Nothing much ever seems to happen at the Nurburgring: maybe that's its appeal. For everyone other than those who have to write about what happened, of course. About the most interesting thing I can think of that happened there was sitting with a driver in his truck two years ago, half watching the F1 qualifying session when another driver walked past holding hands with a girl.
"What's he doing with her?" asked said driver, curiously. She's his new girlfriend, I replied; they've just started going out.
"Girlfriend?" he asked, incredulously. "Actually girlfriend girlfriend, or a weekend girlfriend?" The former, I confirmed, curious at how this was turning out. Why do you ask?
"Because everyone's been with her," he smirked. "I have, and so has x, y and z. The whole alphabet, in fact. I wonder if he knows?" I don't think so, I figured; he wouldn't be going out with her if he did - you know what he's like.
"Maybe I better tell him then," he laughed, "I would hate to think that he's going out with her without knowing all the facts." That's a bit mean, I smiled; don't you think it might upset him?
"I hope so," he winked, "I could use the help on track..."
She wasn't back at the next race. Or any other races in fact, until we returned to the Nurburgring the next year, when she arrived on the arm of another driver, who was beaming with joy as they walked through the gates together...
Before heading up to the pitlane for free practice on Friday Will and I slipped our waterproof coats on and left the bus. "What the hell are you guys wearing those jackets for?" approximately 27 people asked on the walk up the hill, "It's sunny and warm." Haven't you ever been here before? I thought to myself, but said nothing and smiled. I stood on the pitwall with the iSport crew and waited.
Five minutes into the session the rain started. A minute later the session was red flagged. I stuck Dry The Rain by The Beta Band onto my iPod and laughed as a half drowned, miserable looking Marco Codello slunk across the pitlane looking for an awning to stand under.
The drivers had to hang around in case the session started again, except for Ernesto Viso, who found out that the car problem he had would take a while to fix, and was gone in a flash. The rest of the field sat in their cars and pulled their umbrellas down low, trying to keep as much rain out as possible.
With a minute remaining in the session it was announced that the session would restart, for ten minutes, to give the field some running, albeit in sodden conditions. The spray from their cars made Marco even more miserable, if that's possible.
Timo Glock pushed hard and set a 2.03 lap; Lucas di Grassi beat it, just, and the next time around Timo slapped down a 2.00, so he had two of the three fastest rain laps, although they were obviously well off the top dry times of Lucas and Luca Filippi from the first five minutes.
And then it stopped raining when we got back to the paddock. Of course.
When qualifying came around it was sunny again, just to be perverse, but the rain had washed all the rubber off the track so there was no grip early in the session. Timo and Lucas were fighting it out at the top of the timesheets once again, with Luca's engineers struggling to sort out a problem on his car for much of the session. The two drivers were never more than one tenth apart until, with two minutes remaining, the German pulled out a half second gap with no time left for a reply.
"After the last two weekends with scoring only two points it's good to be back at the front, on pole, and score two points," Timo noted in the press conference, "it's good for the championship. I think it was perfect because we had both conditions: you never know how it will be at the Nurburgring!"
What was most interesting about the press conference was that it was the start of the unofficial mind games championship. It happens every year, usually around halfway through the season, and racers being racers they can't help themselves: they're always looking for a competitive edge over their rivals, even if they've got to manufacture it themselves.
Walking into the press conference Giorgio, who was third despite being called in to be weighed twice, joked about where he should sit, preferring of course to sit in the middle, the focus of attention. Until Timo walked over, that is, who claimed the middle seat and turned it slightly towards Giorgio, or slightly away from Lucas.
Anytime he made a comment about Lucas (who has scored in all but one round of the championship so far, something Timo has patently failed to do) he would refer to him as 'Luca': a Germanic verbal foible, or a subtle dig by mixing his rival with the third placed driver? When asked about the race he noted: "Sure I will try to win the race, but I know it will be difficult against Lucas and Giorgio: especially Giorgio I think, because he is good at the start", leaving the inference unsaid but clear to all...
Lucas, on the other hand, wasn't playing any such games: he just seems too polite to do so. Despite looking miserable once again (normally an outgoing personality, he has looked despondent at every press conference, probably because he's never been in the middle seat) he would give his answers with aplomb ("we were really close, and he did a very good job on the second set and could do a very fast lap, so I just have to congratulate him and his team for getting pole at his home track..."), while Timo fiddled with something, yawned, or chatted with Giorgio.
Giorgio was just happy to play along. It saved having to come up with a way to unsettle Lucas himself.
But there was time for a bit of normal fun, too. On Saturday morning we trooped over to the regular signing session at the Bridgestone stand in the merchandise area: Timo, Andi Zuber and Ho-Pin Tung jumped into the minibus with Will and myself, with Vitaly Petrov joining us later when he got to the track, and Will was keen to try out his German skills. "I love those movie ads on television here," he smiled as we walked into the back of the giant tyre. "Jetzt im kino! With that goofy voice."
"You should give it a go now, but you have to do the voice."
"Okay, jetzt im Bridgestone wir haben der rennfahrer von gee pee zwei!" he started as Andi and Timo burst out laughing at his outrageous accent. "Von BCN Competicion, Hopintung! Auch der zuberman von iSport International, Andizuber! Und die poleman, deutsche rennfahrer, Timoglock!" The crowd were laughing along with the drivers by now, and if Will knew any more German he would have kept going throughout the session. "Enschulegung, kann ich spreche englisch?"
"I don't know, but it'll probably be better than your German..." Timo was still giggling as he switched over to his BMW uniform to go to their Pit Park complex across the road for lunch and interviews with the South African media.
The first race was delayed due to the red flagged F1 qualifying as a result of Lewis Hamilton's big crash, and we all had to stand around outside the medical centre as we waited to get on track, which was less than ideal: a big crash is always worse when it's one of your own. Thankfully we found out pretty quickly that he was fine, and our thoughts turned to the race.
Although it seemed that not everyone was thinking about the race yet: when the lights went out Timo was slow away (and Lucas was away fast, wanting to prove a point after the press conference), with Giorgio, Pastor Maldonado and Kazuki Nakajima slotting in behind the pair.
Behind them Sebastien Buemi seemed to have forgotten about his brake pedal, slamming into the side of Luca Filippi and continuing to accelerate, much in the manner of Borja Garcia's assault on Adam Carroll at the same corner two years ago. The Italian was out on the spot while the Swiss driver limped around to the pits and retirement, where he went over to talk to his victim on the pitwall.
Luca is quite possibly the coolest driver I've ever known: nothing ever seems to ruffle him, and he is always able to find a smile and a joke no matter how down his team are: everyone in the paddock loves him. He is the Sammy Davis Jr of drivers, but with his championship rivals at the sharp end of the race and no chance of points for the weekend, he was steaming.
"You should go back to Formula 3," he stated, flatly, when Sebastien came to apologise. The Swiss driver opened his mouth to say something and Luca put up his hand, saying "no: that is all there is to say" before walking off towards the paddock, pulling the black clouds overhead with him.
Back in the race Kazuki came in as soon as he could and then set about doing the Kazuki Laps, easily the fastest man on track and eating into the time of the men at the front. The pitstop strategy is normally set by the lead driver, but eventually ART could ignore the times no longer and had to bring Lucas in to cover the gap, with Timo getting one lap in clear air before coming in for his stop. It was enough, and the German had the lead when he re-emerged from the pits.
From there he just pulled away easily to become the first driver to win a second race in 2007, even if they all had a hairy couple of laps behind a very slow Jason Tahinci.
The press conference was early in comparison because of the delayed start: that's my excuse. I was still writing the race report and my mind was in a different part of the race when I had to run downstairs and host the press conference. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the press conference for race one at the Nurburgring. Joining us today in third place is Kohei Hirate from Dams..." The shocked face in front of me told me immediately what I'd done. At least I got the team right...
Thankfully someone was being a professional: "We've had the perfect start to the weekend," Timo began, "especially with pole position and two points yesterday, and now the race win. It was tough, especially at the beginning: another bad start and I don't know why, he [Lucas] was pushing quite hard, and we didn't have quite the car for the beginning with a lot of fuel in the car, but after that I could come back, could catch up and get close.
"My strategy was to stay out as long as possible and find some time when he goes in the pits; he went in the pits and I pushed quite hard and the time was quick, but I overshot the tyres so I had to come in straight away. I wasn't sure if I would come out in front or not, but in the end it was okay. It was difficult in the first 2 laps with cold tyres but I could handle it."
Lucas was fairly gloomy again, but tried to put a brave face on it: "The start was pretty good, and I've been doing really good starts this year since the first race: I could overtake Timo quite comfortably in the straight already, not even in the braking point. After that Timo and iSport were really quick and there was a lot of pressure, but I tried to push a lot.
"I think the pitstop was okay and we had to stop first because we were leading; I would have made the same decision, and it was a good in lap, a good out lap, I pushed the most I could, but not enough to keep Timo behind me: he was really, really fast in those two laps. After with Tahinci it was a good fight too, and I didn't know what to do because Nakajima was just behind, Timo in front and Tahinci closing everybody, and I was hoping to have a moment to overtake Timo, but that moment didn't happen.
"I think iSport did a great job, and also Timo, so they deserve the win at Timo's home track, and I'm happy now to have ten points back to third for the championship, and tomorrow I start in front of Timo, so if I repeat the start I did today it should be a great race."
Despite my faux pas Kazuki was still willing to talk to me: "It was always the plan to come in early, depending what happened on the first lap of course. I had a good start and maybe picked up a few spots, but the first corner was a bit of a mess and I think I was a bit lucky to survive that!
"After that I was in P5, and so we did an early pitstop as we planned, and we knew that our race pace has been quite good and consistent, and we knew it was good for the tyres and we were pretty confident for the tyres life. From the middle to the end of the race it was a bit difficult because we had some oversteer, but compared to Timo and di Grassi the race pace was competitive, and to the others behind it was much better. I think we are going the right way and we have to keep pushing to get another step on the podium."
It was a busy paddock this weekend, sharing it as usual with the Porsche Supercup guys, but also with Formula BMW and the Mini racers. The latter were the happiest to be there, mostly because they're there more for fun than career reasons. Which was made obvious when the fashion parade started.
Rosana, who works in the spare parts truck for GP2 and organises the teams' orders, was sitting on the stairs up to the truck as the fashion shore started, with a variety of models showing off the latest in Mini merchandise as the pumping music started up.
"So, are you going to go in and model the GP2 range?" I asked.
"Don't be stupid," she laughed, "no one would see me over the heads of the guys sitting in the front!" The fashion show eventually morphed into a disco, and our mechanics all trudged back up the stairs to their pits, working long into the night, as ever.
Everyone was anxiously anticipating the Sunday race: probably the best GP2 race so far was on Sunday morning at the Nurburgring two years ago, when runaway leader Gimmi Bruni's gearbox was, in the words of team boss Paolo Coloni, "eaten by a crocodile", allowing a five way fight for the win, with overtaking seemingly on every corner and no way of guessing the final result until the chequered flag dropped.
This race wasn't like that.
In what was probably the dullest GP2 race so far Javier Villa made a great start from pole and just walked away, with the order shaking out in the first lap apart from Adrian Zaugg falling off the track from second place under pressure from Kohei Hirate (the real one), and Kazuki Nakajima pressuring Pastor Maldonado into a mistake, handing the Japanese driver his fourth podium finish in a row. They can't all be races to tell the grandkids about, I guess.
"The second race that we win, and I think the win for this race was perfect," a beaming Javi stated afterwards. "It was a little bit difficult at the start, but we started really good, and then when Zaugg went in behind I knew that we are quicker. When he went off I don't know, because I don't know how quick are the other guys, but we continued and no one was quicker than me, so we could relax a little bit.
“But that was only two laps to the finish!"
"It was a very hard race, very tough," the newly ginger-haired Kohei began. "I was behind Zaugg for a couple of laps, I was always trying to find the chance for the overtaking, I found some places where he is weak, and then he made a mistake at the hairpin: I went inside of the corner and we hit at the exit because he tried to cover the inside, and then suddenly he went out. During the race I was having a lot of oversteer after that, and it was quite hard at the end of the race, but I could manage to hold my position, so I was really happy with this result."
"In this track it is a little bit difficult to overtake," Kazuki, echoing most of the grid, noted, "so I didn’t expect too much for today’s race. I had a good start, and after that I could gain one position in the beginning. Glock was behind and he looked pretty good, and so I had some pressure from him, but I don’t know why after that he started to lose the pace, so I could concentrate on Pastor. From the middle to the end I had better pace and the car was pretty consistent, so that’s why I could overtake him and catch Kohei."
And then it was time to finish up, pack up, and get out of town. Except that, just before the F1 race and with the wind blowing hard, I took a look down the paddock and noticed the vast black clouds already dumping their contents as they headed our way. I wasn't the only one to notice: half of the paddock was in the hospitality area, hoping to avoid the weather and waiting for the start of the race.
The rain came on cue, bearing mayhem as a gift. GP2 has its moments of nonsense, so it was nice to see the big boys have their share of craziness too. It brought our paddock together, one big happy family sharing some laughs, raising our arms and yelling "ole!" every time someone went into turn one, like fans of a football team 3-0 up and cruising, the drivers making fun of each other ("that looked like something you'd do!") while the engineers looked on and smiled like doting parents until the rain ended, and it was time to finish up the packing.
After the restart Will, Rosana and I figured it was a good time to head out to the car and get the jump on the traffic to the airport: the sun was shining, the clouds had evaporated, and it looked as though the race has settled down to the usual sedate F1 event. We found out at the airport as we were having a beer. Oh well.