love is all around us?"
"How long have you been coming to races now? When has that word ever been used here?"
"Yeah, good point. You won't put that in the blog, will you?"
"Of course not."
Feeble jokes aside, it was showery for much of the weekend, which was a problem for most people as, if they've been to Budapest before, they knew that it has never a. rained or b. been cold in the history of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and they dressed accordingly. Or at least, that was my excuse.
And the drivers were soon looking for excuses too, with so many of them getting caught out in the tricky conditions of free practice. Some of the newer drivers went off, including Luca Filippi and Javi Villa (who prompted a few people in the paddock to wonder as to whether, being from Spain, he had actually seen rain in his young life), but the big shock of the session was when Lewis Hamilton lost control of his car and put it into the barrier at turn 11; it was his first ever spin in a GP2 car. To make things worse for the Briton his arch rival Nelson Piquet Jr took the top time by over a second as he walked back to the paddock.
It was there that the full extent of the damage became apparent as the ART mechanics set to work replacing everything down the left side of Hamilton's car, creating a pile of bent metal and broken carbon fibre in the small space out the back between the ART and BCN pits. One of the mechanics was tasked to rebuild the gearbox, a slow and painstaking task at the best of times, but his driver sat and watched all the way through, occasionally asking questions as the mechanic carefully slid one cog into place before oiling the top, spreading it evenly with a small brush and selecting the next cog to repeat the process all over again.
Over in the Piquet Sports garage and their driver had a different problem. "Why is everyone writing about me going to Super Aguri?" he asked, genuinely puzzled. "I've never said anything more than hello to them."
"That's your problem right there: you said hello, they said hello back, someone saw that and put it together from there. 2 plus 2 equals 5."
"But if they wanted to know the story then they could come and ask me: it's not like it's hard to find me here."
"Sure, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?"
But it wasn't long before they both had bigger things to worry about. Qualifying took place on a dry track under gloomy skies, and while there was some Formula One rubber on track as usual, the grip levels were well down on what they've come to rely on for the session. Piquet, alone among the main challengers went out on used tyres at the start, and it was a gamble that inadvertently paid off in spades.
On the first lap out of the pits Hamilton spun his car and stalled his engine, being left behind by the rest of the field. Gesturing frantically for a push, he waited for the marshals to attend to his stricken car and, as the field was coming back around for their first flying lap he slowly crawled onto the racing line with the helmeted marshals all over the rear of his car. Inevitably everyone else's fast lap was destroyed as they slowed to find a way past the stationary car, their new tyres past their prime already.
Piquet dived into the pits to wait it out, and when the track was eventually clear (after Hiroki Yoshimoto and Fairuz Fauzy also spun) he had an obvious advantage: an extra set of new tyres. As Hamilton sat by the side of the circuit, his helmeted head in his hands in despair, his rival took pole by six tenths of a second, an age in GP2 terms when the usual gap for pole is one or two tenths. Jose Maria Lopez claimed the remaining front row position, while Michael Ammermüller made Arden's usual qualifying troubles disappear by claiming third, a fraction ahead of Adam Carroll and Alex Premat.
"The car was working very well," Piquet noted afterwards, as relaxed and expansive as ever. "Fortunately I didn't get as much traffic as you usually get at this circuit, and I got about two laps out of the four that you can do, so it was quite good. I'm happy."
"I think my car was undriveable in qualifying, but what can I do?" a tightly wound Yoshimoto stated back in his pit. "I just have to drive and get the best out of it. My first set were gone because Ammermüller blocked me: I have to thank him for that, and I'm going to tell him to wear bigger glasses. On my second set I was coming over the hill and Lopez just started to slow down like a turtle: I was about to crash into him and I lost everything." He then walked next door for a chat as the German sheepishly walked out front.
"Yes maybe I blocked him a little bit," he acknowledged. "I went to the left side but he said it was not enough space for him. But yes, he just said to me maybe next time you can go one metre more to the left."
"I went to see him after qualifying to say I was sorry," Lopez admitted, "because I'm one of the first to say that this is a problem. Obviously I can understand why he was so upset because if the same thing happened to me it would be very bad. I think he's had the same problem in the last few races, so I'm just really sorry because I didn't see him."
"Yeah, I probably could have been second, but it was tough to get a clear track today," Gimmi Bruni later noted, adding, "unfortunately I got held up by Yoshi."
"Not right now," Hamilton stated when asked for a quote about his session, sitting in the gloom at the back of the truck by himself and waiting to hear if he would be penalised for steering onto the racing line in qualifying. "Maybe a bit later." Starting from the back meant that no penalty could be applied, and he was later handed a reprimand instead, much to his relief.
The next morning and the rain returned, intermittently but enough to annoy. It meant there was little to do but sit in hospitality and gossip, the drivers bitching good humouredly about each other as their mechanics worked on each part of the car for the fifth time in a row in their pits. There was the usual signing sessions and talk in the Paddock Club, but if you weren't involved in that it meant you had a long, dreary wait indoors for the Formula One cars to get off the track and let the race commence.
And when it came, it was a lesson in variable weather driving from Piquet, who just disappeared at the front when the lights went out. Lopez was slow away from second before tapping Ammermüller, who had got by at the start, into a spin and out of the race, allowing Carroll through into second place, with Bruni on his tail.
Well behind the pair Timo Glock and Giorgio Pantano were squabbling like school children, and enjoying every minute of it. "Giorgio pushed me out and I really struggled in the second corner," claimed the German. "He said before the race, 'I will overtake you at the start,' and he did it. I said I'd overtake him again like I did in Hockenheim and Magny Cours, so we got it right!" "When I saw him he went to brake over here in the paddock, so I said 'okay, goodbye!'" Pantano later laughed. "He was late braking and we went off, but I was expecting to see that from him!"
At the back of the grid Hamilton was doing what he could to minimise the damage, and a good start pushed him up from last to 18th before coming in for an early pitstop so as to get some clear track ahead of him in an attempt to leap through the field in the pits. It may well have worked but for his eagerness to get the stop over with – a drive through penalty for speeding a few laps later took away any natural advantage he had gained.
Glock too was in early after falling back into the traffic with Pantano. The German's stop was far more successful than Hamilton's, however, and he was soon in clear air and faster than anyone on track bar Piquet, who was untouchable for speed. The other teams responded when they saw the times, but it was too late: every driver bar the leader came out behind Glock after their pitstops, including Carroll, who changed all four tyres: "Yeah, and I got a shake and a Big Mac with it as well!
"We decided to go for four wheels, and it wasn't too much slower but it was just a little slower than we hoped for, really. I came out in ninth place, and I think that was a bit of a shock for all of us!"
Piquet also stopped for four tyres, but he had the luxury of time on his side. The stop turned a 45 second lead into 12 seconds at the front, but next time by the pits and the Brazilian was already increasing the margin back to Glock and Bruni. When the Italian's suspension failed Pantano was promoted to the podium and, despite pushing Glock all the way to the finish line, that was how they finished.
"I don't know what to say really," Piquet later reflected, "everything worked perfectly. We had a very good start, and the car worked really great from the beginning of the race to the end. That's how every driver wants to do a weekend, and that's how I wish to finish the championship: to drive like that every time." Having added the win to his pole the Brazilian was even more laid back, underselling his performance as ever despite his clear superiority on the day.
Hamilton put in an astounding drive to get up to tenth, despite starting from the back and taking a drive through penalty, but on a day where his rival cut his lead in half it wasn't enough. With the door to the ART truck firmly closed after the race, his brother, whose normal bright and cheery demeanour had been temporarily lost in sympathy, said: "I don't know if he's in there or not, but he's not really talking at the moment…"
"…" an enormously frustrated Yoshimoto proclaimed after the race, having once again finished his race by the side of the track as a result of a collision with a Frenchman, this time Nicolas Lapierre. "Actually, you better cut the swearing out if you want to print that."
Sunday woke up to the downpour that had threatened by proxy all weekend, and the teams worked as much as they could on the cars under cover before starting the long, soaking haul up the hill to the pitlane. The GP2 paddock is in a crater at the bottom of a steep hill up to the F1 paddock next to turn two, and the teams tow all of their equipment up behind a quad bike while the drivers are given the rare opportunity to drive the cars from the paddock to the pitlane rather than trying to push the vehicles up the steep incline.
Everybody drove up the hill on old wet tyres, as expected: everyone, that is, bar Yoshimoto, who opted for a slippery ride on new dry tyres. "I start 21st: what have I got to lose?" he noted, not unreasonably. "Besides, it makes life more interesting."
Nonetheless he made it safely to the pits, and then to the grid too, a task Pantano was unable to carry out. With the rain easing slightly but small creeks still crossing the track, the Italian lost the back of his car and pitched slowly into the wall. He eventually managed to limp back to the pits where his team set to work on repairing his broken rear wing endplate, and his chief rival was now the clock rather than Glock.
Pantano's spin highlighted the poor conditions to race control, who took the inevitable decision to start the race behind the safety car. On lap 3 they were released, and Carroll immediately pressured poleman Lopez into turn one. It was top much for the Argentine, who spun in front of his rival before finding the wall, leaving the door open for Carroll to take the lead and run.
Behind him Piquet made a strong start from eighth to be fourth by the end of the first lap, with Hamilton one place back from tenth. Negrao was second as a result of a strong drive the day before, but he undid all of his hard work next time by the pitlane when he spun slowly into the barriers at turn one, promoting Alex Premat to second behind the flying Carroll.
Piquet already had a sniff of a second win, and there was no chance he was going to settle for less, no matter what the conditions suggested. He made short work of getting by Premat; certainly far shorter than the Frenchman's teammate behind him, at least; and when Carroll slid off the kerb and bounced into the wall a perfect weekend was in Piquet's pocket.
The iSport engineers had done their usual sound job in setting up their cars despite the conditions, allowing Viso and Glock to steam through the field and into the points. There was no love lost between the pair, but their cars were so good that they were able to drag each other up the order despite also attacking each other throughout, much to the delight of the sodden fans around the track.
Piquet was untouchable yet again, his two years racing in Britain giving him unsurpassed skills in the wet. Hamilton was well back in second, comprehensively outpaced but at least scoring some points at last to stem the leaks in the outgoing tide of the championship. Premat held out, just, from Viso and Glock for the final podium position, the three drivers crossing the line nose to tail.
“It was disastrous at the start of the weekend, obviously,” Hamilton reflected on his return to the paddock. “It has been tough for us to get the right set up, because we missed most of practice and all of qualifying: we were behind in that, because of my mistakes. So today to come from tenth to second was a good achievement for us.”
Asked how he felt at the conclusion of his perfect weekend, the serene Piquet smiled and stated: “It feels excellent. I'm very relieved, and I think the relief you have when you've done what you've always dreamed of doing from the beginning of last year feels wonderful. I think my car was driving well so you don't need to overdrive the car, which is when you make some silly mistakes, and you can do a perfect race.
“I don't think he [Hamilton] had trouble, I think he made some stupid mistakes, like spinning in qualifying, crashing in practice, speeding in the pits in the race: he made a lot of mistakes this weekend. He could have easily started ahead of me in the race today and then held me for the whole race, but for his mistakes.
“I think it will now be a very big push for the next two races, and for us to win the championship. Hopefully I’ll do the same in Turkey that I did here. I think that the whole team is getting better every race, and I’m sure we can do the same again.”
And with that said Piquet walked over to collect his famous father, hugging each other once again before the pair walked together, through the gloom, back up the hill towards the Formula One paddock.
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