The heat sits heavy on you in Istanbul, like an over-friendly labrador that doesn't realise it's too big to sit on your lap as it happily pants away in your face while slobbering down your shirt. You can feel the heat of the place pressing against every part of your body when you're outside, even in the shade of the hospitality area, and when you step back outside it gets instantly worse.
Of course, you've got to get to the hospitality tent first. Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon decided to drive down from Switzerland for the race, taking in a little break along the way, but regretted it when he made it to the border. "I've driven down the last few times," he started, relating his tale of woe to anyone who would listen, "but for some reason the border guard decided he didn't like me..."
Alfonso, dressed as usual in a pair of shorts and sandals with a t-shirt, was driving his very large, very expensive Mercedes: the border guard clearly decided his appearance and that of the car didn't match. Factor in that Alfonso had recently lost a bet in the paddock which involved shaving his head, and you can start to see why he didn't look particularly royal...
"The guy said a lot of stolen cars get smuggled into Turkey and sold, and he thought that's what I was doing. I had all the car's papers, but that didn't seem to mean much. He had us sitting there for five hours! I didn't know who to call, so I rang Jason's dad..."
Jason's dad, Mumtaz Tahincioglu, is the president of the Turkish Motorsport Federation. He was also, at that very moment, on the field at a charity football match. But he was soon looking at his phone...
"I was watching the guy on the phone, and he was pulling it further and further away from him. It was the Prime Minister's office, and they tore into him. I didn't care by then: he'd keep us for hours by that stage! By the time he came over to talk to me again, he was white as a sheet..."
Alfonso wasn't the only guy to suffer bad luck: DPR engineer Dan Walmsley fell off the quad bike as he made his way round the track with the rest of the team and broke his leg. The break was so bad that he needed a pin in his ankle: unwilling to have it implanted in Istanbul, Dan had to suffer through the night in his hotel room before getting out to the airport on Friday, as well as a rough flight back to England for the procedure. To make things worse it was all for nothing: his driver Christian Bakkerud had a reoccurrence of his previous back malady, and was unable to take part in the weekend after free practice.
By the time we got into the paddock on Friday there was more bad news: FMS had erected their inflatable swimming pool as usual behind their garage, but as they were on the opposite side of the paddock from last year it was pointing towards the F1 paddock, with the powers that be feeling it was inappropriate for their image, and we were left with one less way of dealing with the extraordinary heat.
Nonetheless it was three former or current FMS drivers who filled the top spots in free practice: Giorgio Pantano took the top spot at the end of the season, just 0.043 ahead of Luca Filippi and a tenth ahead of Adam Carroll, with the trio holding on in a session that saw numerous drivers run off track as they searched for the limit on the hard compound tyres. Title rivals Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi were the next two on the timesheets, split by just one thousandth of a second at the end of the half hour period.
Sitting upstairs in the bus between sessions wasn't much fun, but Will Buxton had brought along a large electric fan to try and keep us cool. Mostly it just stirred the porridge of air, but at least he tried. Photographer Andrew Ferraro came up to leave some cards with his colleague Alastair "Stan" Staley to be uploaded, and the heat was clearly getting to him: "Oh, this must be GP2's number one fan" he gestured in its direction.
"That comment is precisely why you're a photographer."
"Yeah, sorry. You won't put that in the blog, will you?"
"No, I haven't got the energy."
A few long hours later and it was time for the trudge back up to the pitlane for qualifying. Over the last few years pole was found during the first few laps using the F1 rubber on track, but this year the best time has usually come at the end of the session, created way more excitement during the session. And so it proved this time: at the end of a frenetic final few minutes Filippi claimed the top spot in a six way shootout, and his first points in five races, just ahead of the iSport duo of Glock and Andi Zuber, with Pantano, Carroll and di Grassi following just behind.
One man who hadn't come to grips at all with his car in the session was Karun Chandhok, who was sweating profusely and looking extremely annoyed on the walk back to the paddock: he had been very wayward throughout the session, and was stumped for a reason. "I don't know what the problem was at all," he sighed as we walked back. "We just couldn't find the right way. I just don't know how we could be faster here."
"Perhaps you could try staying on the track..."
"Shut up! The car was just impossible today: I dread to think what we'll have to do tomorrow..."
Back at the press conference an unexpected problem had come up: "Which seat is for second?" Timo asked as he went to sit down. "Left or right? I'm not used to sitting there..." But it was Luca who, beaming with joy, was the centre of attention for once: "I’m really happy because we needed this pole: we had two very bad weekends, we scored zero points, so I got more points with this pole than from the last two weekends!
"I got a very good lap, but with two corners to go I got traffic and my third sector was bad, so I had a slow lap and I knew I was able to go quicker with a very good third sector. So my first sector wasn’t too bad, second sector was OK and third sector I was pushing very hard and I got a better lap. Honestly I was very confident with the car: you know, when you have a good feeling you can push more and more and it’s a good feeling, and I hope to have the same feeling tomorrow for the race."
Meanwhile, Timo felt in the mood for some crystal ball gazing: "We have to finish the race, that’s important, without any technical problems and try to be in front of Luca Filippi and Lucas di Grassi to try to open the gap in the championship again. It depends all on the start, the strategy, how the race goes, safety car, no safety car: you never know, and you have to play a little bit and see how it goes.
"You saw last year we had a couple of quick races here on Saturday and Sunday with quite a lot of possibilities to overtake, so there should be everything possible. On Sunday when you start from seventh or eighth there is still a possibility to win the race or be on the podium..."
The next morning we were driven over to the merchandise area for the usual driver signing session, with this week's victims being local boy Jason Tahinci along with Karun and Sebastien Buemi, with Kohei Hirate failing to make it to the circuit in time. Instead of the usual giant inflatable tyre we were greeted by a large open air stage, and the regular Ferrari model was replaced by an F1 car rent asunder as art.
Oh, and there were people. Lots of people, everywhere.
"You should go and see the Petrol Ofisi stand," Rebecca Banks stated, watching over Jason on behalf of her team. I must have pulled a face, as she followed up: "No really, it's actually pretty good: just go and take a look." She was actually right: they had a giant scalectrix track for the fans, complete with some little FMS cars, while there were also a couple of scale models for the fans to sit in and play computer games.
And there were free car fresheners there as well, the old type that your grandfather used to hang from his rear mirror. Obviously I took a couple to give to the guys back at the signing. "Wow, I haven't seen one of those in ages." "Do you think it smells like petrol?" "No, it's for people who want to make their car smell like Jason..."
The heat was still mugging everyone in the paddock by the time of the first race: there was no shade at all for the long walk up to the pitlane entrance, and many of the drivers sat in the shade and watched as the teams pushed their cars up to the pits before slinking after them at the last minute. When they got into the pitlane most people dived for the cover of the large pits building, walked underneath the overhang and squeezed behind the race control Alfa Brera, then sprinting across the lane for the relative shade of the pitwall housing.
But it was all business when the lights went out, with Zuber slipping between Filippi and Glock to take the lead into the first corner: Mike Conway spun as he tried to negotiate the turn, taking Andy Soucek and Adrian Zaugg with him, while teammate Filippi spun on his own shortly after, both men later complaining about the lack of balance after a tyre pressure change on the grid as they watched the safety car come out and most of the remaining grid dive into the pits.
iSport has a tough question to ask, and about 15 seconds to get it answered: with their drivers running 1-2 in the race, what tactic do they use? Zuber had precedence on the call as he was leading the race, and obviously he was going to come in for his stop immediately, but what to do about Glock? Stacking the drivers meant the German would lose out to a lot of his rivals, particularly as he was at the far end of the pitlane, but trying to build a large gap in identical cars is nearly impossible.
Obviously, he went for the latter. With both of the Minardi Piquet drivers still on track due to radio problems he hoped to build a gap back to Zuber and di Grassi, whose great pitstop had propelled him up the order, but when the race went live again it was clear that Negrao and Rodriguez were on a pace not far short of the championship leader, who was pulling away but not at the rate required.
But further back in the field there was another injury to come: Arden mechanic Chris Hill was changing the rear tyre of Bruno Senna when the wheel nut fell off the gun, so he calmly picked up the spare gun and got to work. But unfortunately for him when the car was dropped the tyre landed on top of the nut, and as Bruno lit up the tyres it was spun out straight into Chris' foot, and the resultant hospital visit meant yet another team was down one member.
Behind the Minardi Piquet pairing Zuber knew he had the race in his pocket: all he had to do was keep di Grassi behind him and the win was his after the pitstops shook out. Which was why it was so strange to see him try and get by Rodriguez: it seemed like a risk he didn't need to take. The Austrian was caught out coming into the final complex, snapping to the left as he tried to turn and brake at the same time to avoid the car in front and went flying across the grass, bounced off the kerb and buried the car deep in the gravel, waving furiously for a push before reality set in. Just to throw salt into the wound, he broke the floor of his car too, necessitating an overnight rebuild using a borrowed tub from BCN.
The moment of brainfade handed the effective lead to di Grassi, the one driver his team really didn't want to see get any benefit at this stage of the championship. Needless to say, Zuber wasn't the most popular person in the iSport garage that night, but he was somewhat less than pleased with himself, too...
By the time Negrao and Rodriguez came in for their stops Glock had a sixteen second advantage over di Grassi on the road, but it was never enough. His team was watching the gap back to Buemi, who could act as a spoiler after the stop, but when the Swiss driver pitted once more the road was clear and Glock was in for his stop, amazingly coming out in fourth place just ahead of Borja Garcia but well behind the fierce battle between Carroll and Pantano for second.
And with five laps remaining there wasn't enough time to change anything: di Grassi punched the sky in delight as he crossed the line (albeit without a chequered flag to greet him due to a flag waving error), with Pantano coming out on top of Carroll, who dropped right off and had to force Glock into running wide at the last turn just to hold on to the final podium position.
Di Grassi was ecstatic, standing on top of his car when he returned to the pitlane and pointing to his long time sponsor Renault's logo across his chest before grabbing a Brazilian flag to take to the top step of the podium: the win was not only his first in the series, but it had also put him on top of the championship fight for the first time. So many people wanted to talk to him back in the paddock that he was late for the press conference, leaving Pantano and Carroll to make jokes at his expense as they carried on without the race winner.
"Yeah, I think the race win came in the right moment," di Grassi beamed when he finally joined us. "Its awesome to get the championship lead by winning the race, a feature race, a Saturday race which is long. It was a very long race for me! When you pit in the beginning the race feels very long. We were very concerned about the tyre wear because we had problems in the past, but the car felt really good and I could manage to keep a good gap from Adam and Giorgio, and I am very happy, very satisfied with the win."
"From fourth to sixth was not a very good start!" Pantano laughed when asked to describe the opening section of the race. "But anyway I arrived to the grid with second gone: I had too much throttle, I have too much wheel spin, and I didn’t have room enough to pass on the outside or the inside: I had to slow down and Carroll just passed me on the outside because I didn’t have space where to go. He was quick until ten or 12 laps to the end, he had some problem with his car I believe, but me I was using only first and third gear and I was allowed to stay close to him to overtake at the end of the straight. Anyway, when I had the opportunity, the safe opportunity – we don’t take any risk – I decide to take it and we were done."
"When the safety car came out that was exactly what we didn't plan on," Carroll later noted. "We thought because of the run off area here there wouldn't be a safety car. We would have gone with our usual strategy, which is four tyres not two, but when everybody came in the safe thing to do is to go with two tyres just to make the time up. After that the balance was very, very difficult, so that's all that I can do, to push as hard as I could. At least my lap times were consistent, if not particularly fast really: I could just about stay with them, and I could see Giorgio was closing, so I just thought don't make any mistakes and he won't be able to pass me. But the tyres were completely finished at the end, so there was nothing I could do."
Sunday morning was cool and cloudy on the way to the track, a blessed relief from the previous heat all weekend, but just before the start of the race the clouds evaporated and heat came out to punch you in the back of the neck, conditions normal once again, albeit without the nearby hills catching fire, as they had done just before the start of race one.
Karun Chandhok was on pole after dragging his recalcitrant car through the field to eighth place the previous afternoon ("yeah, it was a good drive," head engineer Luca Zerbini had laughed after the race, "he wasn't happy with the car so we told him we'd made a lot of changes, but actually it was just the same set up as qualifying!"), the first time he had sat at the front of the field. With Xandi Negrao also on the front row there were question marks from the drivers further back as to what would happen when the lights went out.
They needn't have worried. Both drivers got away well, with Kazuki Nakajima being even faster away to split the pair and slot in behind the poleman as the rest of the top eight held station behind them, while further back Zuber's dismal run of luck continued as he stalled at the start and had to be pushed into the pitlane to be restarted.
A chat with iSport's Paul Jackson the previous evening had confirmed everything I thought about the previous race: yes it was yet another tough call, but the driver in front makes the call and Glock agreed with it, and it was a shame that his astonishing drive had been overshadowed by results ahead of him: "But you'd have to think he's going to be pretty keen to make up for it with a win tomorrow, wouldn't you?"
Glock was proving his team boss correct as he quickly disposed of Garcia and Negrao to put himself up to third and closed in on the battle for the lead. Behind him di Grassi was outside of the points and keen to get past Pantano, but a slightly mistimed move saw the Italian spinning helplessly around at the final complex before heading off again as the red mist descended.
Further back Filippi was on a charge: after his heartbreaking spin on the first lap of race one he started at the back of the grid, but the Italian was slicing through the field as though it wasn't even there, a drive reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton's run after his spin a year ago in the second race, such was his precision and speed.
Back at the front Nakajima was trying harder than ever to get by Chandhok, who was easily able to contain the Japanese driver and looked set for at least a podium despite the added pressure of Glock looming large. It was probably the latter which saw Nakajima made an ill-informed lunge inside at the final turn, a move that has never come off despite the number of drivers who have tried a similar move over the years, and the result was predictable: Chandhok was nerfed off into retirement, Nakajima ran well wide, and Glock was through into the lead and gone.
The Japanese driver was given a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable incident, as were di Grassi and teammate Buemi for taking Jason Tahinci (who had been impressive in both races despite an engine problem the day before) out of his home race.
The shake out meant that Glock took a dominant win ahead of Negrao, who was over the moon to take his first podium in the series, with Carroll once again standing on the third step, ahead of Garcia. Meanwhile Filippi was desperately unlucky after getting up into the points with a superlative drive to lose the point to Bruno Senna as a result of running wide on the penultimate lap while trying to find a way past the brick wall defence of Vitaly Petrov.
"This is perfect," Glock beamed afterwards. "It's very frustrating when you have only one good race on a weekend, and yesterday we were frustrated by the safety car and a decision that I have to say was quite difficult. It's frustrating when you know you are the quickest guy out there and you can't take it to the end, so today really showed the performance of the team, especially of the mechanics who did a perfect job overnight to fix Andi's car: they worked until three last night, and it's not normal that both cars run without a problem when the guys don't get enough sleep. So they did a really, really good job: this win is only for the mechanics, because they are perfect.
"In the end it is great to fight back, and when you look back and see how many races we had without points, six races is quite frustrating because I think we showed today we are the guys to beat. But we have to take it like it is, and from this point on we will never give up, and I think that will be the key factor."
The win handed the championship lead, and the title momentum, back to Glock, who now led by just four points with six races to go. Neither of the title rivals joined the rest of us at the Red Bull party that night back in town, a chance to let our hair down after a tough weekend, preferring instead to head home and prepare for the next round in Monza.
On the evidence of my head the following morning it was a smart move by both drivers, and it was clear that the tight battle for the title meant there would be little chance of a party in either the iSport or ART camps until after race two in Valencia, now just four weeks away.
"But why do we gotta do this? It's so far away, and I gotta do some things with the team. I haven't even been around the track yet! It's too far to this place." Giorgio Pantano was unhappy, and he wanted everyone to know about it, whining incessantly as the group made their way to the far side of the circuit for an event.
It all started back in France. "We don't know who to support, because the series is too close and there have been too many winners already," Adam Hay Nicholls stated, blinking out from his new, heavily framed glasses like an owl. "All of us at the Red Bulletin need to know who to cheer for, but it's too hard to pick a driver this year. So we've had an idea..."
Back at the track and the other drivers in the top six - Timo Glock, Lucas di Grassi, Luca Filippi, Pastor Maldonado and Kazuki Nakajima - studiously ignored Giorgio as he went on, and on. "But it's too hot: I don't wanna walk no more. Why we gotta do this? It's not in our contract, right?" He continued right up until they arrived at the water park, when Giorgio finally fell silent. "Right, go and get changed," Will stated flatly to the drivers. "The race will start in five minutes."
"The idea is this," Adam explained to us back in France. "We get the top six drivers in the championship when we arrive in Hungary, and we take them to the water park around the back of the circuit: there are six slides next to each other, and we let them race down to the bottom. The first one in the water is our new series favourite."
"What about a reverse grid race?"
"Great idea, and the winner over the two rounds is the champion."
The drivers were soon posing for photos in their swimming shorts before heading up to the top of the slide. The approaches were different, with Timo using the bar above to swing out and use momentum, while Lucas hit the water with a front first approach versus Luca and Giorgio's bum first attack, and when they got to the bottom Lucas had won the first round, just ahead of Timo, with Kazuki still halfway up the slide as the Brazilian splashed down.
Luca was quickly waved over by his physio, who had noticed the style of the local kids and was keen to implement the improvement into his charge's approach to race two: it helped him move up the order in race two, but bulk won out yet again as Lucas, easily the tallest of the drivers, was crowned champion and new Red Bulletin favourite for the series, while Kazuki, by far the lightest of the six drivers, was last once again.
The Brazilian was delighted, beaming for the cameras as he posed with an inflatable tube around him as his winner’s wreath while the others looked on, laughing. "I guess he had to win something this year!" Timo sniggered to Giorgio before they were told to get ready to go back to the paddock by Will. "But why we gotta go back?" Giorgio moaned. "It's nice here, and we can keep cool. I don't wanna go back..."
The next morning there was more than the usual interest in the Red Bulletin, as copies were handed around from table to table in the hospitality area over breakfast. Luca came over to see what all the fuss was about, and regretted it immediately.
"You were the best looking one there Luca," Francoise chirped as he walked over, "all the girls think so."
"Yeah, I'm a bit worried actually," Will added. "My fiance talks about you all the time, how cute you are and how she wanted to come along to apply oil to make you a bit faster in the race. I think she fancies you more than me!"
"Well, you're better looking than Giorgio," I smirked, "he just looks white and fat next to you."
"Si," Luca laughed, "he looks like a mozzarella!"
Nevertheless it was the cheesiest driver who led the way when free practice finally got underway: the intense heat was no match for Pantano as he claimed the top spot ten minutes into a session marred by a huge number of spins and off-track excursions, as the usual dusty conditions punished anyone putting a wheel off the one racing line around the technical circuit. He was just ahead of Nakajima, Maldonado, Filippi and Glock when Adam Carroll spun off the inside kerb at the chicane and beached his car next to the track: the red flags came out, and with one minute remaining by the time the marshals had removed the car there was no chance of anyone getting another timed lap in before the chequered flag was shown.
By the time qualifying came around the extreme heat had dissipated a little, with cloud cover rolling in over the circuit to make conditions a little more bearable. Pantano looked to have sealed pole in the first half of the session with a scorching lap as the rest of the field came in for new tyres, but with the temperature dropping further during the session the times were improving: the Italian went quicker again before di Grassi topped him, but the iSport pairing of Glock and Andi Zuber destroyed his hopes of a first pole position with a couple of outstanding laps which sealed off the front row: poleman Glock was eight tenths ahead of his title rival.
Pantano had to make do with a second row start next to di Grassi, with Maldonado and Carroll (who spun once again in qualifying but found the pace on the last timed lap of the field) finishing just ahead of Filippi and Nakajima. Mike Conway seemed to enjoy the chequered flag so much that he came around twice to see it: the error was to cost the Briton three places on the grid in race one.
"It was pretty difficult today," Glock noted in the press conference. "I made that mistake at the last corner and just went off line a little bit, and then had no chance to go back because of all the marbles and everything off line. When I saw the lap time was still a 28.6 with the mistake in the last corner I was still comfortable, but you have to make nearly a perfect lap, otherwise you go off line and you're done. The following lap was a bit quicker but I had to stop it because of yellow flags, but at the end it was okay and we got the pole, and the two points, so I'm happy with it."
"It's a pity for me because I had a little gearbox problem the whole of qualifying," Zuber stated, "and it cost me just a little bit of concentration and I made some little mistakes, but in total it's a great result for us: the first two again, and tomorrow we fight for the race. Our race pace is usually very good, and it also surprised us a little bit that in qualifying we were so quick, but I'm very comfortable for tomorrow."
I had to ask the now traditional question when the teammates are on the front row, namely had they been given any instructions on the start: Zuber laughed, stating: "No, we can't speak together, because the last time we spoke together it went wrong! So this time we don't speak together and it will be right!" When I suggested he might want to reconsider this decision Glock butted in, laughing: "I think Paul has calibrated the joystick to the right, so we should be okay!"
One man who was definitely not happy with how his day had worked out was Marco Martinez, the new signing for Racing Engineering. With no seat time before the weekend he was having to learn everything in two half hour sessions, and it was unsurprising that he was well off the pace. After free practice the Spaniard was five seconds off pole, but worse was to come in qualifying where he was only on track for a few laps before he inadvertently flicked a switch and killed his engine, forcing him to sit out the session and finishing over seven seconds off the pace.
Considering the circumstances in which he finished qualifying, and that he had been unable to finish a lap inside 107% of pole, the race stewards had little choice but to ban Martinez from the races on safety grounds, the first time in GP2 history such a proclamation had been made. The team was naturally gutted, and his car was destined to spend the rest of the weekend undercover in their garage.
In a break from the norm there was no signing session on Saturday: it was just too hot, and it was felt that the drivers shouldn't be put through the stress of it all just before the race. Although this didn't seem to stop a few of the crazier members of the paddock having a kickabout in front of the hospitality tent while the rest of us stared and sweated.
The Paddock Club interview session went ahead though, with four drivers pleased to be in the air conditioned environment for a while. The woman in charge of the area was delighted: "I can't believe the cheeky questions you guys ask your drivers. And they answer them, too! I've never seen one of the GP2 sessions before, but I'll have to come back: they're much more fun than when the F1 drivers come up! You guys can come up here anytime." Considering the temperature difference between the Paddock Club and our bus, we should have moved in for the weekend...
As usual we sat down to watch the F1 qualifying session before race one, and everyone was shocked to see Fernando Alonso sitting in the pits holding up Lewis Hamilton: Lewis is one of our boys, and the whole paddock felt aggrieved at his treatment, even his former rivals. Which was why, when he was asked how far he'd missed his final lap by, his comment "about as long as I was held in the pits" was greeted by cheering and applause in the paddock.
His brother Nick came down to watch the race in hospitality just as the field was leaving for the pitlane, probably hoping to get away from the storm to come. Being down the hill from the F1 paddock the drivers are allowed to strap into their cars before driving up the steep incline and onto the track, with the teams rolling up just ahead of them sitting on their work benches and being towed by quad bikes or tiny flatbed trucks. Once there the usual flurry of activity overtakes everyone as they set up for the cars arrival, carry out a few last minute checks and then get the cars back out on track to form up on the grid.
Which is where I ran into Nelson Piquet Jr. "I'm so sorry to hear your news from last week!" he stated, deadpan, as he shook my hand. "Now you can't look at the pretty girls anymore."
"Don't worry mate, I'll send them all over to you: I know that you need the help."
"That's why I come here: no competition for them!" He stood there trying not to laugh as a video camera was stuck underneath him and he reverted to the usual role of anyone who sits on the pitwall, pretending not to notice a camera that is aiming straight up your nose and closing in.
The start of the race was deferred by a lap as a result of Sebastien Buemi stalling on the grid, but when the red lights went out Glock was easily able to cover his teammate into the first turn, but by doing so he'd handed a clear path through for the even faster starting di Grassi, who led Glock through turn one followed by Pantano, Maldonado, Zuber and Carroll, with Zuber clearly spending too much time thinking about his teammate ("of course we spoke together," he later laughed, "and we said everybody starts straight and then we will see who gets the better start. But obviously it wasn't Timo I had to watch, it was the guys behind me!")
They soon split into two groups at the front of the field, with Maldonado unable to keep up with the pace of the top three but overly determined to keep Zuber behind, appearing to run extremely slowly into the final turn a few times before Zuber kinked left next time through and blasted past the Venezuelan, waving his fist at him as he went by.
Nakajima came in for his now customary early stop from seventh before popping back out in clear air and setting the fastest laps of the race as usual, eating away at his rivals times as he looked to pass them all in the pits once more. The other teams still seem to struggle with the tactic, and once again he was dictating the shape of the race. Glock came in early from second to cover, but an errant wheel nut put paid to his best efforts and he came back out well behind the Japanese driver.
When the rest of the front runners came in they had little more luck: di Grassi came out on the tail of the Japanese driver, with Zuber slotting back out between the pair, and when Maldonado threw his car into the wall the only driver left who had been in front of Nakajima at the start was Carroll, who was only 17 seconds ahead now on track and unlikely to be able to carry out a stop in such a short span.
But then Filippi hit the wall, and everything changed.
"For me it was a bit of a boring race," he later laughed, "and so I wanted to make something interesting happen. And the cameras weren't looking at me, so I wanted to make them come to me!" In reality he had been tapped from behind by Nicolas Lapierre, weakening his left rear suspension: it didn't take long for the equipment to break, pitching the Italian into the wall on the left and taking off two corners before throwing him luridly back on track, spinning round and round as he shed pieces of his car before finding the wall on the other side of the track and taking off the other two corners of the car: Vitaly Petrov and Xandi Negrao were taken out of the race by the debris, and the Super Nova crew were going to be in the paddock until after three to carry out repairs.
As Filippi stepped out of his car, looking remarkably calm considering his wild ride, the FMS crew were straight onto the radio to call Carroll in, with Borja Garcia and Ho-Pin Tung on his tail: Karun Chandhok was now the only man not to have made a stop, and he tip-toed through the debris with Nakajima right on his tail, but the Indian's pace was hindered to such an extent that Carroll could change four tyres and still re-emerge to reclaim the lead.
At the restart Nakajima wasted no time getting by Chandhok before furiously setting off after the Ulsterman, determined to reclaim the win that should have been his. Unfortunately for the Japanese driver his tyres were past their best and, with his rival on new rubber, there was nothing he could do: Carroll won by just seven tenths ahead of Nakajima and Zuber, with di Grassi, Garcia, Roldan Rodriguez, Adrian Zaugg and Javier Villa filling the points paying positions, while title leader Glock recovered from a spin after being tapped off by Zaugg to finish tenth and out of the points.
"Great job today Adam," I smiled as we shook hands back in the paddock, "fantastic call from the pits."
"It was good, wasn't it?" he smiled back. "Oh, and congratulations to you, I hear. I'll see you in the presser in two minutes: I'm busting to go to the loo!" Back inside he claimed his spot in the middle of the table before recalling what happened when the yellow flags came out: "I didn’t know where I was: I knew I was in first when I was going around, and I just wait for them to call me. They called me in and they changed four tyres in six seconds. We changed four and beat the two guys out in front of us, and they only changed two so the guys were absolutely right on the money: I think the F1 guys would have been proud of that! We literally made the lights by about two tenths, Herbie [Blash] said to me after the race, so it was quite close.
"After that it was hard because the first few laps we were still just feeling the tyres, but the balance was better on the second set of tyres. I’d already done nearly ten laps on the first set from qualifying so they were knackered, and the second set were much better: when the car started to get into it I could keep that pace and that was pretty much it, I couldn’t really go any faster. He [Nakajima] was very, very quick, but I knew if I didn’t make any mistakes then it was going to be hard to get past."
"For me I didn’t actually expect to be on the podium from eighth place," a slightly disappointed Nakajima noted, "so yeah, the second place is a really good result for me and for the team, and it’s incredible to score five podiums in a row. You have to say at one point that I thought I could have won the race, if I didn’t have a slow car in front of me during the safety car: yeah it’s really disappointing, but still I’m quite happy with second place. It's just a matter of timing and everything, so I’m still happy with second place, and hopefully if I could win some races in the rest of the season it will be good enough."
"I had a very bad start: I had too much wheelspin," Zuber noted afterwards. "I was P5 after the start, so at this moment I knew I had to work very hard, and I then was fighting against Maldonado which was very dirty: he braked in the middle of the corner and I nearly crashed in him, so that’s not fair. But in the end, one lap after, I overtook him and then I just tried to push very hard, and the car was good all the time and we made a really good pitstop. The shame was just the safety car came along so we lost one or two places more, but it was a good race."
Other than Carroll, the happiest man in the paddock was di Grassi, who had seen the gap up to Glock in the championship cut once again. "See, I told you!" he laughed when I caught up with him in the ART truck. "I asked you just before I got into the car would I do the same as Magny Cours, and you said not but I told you I would do my start, no problem! Since Barcelona I have been starting better than Glock, and today I started better than Glock and Zuber!
"I hope it stays the same way, because they are faster in qualifying but I am faster at the start and on the first lap and the beginning, so it's been a very good fight. I told you yesterday the difference in qualifying of eight tenths doesn't reflect so much in the race: Timo didn't have any chance to attack me in the first laps. It was a very funny race today, so I cannot be satisfied because we did not arrive in the front, but also I'm not frustrated to arrive in fourth, take five points, and get closer to Timo."
There was more joy to come for the Brazilian the next day: Villa held on for the win after being swamped at the start by Zaugg, who then fell off the road after running into the side of Rodriguez among others, while Carroll made a storming start to finish second just ahead of a recovering Rodriguez, but di Grassi claimed fourth again after absorbing pressure from behind by both iSport drivers, with Glock retiring in the pits with a broken gearbox and Zuber running wide and finishing sixth, just behind Garcia.
"I had a gearbox problem on lap 15," di Grassi advised after the race, "and that's why Zuber caught me, and then Timo caught me. But I was okay, I did no mistakes, and even with some gears down I managed to hold them. It was good: finishing fourth with a problem I think was a good result. Later it was more or less the championship fight, so I was pushing very hard and very honestly with Timo, and he didn't have a chance to attack me until the point that he did a mistake, or had a problem, and then I was alone.
"This is what I said to you yesterday: we are not going to be reliability free the whole championship, and we had our problem in this race but still managed to do some points. I think that's what the championship is about: to be consistent. Everybody knows that iSport has the fastest car at the moment, but in the races it changes a lot as you have seen this weekend, and we've managed to do consistent points every race, and now we are closer than ever in the fight for the championship with four weekends to go. We are going to try and improve the car and get a little bit better in every aspect to make the final part of the championship as good as possible."
The mood over at iSport was markedly different: they had lost points once again, and while Glock wasn't blaming the team ("it's not their fault: yesterday we had a mistake by Chris, my mechanic, but I'm not pissed off about it because everyone does mistakes, and as long as I drove for iSport it's the first pitstop that ever went wrong. But today I only had two laps behind Luca without the problems in the gearbox, and I had more pace than him, but at the end I had to fight more with the gearbox than with him!”), his team boss was gutted on his behalf.
"It's a real shame for Timo," Paul Jackson sighed after the race, "because he's been so fast all year, but he's had so much bad luck. We know how good he is - everyone in this paddock does - but it's the guys up there that have to know, and I'd hate to see this have a bad effect on his career. We should be miles ahead in the championship, and I think the team has done a bloody good job, but we're being let down by the components: this is a great series, but we're not the only ones in this position.
"I know it's good for you guys, because you get to write about an exciting series, but I just hope that the guys in F1 can see how good Timo is through all of this."
Anyone who has watched the races could only agree, but anyone who only looks at the scoreboard would be thinking how tight the battle between Glock and di Grassi had become: as we left the circuit the German's lead had shrunk down to just one solitary point.