It was the first time any of us had been back to Hockenheim for a few years (even more for me, having missed the race there two years ago for my friend's wedding), and the circuit was keen to welcome everyone back in style: Alexa got the call asking if some of the drivers would be prepared to act as taxi drivers to ferry some journalists and fans around the track on Thursday along with a couple of F1 drivers.
Giorgio Pantano and Javier Villa jumped at the opportunity, along with Luca Filippi and Mike Conway, and they were all soon lined up on the track ready to go. Giorgio was his usual gregarious self, making everyone in the vicinity laugh by blurting out whatever came into his head before he took off, but the organisers soon realised they needed to pay lip service to safety and told Javi to don a helmet before heading out with Alistair onboard to take a few shots. The helmet last through the first turn before he deftly flicked it onto the back seat and, laughing, hit turn two hard as Al held on tight and snapped away.
Will Buxton got a ride when Luca asked him if he wanted to squeeze a quick lap in: he jumped at the opportunity before coming back pale but laughing out loud as another photographer followed him in with Mike: "That was awesome!" was Will's considered opinion, while the photographer went even further, noting "they don't fuck about, do they? Bloody hell, he was shifting!"
Philippe Jacquet was almost as happy as the queue of satisfied scribblers and snappers: the logistics manager was celebrating his birthday, and was the guest of honour at a party that night back at the hotel. After telling everyone that he was 42 (lets just say that earlier he had been delighted to have a woman guess he was 45 and leave it at that...) an appropriately marked cake was brought out with champagne after the meal was finished, but what was he hoping for in the way of presents? "I want rain in the races, so we can sell lots of parts!" Someone was clearly listening...
Free practice went off without a hitch though: on a drying track after a brief earlier shower Romain Grosjean just took the top spot ahead of a rapid Kamui Kobayashi and series leader Pantano in a disjointed session which saw a number of drivers, including the top three, endure spins or worse. Conway had a big accident at the start of the session when he struck the wall heavily coming into the complex, a move that would put the Briton behind the eight ball all weekend, while Filippi lost his car into turn one on his debut with new team Arden, although a moment of ingenuity saw him re-emerge later in the session: after the marshals pushed him back into the paddock he got onto the radio to let the team know where he was, and his mechanics rushed over to push him back into the pitlane where he could legally be restarted.
The order was switched in qualifying though: Giorgio came out on top of his French rival by three tenths after being slightly out of sync with the rest of the field, gaining a clear lap when the others went in for tyres before surviving a small scare when he spun at the hairpin, with Andreas Zuber filling his now customary role of third in the session as the temperature dropped and no one could run faster in the second half of qualifying, while Kamui was handed a five spot penalty after being judged to have blocked Lucas di Grassi late in the session.
It was a fairly familiar scene in the press conference, which was notable only for its lack of acoustics: a test before and afterwards proved that the microphones were working, but during the conference everyone had to strain to hear what was being said, even if by this time we knew what they would say before they said it (Giorgio: I'm happy and the team is working well, Romain: Unfortunately I didn't get pole but Giorgio was too fast, we'll work hard tonight, Andreas: We are still struggling with the tyres, but we'll get there).
No disrespect to the trio, but I'd been hoping for some new drivers in the press conference, just so I'd have something new to ask, as I noted afterwards: "I'm running out of ways to ask if you're happy with third mate: you need to do something different in qualy in Hungary."
"I'm doing everything I can!" Andi laughed, "at the moment I'm giving everything: I'm driving with my arse!"
"Maybe that's the problem: you need to drive with your balls..."
"Yeah! Maybe then I'll beat Giorgio to pole!"
We had a dinner later that night for selected British journalists with Conway, Pantano and Karun Chandhok in attendance, the latter joining us after hitting the buffet and coming back with some comically large carrots lying on top of the rest of his dinner: when asked what they were for he laughed and stated "I’m so far back on the grid tomorrow I need to do something to improve my sight to see the bloody start lights!"
The dinner was a roaring success: we discussed Mike's proclivity towards breakdancing any time he's out, Karun's local Indian restaurant naming a dish after him, Giorgio's new obsession with golf (I know: we couldn't see it either, but he loves playing a round...) and the state of the GP2 world. So successful was it that Marco eventually came around to ask if we were leaving soon as he wanted to go back to the hotel, the first time I can remember him waiting for me rather than vice versa.
On Saturday we were off to the signing session once again, with Kamui and Luca Filippi and Andy Soucek the centre of attention for the queues of Germans in attendance. The Japanese driver is a big poker player, spending a lot of time with the F1 guys around a table, and he figured it was time to bring it back to our paddock: Paul Quinn, who helps out with the e-zine, found a venue upstairs at Campos and got a few of the other drivers in before fleecing them all, claiming it was the first time he'd ever played cards in his life.
Whether or not that was the truth, he was certainly a convert: "we're going to host a game every Friday night now, first at Campos and then move it to the hospitality area after dinner. It'll be great: we'll have the cards, and maybe backgammon too. I can't wait!" I'm expecting to have every game known to man by the time we get to Monza, from chess to Jenga.
Sitting in the back of a minibus with a bunch of drivers is a great time to catch up on the gossip: Diego Nunes is apparently unwilling to follow Bruno Senna's health food regime (although I'm not convinced that mozzarella and prosciutto counts as such), but was happy to get on the back of a scooter ridden by Alberto Valerio, the pair crashing 3 times in Monaco because they were talking too much, although the latter owns a right hand drive in London and a left hand drive car in Monaco, which probably leaves him permanently confused on the road. He's thinking of selling both cars at the moment, although surely it would be easier to just swap them.
At the signing the two guys dressed up as Bridgestone's crash test dummies we a little over-excited, jumping around and slapping hands with everyone: I think they would have started body popping if they hadn't been told to calm down a little while the drivers were there. The guys themselves were signing machines, getting through hundreds of autographs while they were there: Luca came out with a sore hand and an annoyed look on his face: "one of the people in the crowd said 'look, there's Fisichella', but I'm only 23!" Alexa pulled out some chocolates at that stage, and suddenly he was all smiles as he chewed contentedly.
And then it was time for the race, and for most of the first 35 laps it seemed like we were out of luck drama-wise: Pantano and Grosjean made good starts and left, Zuber made a dreadful one and held up their pursuers enough to build a gap from lap one, and after the pitstops very little had changed.
But then the rain came.
Sitting on the pitwall we had no idea: we couldn't feel the rain, and we couldn't really see it for a while on the screens, but soon enough it made its way across the circuit to the main complex and the mayhem began. Grosjean, initially holding back to watch Pantano's lines and benefit from his experience, eventually felt confident enough (despite his slicks) to stick his car up the inside and through, his rival not willing to take a chance for 2 points against 8, while behind them it looked like no one wanted to join them on the podium as everyone took it in turns to fall off the racetrack, wet tyres or dry seemingly making no difference as the storm changed the circuit each time around.
Javier Villa looked to have third wrapped up but found the wall on the last lap, with Zuber slamming into the barriers next to him, while Senna kept spinning despite the change of tyres, leaving the way clear for Alvaro Parente to steal the podium position from the Brazilian with the finish line almost in sight.
It wasn't until just before the press conference that I had a feeling that something had gone wrong: Grosjean was called up to see the stewards, and the longer he was held the worse it looked for him, and although we deferred the conference in case the Frenchman made it back eventually we had to go on without him, prompting Giorgio to exclaim that he was going to sit in the middle, with me having to stop him, noting "that seat is for the winner, Giorgio..."
"I thought for sure we would win this race," he noted, "and for most of the race we were doing the job and winning the race, but the weather was unlucky in the last few laps and Grosjean got past me. It was very difficult and I was being very careful, and Romain was able to be faster than me so I had to just not be stupid and let him go. To be honest I was not thinking about the championship, I was thinking about being there at the end!
"It was so dangerous on those last few laps: the first sector was really wet and it is so easy to make a mistake in those conditions. Anyway we just stayed out with the situations and tried to make the best laps that we could without making a mistake, because they were telling me over the radio that the others were very far from me, and why would I make a big risk for just two points more?"
Alvaro was just delighted to have survived the start of the race: "Yeah, we had some definite problems on that first lap: the car in front of me stalled which wasn't a big problem, but then I lost my line into turn one because I had someone inside so I couldn't hold my position, and then I got out on the astroturf so I lost a few more places there!
"In the beginning it was not good for sure, and then we had a pitstop and I managed to overtake Filippi and Petrov when they came out of the pits and I was in eighth place. I was trying catch up but I was starting to struggle in some sectors, and then the last five laps came! We took a risk trying to stay on the track, and then we could pass some people and have some interesting fights until the end."
Eventually the news filtered back to the paddock: Grosjean had overtaken Marko Asmer under yellow and, despite lapping the Estonian after being waved through, a penalty was due and the win was lost. Sitting upstairs in the bus immediately after returning to the paddock, the Frenchman was philosophical: "I didn't see yellow flags, and there were blue flags for four corners for him and he didn't let me go, and then he braked a lot on this right with no yellow flags and nothing on my dashboard as well: at the exit of the corner I made him a sign and he moves on the right so I thought okay, he lets me go, and then I saw the yellow flags, but for me they were at this point only and not before.
"But the thing is we won on the track: we didn't do anything wrong, we didn't gain any advantage from this, so the thing is winning it on the track is important, but second with a drive through is not bad. And instead of being eighth, I will be seventh on the grid now!"
By that time all of the teams were eating dinner, a small break before heading back to work on the cars for the next race, while Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso had come down too, to catch up with friends and escape the pressures of the big paddock. Nelson Piquet was back as well, although I didn't see him until I was getting some dinner: he sidled up behind me and patted my stomach as usual, laughing as he said "I wouldn't take any of that lasagne if I were you: I don't think you need it..."
"Sod off!" I blurted as he sniggered, "I'll stop having lasagne when you sort out your qualifying!"
Turns out, he didn't need to...
The next morning the sun rose early, broad and strong enough to burn off the remaining few whisps of cloud as the paddock got itself ready ahead of the second race. We set up our computers on the new second pitwall box McLaren have built ("Just so you know, I wouldn't leave my bottle of water there," a passing DPR engineer advised, "McLaren get a bit funny about liquids on their desktop...") and had the usual stroll along the grid, looking for where the drama would come from this time until it was time for the start.
Chandhok and Soucek got away strongly from the line, but Lucas di Grassi was quicker still and went around the outside into turn one and the lead, but it wasn't to last: the Indian soon powered back into the lead as the Brazilian looked to be struggling with his car, and a few laps later it was a moot point anyway when Pastor Maldonado clattered into the back of him at the hairpin, putting the Campos driver out on the spot.
Andreas Zuber had big plans when he arrived in the paddock that morning: "I'm going to have an amazing start this morning," he told me as we stood around watching everyone walking by. "My starts are always mega or shit now! But today it's gonna be great."
"What makes you think that? It was awful yesterday. Plus, you've got some ... interesting drivers around you."
"Yeah, but you'll see." Walking back up the grid before the race I stopped in front of him, pointed to Valerio's car in front and formed a steering wheel shape with my hands and weaved them back and forth before shrugging, to which he replied with a well known international hand gesture, but he was right: his start was amazing, and he was up to sixth before the end of the first lap.
When Soucek and Pantano were out after the former's slightly assisted spin at the hairpin he was up a few more spots, and strong overtaking got him in front of the di Grassi / Maldonado contretemps and put him on the tail of the race leader, which he pushed hard for the remainder of the race. When Senna slid by Parente he was off in pursuit of the top two, but despite a race long battle the podium was set.
Chandhok was delighted to be back on the top step, that familiar face contorted by a mixture of tears and elation smeared across his face as the Indian anthem was played before the champagne could be sprayed: I stood with his father who gazed up in adoration, his expression exactly the same. Back in the paddock once again and it seemed that everyone in the world was trying to contact him at once, all wanting to share vicariously in his joy.
"This time is a little different to Spa last year," he reflected in a rare quiet minute in the back of the iSport truck, "because in Spa I was just really, really pleased but this time there is a little relief as well, because this year I came into it believing we were fast enough, knowing we were fast enough to win races but it didn't happen in Asia, and for a number of reasons I think we got robbed of a few wins there.
"I was really, really pissed off after Asia, so it's really nice to get one under our belts here: we've had good race pace all season long you know, in Monaco and Silverstone, but we've struggled a little bit in qualifying for a few reasons. And I'm really pleased for the team as well, to get two drivers to have won a race, and I just love working with these guys: they're the best team I've ever worked with, they're just so good to get along with, and with Bruno as I well because I think we get along better than any other teammates in the pitlane. It's just a great feeling right now!"
Often the second placed driver is disappointed, being so close but not taking the win, but Andreas was just pleased to be on the podium again after a few disappointing events: "Yeah, it was good today: we know what the problem was yesterday, it was just too long a first gear and we burned the clutch, so today we knew that we can start because we're not stupid, you know: it looks like it maybe because we had so many start problems this year, but we knew already the problems afterwards.
"I had a really mega start and after just one lap I was sixth already, I overtook four or five cars at the start and then on the first corner I was a bit wide because one guy pushed me out so I lost two places there but I made it back, I overtook my teammate, di Grassi, and then I went when Pantano and Soucek were a little bit fighting and overtook them on the outside when they touched, and it was really nice. After five laps I was pushing Chandhok quite hard but then my rear tyres lost a little bit of grip and I saw Bruno flying from behind and so I said okay, I'll wait for a mistake from Chandhok but it didn't happen - he drove a really good race today - and when you come from eleventh to second you don't want to risk too much!"
Bruno was quietly pleased with what he saw as a recovery drive: "We started from fifth place which should lead to a forward looking race but I had a really bad start: I got swamped by many cars and just had to let some people pass me because I was just being careful not to be taken out. And it worked, because everybody got too excited during the race and cleared the road a little bit: I had a good move on Alvaro, it was a good opportunity and I took the chance very well, so it was one of those days where you have to fight back without making any mistakes and I did it, so it was good to finish third.
"I have to thank the team because they did a great job today, and it was a good day for the team because Karun won and he broke his Sunday jinx in great style, and I'm happy for him as well. This is great for him and for the team because it motivates the whole team and next time we are just going to be stronger and stronger, and we now lead the constructor's championship once again too."
And then it was time to sit down and watch the F1 race, a flashback to two years ago in our paddock where Hamilton and Piquet were fighting for the championship: the pair finished first and second in the senior event, an incentive if any were needed for the guys to see what can happen if everything goes right when they get back on track in Budapest.
The sky was tall and wide and blue over the flatlands of Silverstone for as far as the eye could see as we walked into the paddock on Thursday morning, conditions perfect for the start of a race weekend that traditionally shakes out the season and points us towards the guys who will be fighting for the championship. Silverstone is in the middle of nowhere, and despite pulling more interlopers into the paddock than any other round the feeling was that nothing else mattered than the races to come.
One person who almost didn't make it to the track was Vitaly Petrov. The likeable Russian driver was made to jump through a lot of hoops before he was granted a visa into the country, with the British government apparently cracking down on entry to his countrymen as a result of the current war of words between the two nations.
Perhaps he should have tried to get a Finnish passport: the area he grew up in used to be part of Finland after all, and certainly that country seems to have a history of breeding fast drivers. But after 2 days of form filling he was finally allowed in, although it wasn't the start to the weekend that he had hoped for as he looked to get his championship back on track.
Kamui Kobayashi was clearly in a better mood as he waited for the gates to open at the start of free practice: the Japanese driver looked completely chilled as he sat in his fold up chair, giant headphones on and playing his favourite tunes as he prepared himself for the session to come, looking as though he would have been happy to sit there for the rest of the day and soak up the sun.
Free practice turned out to be an anti-climax excitement wise: a few drivers made gentle spins as they looked for the limit on the fast, sweeping circuit, but most of them had decent knowledge of the place and were able to stay on track throughout. Romain Grosjean was the fastest man on circuit despite being one of the drivers who had never been there before, just ahead of local driver Mike Conway and Luca Filippi, with clouds appearing in the second half of the session to bring temperatures, and times, back down.
Qualifying was quiet too, with the action happening in the first half of the session once again. The ART duo of Grosjean and Filippi were 1-2 on the timesheets when their team brought them in early to try and save their set of tyres, but Bruno Senna used his local knowledge to come out as they returned to take the top spot on a mostly clear track. Despite a big push on the second set the resulting traffic meant there was no more time to be found: the Brazilian took pole by just one tenth from Grosjean and Andreas Zuber.
The improvement in time was exactly what Senna was looking for after a disappointing practice: "We went the wrong way with car set up in testing, we saw the problems we had and made a few changes for qualifying: it's always a risk to change the car for qualifying, but it worked out good enough.
"I'm glad I know the place very well from my previous years of experience: as you can see it's quite tight at the front as usual - it always is - and this time at least I did pole the perfect way, without having any incidents on the way to it!"
Despite his lack of knowledge of the track, Grosjean was not as happy as his rival with his result: "For me it's the first time racing here, so I came here this morning and did only 16 laps in free practice: of course if you are in a leading position it is a bit disappointing to lose the pole position, and even more because I think we had the pace to do it, but the strategy was not so good because when we were on track there was everybody and we went into the pits at the same time as everybody, so when I went out on the second set there was a car coming out of the pits every lap.
After a tough couple of races, Zuber was happy just to be back at the sharp end of the grid: "The car since Monaco has not really been on the top level, and we still need to work on it because now there is quite a big gap already to iSport and ART, but we will solve it. In free practice today we had quite a bad car, but we worked very hard between free practice and qualifying: I still had to push quite hard and I was struggling, and it's a pity that I lost four tenths on my first sector because I had traffic, but I think I was quickest in the middle sector and the same time as Romain in the last sector, so the car must be good."
Afterwards Alexa had to organise a collection of Brazilian and Spanish journalists who she had invited to dinner, along with some of their countrymen driving in the series: each weekend she has invited a different national group to come to hospitality and get to know their drivers a little better, and so far it has been a very popular idea.
Unfortunately though, she didn't take into account that both nationalities tend to eat a little later than she's used to: when no one turned up at the allotted time Roldan Rodriguez couldn't wait any longer and got some dinner ("I'll eat again, I promise: I'm just hungry now!") while Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna came up with their solutions for all of the ills of their world.
"I'm going to start up our version of the driver's association in F1," Lucas proclaimed. "I'm going to call it GP2DA."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I'm going to get changes made to the series. First off, we don't have enough time for qualifying, so we have too much traffic: I'm going to extent the period so we can get some clearer track."
"How are you going to do that?"
"You'll see. Also, I think it is unfair that some drivers will test in Valencia before we get there in F3 or the GTs: we should all get together and promise that we won't test like that so there is no advantage just by having a budget."
"You're not doing that test? I thought everyone was doing it."
"Oh yes, I'll be there: it doesn't cost that much, really..."
Meanwhile Luca Filippi turned up in his Honda outfit, fresh from hosting the pub quiz the F1 team put on for the journalists as part of their usual Silverstone pub night. If it seems strange to you that an Italian driver was picked to host an English quiz night, Luca was equally surprised: "I don't really know why they picked me to do it, but I was happy to be invited. I had to read through the questions first, just to make sure it was okay."
"How did it go?"
"Really good I think: afterwards they came over and told me I did a good job, but they seemed a bit surprised, so I said 'tank-a you, I practice much to make the good-a English speak for you'. I don't know if they even realised I was joking!"
"Heh, probably not. Don't forget to see Alexa before you go: she wants to interview you for the Proust feature on the website."
"What, Alain Proust? Ha ha, I prefer Mansell!"
The next morning we had the usual signing session, but unfortunately it was held during an F1 practice session: when we looked out it appeared that there was nobody there until we looked around the corner and realised that everyone was queuing politely and waiting for our arrival. It didn't impress Alastair much: "These photos are going to look boring: there's no one up the front grabbing and fighting for the posters! I can't believe I miss the scrum after Turkey..."
When we returned Trident were waiting for Mike Conway: they had made a Union Jack racing outfit for him in honour of his home race, and despite the presence of a number of TV crews he was completely lost for words, so moved was he by their gesture. The only answer he had was to hug everyone in the team as his family watched on, proud and delighted that they managed to keep the secret intact over the weekend.
And then it was time for the race. If some of this year's races haven't been quite as exciting as we've been used to, Silverstone made up for that in spades. Senna made a storming start when the lights went out in race one, taking Lucas di Grassi with him while Grosjean limped away from the line and soon had the blue and orange car of Giorgio Pantano filling his mirrors: Senna held his line until he went too deep into Stowe and a gust of wind carried him the rest of the way wide of the asphault, undoing all his good work as his countryman blasted past and into the lead.
Karun Chandhok made a valid point after the race when he brought up the issue of tyres: "There's no point having a tyre that can do 95 laps, because anyone can do 95 laps on those tyres: when you really have to look after the tyres and change the set up I think you start to see how different teams start to struggle differently. Lucas was struggling with the front, other people were struggling with the rears, and I think to me this is what it should be all about: in Formula One they're not going to do one set of tyres for the whole race."
The pitstop strategy soon whispered the story of the unfolding race: Kobayashi was in as soon as possible on lap 6, his team running the now famous Nakajima Hail Mary strategy, and was back out in clear air setting fastest lap after fastest lap as he slid up the timesheets. By the time that Grosjean made his stop on lap 15 he re-emerged in 8th with the Japanese driver all over his rear wing, albeit with older tyres: Pantano slid out between the pair one lap later, with di Grassi released into Senna’s path as he was arriving on the next lap, pushed the latter back down to seventh when he finally made it back out on track.
Kobayashi was robbed a few laps later when he slowed and stopped on the side of the circuit, and although Grosjean and Pantano were locked in a serious battle they were still carving chunks out of di Grassi's lead: the Frenchman's tyres were soon shot as he locked up on every left-handed turn, but the Brazilian was clearly not enjoying his second set of tyres either. It was only a matter of time before Pantano found his way further up the order, but in the meantime the Chandhok/Senna/Buemi train slid by a wayward Zuber and put themselves on Grosjean's tail.
Sitting on the pitwall Alexa and I were typing furiously (her on the live comments, me making notes for the race report) while, enviably, Didier Perrin and Bruno Michel sat between us cheering wildly at every move as the four men slicing up and down the order as they passed and were passed by each other. "This is the best race ever!" Bruno yelled, and it was certainly up there: the only other race I could recall with such close quarters fighting was race two at the Nurburgring in 2005, after which Adam Carroll gave us the unofficial motto of GP2: "rubbing is racing!"
No one wanted it to end, but inevitably the chequered flag dropped on Giorgio Pantano (whose amazing job was somewhat overshadowed by the footage of the open warfare behind him) who was followed across the line by di Grassi (who, understandably, looked like he'd eaten three lemons before climbing onto the podium after losing what seemed a certain victory) and Karun Chandhok (who had driven his heart out, overtaking a huge number of cars to claim his spot on the podium).
But what of the battle behind them? Buemi had somehow threaded the needle to push up to fourth on the final lap, breaking away just enough to escape the gravitational pull of the Grosjean/Senna scrap behind him. And while it appeared that the Brazilian had also got away on the final lap, a mistake in the complex at the end of the lap pushed him wide and allowed the Frenchman through for fifth just ahead of the finish line.
The win meant that Pantano now held the record for highest number of wins in GP2 history, but for the driver himself it meant something more: "That's important to me, but now we need to finish this: I would like to have a Formula One seat now! I would like to be here for my last year, try to win this championship, and then go to be in Formula One. We are halfway through the season, and it's still long because you never know what is happening in the other races, but if it's coming like this and we're not having any problems then it should be not difficult to take this championship."
Di Grassi, meanwhile, was left wondering what might have been: "I had a great start from fourth to second and I was putting a little bit of pressure on Bruno in the opening laps, and then he did a little mistake at Stowe and I got the lead. From there I just opened from Grosjean and the car was very good: the pitstop was okay and the team did a great job, but the second set did not perform so well and we started to have some problems. It was just getting worse and worse and worse, up to the point where Giorgio was much faster, and there was nothing I could do to hold him.
"I was a bit disappointed because I led the race for thirty laps but then I lost it in the end, but for me it's my second weekend since I've come back and I'm already sixth in the championship, so I can't really complain..."
Chandhok had an answer for those who think it's not possible to overtake with the new cars: "I think if you watch the replay of today's race you'll see the answer to that! Starting from tenth we got ahead of Mike who got bogged down on the line, then I got past Soucek around the outside into Stowe, I got Kobayashi because he made a mistake into Abbey, I passed both the ART cars in the same way going into Brooklands, I passed Zuber somewhere else: I think I passed more cars today than I have all season! Silverstone is a circuit where it's supposed to be very difficult to overtake, but it's worked out very well for me!
"For sure it is a little bit more difficult than last year, but it all has to go hand in hand, and I think this weekend we've had a really good tyre for racing and it made the racing very exciting, I think everybody who watched it enjoyed it, and hopefully we'll have more weekends like this, you know."
Better still, the next morning we woke up to rain. Driving into the circuit Didier and Marco did their usual trick of smiling and waving at every speed camera on the way to the track ("It's just in case we end up speeding," Marco smirked, "I'm going to refuse to pay until they send me a copy of the photo...") while Didier considered the action ahead: "I don't care what happens today: if it rains we'll have a good race in the wet, and if it doesn't rain we'll have a good race because they've used up their tyres..."
One person who wasn't happy about the conditions was Romain Grosjean: "It was too cold to catch the chairlift this morning, so we got the snow machine here" he grimaced at he walked into the hospitality area just ahead of his usual pre-race ritual run. He stood there for a while joking with everyone around him, but eventually he had to stop procrastinating and headed out into the gloom.
As did we all. With the rain stopping at the start of the race Luca Filippi led the rest of the grid into Stowe, but only just: Senna made a storming start to tear past a slow Andreas Zuber and put himself on the rear wing of the Italian, who was soon cursing the wrong set up as he spun off track and handed the lead to the Brazilian, who never looked back until the chequered flag, making up for the disappointment of the previous day. But with the rain starting up once again most of the field had off track excursions, with Grosjean soon back in the pits for a new front wing as a result of his unexpected trip.
While di Grassi also made a great start he was unable to run at the pace of his countryman, but nevertheless was happy to run at his own pace without any challenge from behind in the awful conditions on track, while behind him Pantano and Mike Conway fought for the final podium position for the remainder of the race.
Kamui Kobayashi, however, was revelling in the conditions, slicing through the field like a hot knife through butter as he put himself on track for a points finish despite the heartache of the earlier race, while Grosjean too was carving his way back once he re-emerged from the pits.
Andy Soucek too was under constant pressure, this time from Vitaly Petrov for fifth place, with the Austro-Spanish driver doing all he could do to hold back the inevitable: the Russian finally barged his way through after running a lap side by side on lap 13 before walking away, setting a string of fastest laps despite the rain falling harder than ever, while Kobayashi's similar move one lap later left Soucek unable to hold his line and spinning off into the wall and instant retirement.
Further back and there was a fourway battle for tenth place between Yelmer Buurman, Javier Villa, Jerome D'Ambrosio and Adrian Valles, which only broke apart when the race leader came through to lap the foursome towards the end of the race. The move clearly unsettled Valles: while Senna was greeted by the chequered flag the Spaniard spun in front of Kobayashi, who had nowhere to go but into Valles’ sidepod, followed by Pastor Maldonado. The Japanese driver lost a point for sixth place behind di Grassi, Pantano, Conway and Petrov as a result, promoting Davide Valsecchi and leaving Kobayashi seething with anger in the pitlane as the champagne flowed on the podium.
It was time to leave shortly after when journalist Charles Bradley offered me a lift home: we jumped into the car just before the start of the F1 race and headed out, taking advantage of the clear roads to put some distance between us and the circuit. Listening to the race on the radio David Croft noted: "Well, it looks as though that's the end of the rain for this race" just as the heavens opened above us. All we could do is look up, see that it was making a beeline for Silverstone, and laugh.