If it's Monza, a signing session with Luca Filippi can't be far away. The laid back Italian absolutely loves his fans, and will always go the extra few yards to make sure that they get whatever they want from him: when he's at his home race he seems to constantly have a pen in his hand to sign something, or his arm around someone else as he waits for the flash, a broad grin spread wide across his face.
This weekend, however, he wasn't quite his happy go lucky self: “I am not so very lucky this weekend,” he sighed, a smile nevertheless still playing around the edges of his mouth. “I arrived here on Thursday, and we had the race suits stolen. And even before that, first my chief mechanic had a baby, so he can't come to the race.
“For sure I'm very happy for him, of course, but he was replaced by somebody, and then he goes up to take a picture and breaks his arm! And then last night my engineer Sean eats a fish and he gets a bone stuck in his throat, and he is in the hospital still. I am all alone! So now I will ask my father to change the tyres, get my girlfriend to be on the jack, and I think I will get you to be on the lollypop!”
Straight after that it was back to the paddock and into the iSport pits for the next teammates interview. The photoshoot was first, with Al providing the entertainment for the boys by tripping over a jack as he moved out for a long shot. Now I understand why our passes state that motorsport is dangerous.
Giedo might have been complaining about the heat, but Diego found a novel way to cool down:
Make sure you read the article next week: after the stunning breadth of contacts on Karun's phone you can find out who is his polar opposite, as well as a novel reason for why Brazilians don't have to worry about fashion.
And before we knew it, it was time to go out onto the grid. Which means only one thing: rain. If a picture is worth a thousand words, there but be at least a short story here:
Didier after a swim
Gaëtan Jego from ART looking miserable - that's because he didn't know the camera was on him...
But one man was having a blast: Giedo van der Garde's race engineer Richard Selwin!
Vitaly lost a lot of time when Michael Herck spun in front of him, but there is no question that Giedo was on the money today. Is the championship written, or is there one last shock to play out? Tomorrow has a lot to live up to, but there have been a number of truly amazing sprint races here in the past...
Monza is always hectic, a chaotic blur of a weekend with too many people in the paddock, too much work to do, and not enough weekend to do it. This year it's not the final round here, at least, but there hasn't been a noticeable drop in the stress loads of anyone in the paddock.
Which is why we were so delighted that it all got off in the best possible way: with multiple thefts.
It didn't take people long to realise what was missing: Andi Zuber had both of his helmets and a HANS device stolen, Luca Filippi had two of his three race suits nicked along with a load of Super Nova's clothing, while Christian came out to tell us that a huge amount of the meat for the weekend was taken and also that, weirdly, they'd eaten the insides of a lot of bread but left the crusts.
“Have you had anything stolen?” he asked, concerned at the extent of the paddock-wide crime spree. “What about the press conference stuff?” We walked around the corner but, sadly, it was all still in place. I shuddered inwardly at the inevitability of having to ask Nico Hülkenberg the same questions yet again for another race weekend.
Which turned out to be the case, obviously. After the press conference I told him that I had run out of questions, and so next time I was likely to ask him his favourite questions: he laughed and said fine, but he was going to interview me in Portimao. Which should be great, as long as he does the transcription too.
He was then interviewed for TV and asked what he would most miss about GP2, and replied that it would be the great press conferences, and the excellent questions he gets asked. That boy has a highly tuned sense of irony.
At least we had the Gonzalo Rodriguez Foundation awards night to take our minds off things for a while, which gave everyone a night off to relax and let off a bit of steam, as well as to help out a great cause.
On Friday morning, however, it looked like they'd taken it too far, as the paddock looked like a warzone. Vitaly Petrov's arm was all bandaged after being treated for a strange infection he'd picked up (the poor guy looked awful in the morning, but clearly perked up before a storming drive in qualifying), while a mechanic at Super Nova also had his arm heavily bandaged.
We previously had a nice story here about the mechanic and how he is overcoming the obstacles presented by his injury, but he has asked that we remove the story as he doesn't want people to read about it. We don't want to upset anyone in the paddock, so we have now removed it.
However, we don't want any of our readers to feel that they are missing out on anything, so instead we are replacing the three paragraphs with a nice photo of Richard Selwin from iSport celebrating their great qualifying session instead:
But the day passed by fairly uneventfully: the black clouds of war over the paddock next door meant that we were able to get on with life and do our jobs without too much attention, and the closest the dramas next door came to affecting our paddock was when Romain Grosjean's Renault was wheeled down the paddock and their mechanics had to ask the Piquet GP boys to move Alberto Valerio's car and the spare tyres out of the way to allow them back into their pit: there were a few rye smiles raised as they cleared a path.
We even got a small break later on when the heat of the day shattered in the evening as a storm broke overhead, cooling everything down but giving Christian one more thing to worry about as he remembered the flooding of the paddock this time last year. Luckily it just took the sting of the heat out of the paddock before disappearing as quickly as it arrived.
The break in the weather gave some of us the chance to escape for the evening, but if the thieves are reading this, please note we've locked everything up and employed a crack security force. And dogs. And laser beams. Lots and lots of laser beams.
But none of that was enough for poor old Andi, who had to buy a brand new helmet (and insisted that Alastair didn't take any shots of him today, because he was wearing a plain carbon fibre lid instead of his usual immaculate paint job). He left the track after dinner carrying his helmet himself, and the look on his face suggested that he might well be hugging it all night, just to make sure it's safe.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as a far better writer than me once noted about another day entirely. Alvaro claimed a brilliant win, the most popular win of the season and the first for Ocean Racing, but the accidents came too, to Trident mechanic Vasco Rossi and to newcomer Stefano Coletti at Durango. And although the subsequent reports were positive, the emotional rollercoaster of a day took its toll on everyone in the paddock.
The day started like any other Saturday, with a signing session over at Bridgestone, and we walked down the paddock and under the track with Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Giedo van der Garde and Michael Herck, while Vitaly Petrov joined us over there straight from the carpark. The session went as well as ever, but Alastair was buzzing because he wanted to put a long held plan into action.
After the session last year he and I rode in the car next to the Bridgestone tent that the local police put on to demonstrate what it feels like to roll your car: we knew it wasn't supposed to be enjoyable, but we giggled like schoolgirls through the whole thing last year and promised that next time we would get the drivers to have a go.
As soon as he saw it Vitaly was straight in, a rye smile on his face as he walked up the stairs to be strapped in while Jérôme wandered over to the nearby toilets (“I really need to go,” he claimed, glancing nervously at the car as he did, “does anyone have 50 cents for me?”), Giedo stepped back and claimed he didn't want to hurt his sore shoulder, and Michael stood behind him and didn't say a word.
When the Russian re-emerged laughing out loud Jérôme realised he had to have a go too (although it may have been Alexa walking over to take a turn that convinced him), while the other drivers disappeared back to the paddock. Alastair jumped into the other seat to get some action shots, and the pair were soon squealing with delight.
We had to rush back to the paddock to catch up with Karun and Alvaro for their teammates interview, and you'll see the results here soon. When you see the photo of the guys casually chatting to each other, conveniently standing in front of the team's logo, you might want to think about them having to stand on a couple of tyres so they could be high enough to be next to the logo. But they do that most days, apparently...
And then came the race.
Motor racing is dangerous – it says it right there on our passes – but sometimes pitlanes seem like the centre of the furnace, the heart of the heat, the spark waiting to catch fire. Everyone working there is a professional, but sometimes things can go rapidly wrong from a standing start.
With the pitlane open for installation laps the drivers were heading out on track, while the teams put everything together before heading onto the grid. Unfortunately for Ricardo Teixeira one of the rattle guns was in the way, and he was over it in a blink.
The gun wrapped itself immediately around his wheel, pulling the gantry and trolley over in a heartbeat, right where Vasco was squatting as he went about his tasks: Ricardo stopped immediately, but it was already too late.
The McLaren doctor was immediately on the scene, with the track doctors helping soon after, and everyone held their breath and hoped for the best as the ambulance arrived. With no way to help we went about their regular tasks, because there was nothing else that any of us could do.
The race arrived and found its shape while we tried to concentrate on what was happening in front of us, and we hoped to get it over as soon as we could. Which is why Stefano's crash knocked the wind out of everyone's sails once again: we thought we'd got through it all, only to be reminded once again that racing can change in the blink of an eye.
We slunk back to the paddock, hardly anyone talking despite Alvaro's win, and we waited for the news to be drip fed back to us there. Trident's news came first, the first break in the metaphorical black clouds over our heads: he's not in critical condition, they stated, he's had a MRI scan and he looks okay. He's in an induced coma, they added, but that's the usual treatment in cases like this.
Massa was put into an induced coma, someone else noted, and he seems fine now. A lot of people exhaled, at last.
Stefano is okay too, Durango soon told us. A compressed vertebrae, some bruising on his feet: he's shaken up and has a bit of pain, but there's nothing broken, nothing torn. The sun shone down, we dared to smile. It was the 100th GP2 race and we couldn't celebrate, but we began to hope, at least.
After the press conference, after dinner, after the work was done but we weren't ready to move away from each other, the football came on, the Milan derby, and the Italian contingent from F1 (Liuzzi, Fisichella, Kubica, Trulli) came down to watch it with us, to be here now.
Maybe it wasn't the greatest match, but it took our minds off things for a while, it let us be together and think about something else, it let us be normal again. We were two comrades down, two guys who would have enjoyed the match, but with some luck we'll have them back with us again soon.
And sometimes, that's all you can hope for.
As the season grinds ever more relentlessly on, the favourites for the title gradually become clearer: it has been the same ever since the first season of GP2, and this year is no different. But as the favourites become clearer so too do the demands on their time ramp up, and they get more and more requests for interviews and photo shoots as their profiles grow in the big paddock up the hill.
Which is why Alastair wasn't too surprised to get the request for some shots of Nico Hülkenberg in his racesuit, and he arranged to meet the driver up the hill from our paddock at Eau Rouge on Thursday afternoon to take advantage of the light. Setting up for the shoot he was joined by a few colleagues from LAT including Glenn Dunbar, who used to shoot GP2 before disappearing forever. Or going to F1, which is much the same thing, from our perspective.
Glenn was taking the opportunity to bore Al senseless, I mean, to share his ideas for the shoot, and to demonstrate his thoughts he was standing up on the tyre barrier, with his chest out and head raised high in a regal pose. So high was his head that he didn't notice Nico walking over until he was right next to the snapper, with the driver looking up and laughing at the scene in front of him. “Mmm, nice titties” the German smirked before placing his helmet on the ground a little further up as the other photographers fell about in hysterics.
Nico was soon up in Glenn's position, and the shoot was going fine until Alexa suggested he should puff his chest up a bit to show off his sponsors' logos a little better, but Nico complained that he was unable to puff himself up any further. “Hah!” Glenn blurted out, vindicated at last, “I bet you wish you had some nice titties now...”
We had no time for such conversations the next morning as everyone made their way up to the pitlane for the free practice session: luckily the rain spluttered to a close as we arrived, but there were soon bigger concerns than the weather. “So what's going on there, then?” asked iSport boss Paul Jackson as we walked towards our spot on the pitwall. “What do you mean?” I asked, and he simply pointed to the empty spot behind me which should have been filled by two Coloni cars.
It was hard to find out exactly what was going on with so many different stories floating around, but it turned out that the police had been instructed to impound the Coloni cars and truck, and they decided to wait until immediately before the session: by the time we arrived back in the paddock there was a truck sized hole in the paddock (which was soon partially filled by the iSport wagon and their tyres) and a couple of depressed looking drivers, still in their race suits, sitting in hospitality.
“I'm really disappointed actually,” Luiz Razia noted despondently after the session. “I have actually raced here before, so I know the circuit: this could have been my big chance to show what I can do...” There wasn't a single person in the paddock who didn't sympathise with the Brazilian and teammate Andi Zuber, who were the innocent victims of the whole thing.
Unsurprisingly they were gone by the time we held the press conference after qualifying: as usual Nico was the first one to arrive, and amused himself by pulling faces at Alastair as we waited for Lucas to arrive from Renault, who eventually rushed in, still in their uniform. He spent the first part of the conference, as I asked Alvaro about his great performance to claim his first pole position, behind the backdrop getting changed back before re-emerging to applause from the audience.
They weren't the only ones who weren't there, as Edo Mortara had left the circuit early: the poor guy was looking awful as he left, and was hoping that an early night would cure his mystery illness, leaving Arden's PR person Deborah Lyall behind to explain what happened. “I'm feeling a bit bad about it actually,” she confessed sheepishly, “because I was away last week and Sergio got two podiums, and now I'm worried that I might be a bad luck magnet! I even offered not to come here, just in case it brought them a bit more luck!”
So if the curse of Arden strikes again and Edo is too unwell to come to the track tomorrow, or Sergio has any bad luck in the race, then I think we all know who will really be to blame...
We've been too busy today, feel free to suggest a title! Saturday started like so many others before it: waiting for drivers to arrive for the signing session, this time Pastor Maldonado. We waited for as long as we could, but with the session to be filmed by FOM for later use we eventually had to leave without him. Besides, the crowds are smaller if the F1 guys are on track, for some reason: apparently our support event is quite popular...
We took off, a motley convoy of scooters and Sergio Perez's quad bike, and when we got outside the circuit we saw Pastor coming the other way in a car. Of course. But given the distance to cover we had to keep going, through the car park and across the abandoned foundations of a number of long dead buildings, kicking up dust as we zigzagged across the vast area.
When we arrived at the fans zone the quad bike was nowhere to be seen for ages, until Sergio eventually came around the corner: there was a gap that we could easily get through on the scooters, but it was too small for the quad bike. “We had to go up on two wheels and crawl through, and then a bunch of fans saw us and came over and took some of the posters from the front.”
“Oh well, at least we're not in a hurry on the way back,” I smirked, “so we can take the slow route...”
The fans rushed forward as the guys walked out front at the Bridgestone stand, but one girl looked disappointed: “Is Pastor still coming? I was hoping to get this signed...” She held out a good photo of the Venezuelan, and just as we were explaining that we could take it back to the paddock to get it signed Pastor rushed in, having clearly run the last part of the trip, and she beamed as he came over to say hello.
Afterwards we had to get back to hold the next of our now semi regular teammate interviews, this time with Kamui Kobayashi and Jérôme d'Ambrosio. The easy going Belgian lost his usual cool, however, when he heard about the photos Alexa wanted to go with the piece:
“In our race suits? Are you joking?”
“Jérôme,” she calmly replied, “you know I never joke.”
“But, but, it's Valencia!” was all he could splutter in reply. Alastair was soon smoothing things over, taking the shots as quickly as possible so that the guys could strip back down a minute later.
We had a lot of fun with them though, and hope to get it on the site soon, so you too can discover how much French Kamui can speak after four years in Paris, which driver is a master chef, and why they are unlikely to bring their pets to Spa...
But all of our running around in the sun all day – we also had to take Nico Hülkenberg halfway around the track for a photo shoot, with Alexa and I making Nico laugh as we compared him to Zoolander while Alastair snapped away – left us less than excited by the marathon hike to the paddock, especially as everyone had already left while we waited for Alexa's race notes programme to fire up.
Luckily a young local guy offered us a lift: he was clearly excited about getting as close to the pitlane as possible, which suited us, and we waved contently to the sweating masses from the paddock as they watched enviously while we sailed serenely past.
On the grid there were lots of unusual sights to behold. José Guedes, co-owner of Ocean Racing, stopped us as we walked down the grid and said: “I don't know who to tell, but there seems to be a bit of a weird looking grid girl over there...” Sure enough, standing in front of Karun's grid spot was the only grid boy, much to Alexa's delight: “Fantastic! I thought they forgot to bring the boys this year!” she laughed at the team owner's disapproval.
There was another grid boy of sorts at the front of the field: Michael Schumacher was standing in front of Nico's car with their mutual manager Willy Weber, chatting away happily behind his reflective sunglasses.
One brave photographer among the hordes decided to ask the question that all the others wanted answered, namely would he mind ever so much please sir if he went over to shake hands with Nico to wish him luck. Schumacher scowled, not wanting to jinx anything or overshadow his countryman's day, and merely called out “good luck” before heading back to the pits.
Richard Selwin wouldn't have minded the attention: sitting at the back of the grid after Giedo brushed the wall in qualifying and brought his session to an early end, the English engineer could have used the distraction. “Schumacher's here, is he? I didn't know: you can't really see much from back here! Tell him he's welcome to visit us if he likes...”
Given his comments, I guess he couldn't be too upset that his driver jumped the start...
At the end of a tense race it was Vitaly Petrov back on top, claiming a remarkable third win in the city after claiming last year's race one on the new circuit, as well as the same race at the old circuit. But the team weren't about to jinx anything, as mechanic Daniel Lluch explained afterwards:
“No, we don't bring the Spanish flag that we used to wave at the end of the race any more: since Monaco we decided it was unlucky, so the mechanics won't let us put it in the truck! I'm not even sure if it exists anymore: the guys are maybe a little bit superstitious...”
And the result will clearly be vindication for the boys, so don't expect to see it again any time soon. But the love that the team show for their de facto team leader is clearly returned: most of the drivers will point to the team's name on the car when they return to the pits, but Vitaly is probably the first driver to take off his gloves on the slow down lap (well, it was very hot) and caress the team's logo while he drove back to them.
At least it does if the TV is tuned to Valencia... It was too much to expect that I could come back and not write a blog, but that doesn't mean I didn't try to get out of it. “Come on,” I whined, “it's way too hot to write: let's just go back to the hotel and have a beer instead.”
“No!” Alexa proclaimed, giving me her best evil stare. “You'll write the blog before you leave, even if it kills you. And I don't want to hear that your pig flu has come back.”
“I didn't have the pig flu,” I protested meekly.
“Whatever. Start writing!” The change from arriving in the paddock to tonight was huge: like night and day, you might even say...
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Christian asked as I walked into the hospitality area in the morning, the third person to ask that question since I walked through the gates. Everyone had been told that I had swine flu (or just read Alexa's blog from Budapest, and assumed), and the story stuck, no matter what I said. At least Karun was the only one to actively pull away and cover his mouth...
But the biggest story in the paddock was the heat: there was no escaping the brick wall-esque inevitability of the debilitating conditions: everyone sat around panting like dogs, trying not to move or exert ourselves in any way as the conditions slowly, methodically crushed us. Although, inevitably, it couldn't last, and we soon had to cross the desert to get to the pitlane, which seemed approximately 24.5km away by the time we got there.
Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon looked worse than all of us when we finally arrived. “How are you feeling?” he asked, before continuing, “I haven't had any sleep at all. I've got my boat here, a little sailing boat, but they moored Vijay's Indian Empress next to me. Have you seen it?”
“How could I miss it? It's huge.”
“Exactly, and it's a 24 hour party boat. And the hull of my boat is so thin, it was like I had a DJ playing in my room all night. You should come over tonight, by the way...”
And if it was hot in the morning session, qualifying was even worse: we arrived on the pitwall to a track temperature of 50º, and that was before the engines were started. Every one of the drivers was dripping with sweat after the session, no matter how fit they are, but Andi Zuber seemed to be suffering more than most.
“Oh man, it was so hot in the car today!” he exhaled between gulps of his drink afterwards. “You were working hard today,” I agreed. “It looked like you were fighting the car all the way round the track.” “Did you see the on-board? Man, the whole time I was just...” and he crossed and re-crossed his hands out in front of him. “And then there was the red flag: I hated that red flag! Just sitting there as the car got hotter and hotter: by the end I was just screaming come on, clean the track, clean the track already! I'll get a broom if you need some help!”
After qualifying we thought we'd try something different with the top three guys: as our paddock is so far away from the F1 paddock we don't get many journalists dropping in from there, so we went for a walk with Nico, Vitaly and Lucas, doing the interviews as we went, until we found a backdrop that Alastair was happy with for the photos.
Unfortunately that location turned out to be in the middle of a road that suddenly became very popular: a few cars and trucks managed to drive around the three guys, who were all oblivious to what was going on behind them as they tried to out-pose each other, until we had to yell out as a bus was bearing down on them, with the trio getting out of the way just in time. “That was a bit close,” Nico stated as he walked over. “Yeah,” I agreed, “and the strange thing is the driver looked just like Pastor...”
We all made it back eventually, safe and sound, even though Nico had to pull Mark from Autosport out of the path of a bus as we walked back (“Pastor's not giving up...”) and slumped down in hospitality as the heat was starting to bleed out of the day. It was about that time that Romain Grosjean walked in, to be greeted by some good natured banter (“Are you lost?” “You don't live in this paddock anymore...”) from everyone there.
“I had to come back,” he noted as we sat down at one of the tables, “The food is the best here, and Christian always knows what I like to eat.” As if on cue, Christian walked over with a tray of lobster and prawns and put it down in front of the newest F1 driver.
Which has never happened to me before: maybe I need to start writing the F1 blog. I bet their air conditioning is better, too...
The GP2 Blog is temporarily orphan
I can’t believe you are not here in Budapest with us. We all know how dedicated you are to GP2: you always work hard in the most professional way
But when I called you last Wednesday and heard your hoarse flu-affected voice, I immediately understood that I would have to fly solo this weekend. And that made me sad.
Now I know how Batman feels without Robin.
Rest assured though that we are trying hard to make your presence felt in the paddock
This is you not going through the paddock turnstiles
This is you not stealing DAMS’ bike
This is you not sitting with us on the bus
This is you not a the press conference
While I was walking down the paddock, looking as lonely as ever, I came across Marco who, of course, made fun of my misery… and yours.
Marco: “Are you missing David that much that you have to walk around carrying his picture?”
Me: “I’m trying to find something to write for the blog since he abandoned us this weekend”
Marco: “Another of your crazy ideas?”
Me: “Of course”
Marco: “So, the idea is to show all the places where David will not be this weekend? I have a good one!”
I will let you guess where that particular picture was taken from...
Passing by Ocean Racing’s truck, I saw Karun Chandhok.
Karun: “Where’s Cameron this weekend?”
Me: “Home. Sick”
Karun: “Really?” he asked, a huge mischievous smile on his face.
Me: “Yeah. He thinks he has swine flu”
Karun laughed. I believe he was definitely making fun of your misery too
As we were discussing, your best friend Alvaro Parente stopped next to us.
Alvaro: “David is not here? Is he even allowed to not come?”
Me: “Well, you know, it’s almost summer break. I didn’t want him to bring his cuddies and pass them onto us.”
Alvaro: “So, basically, you are telling me that David is… late?! Interesting…"
But as we crossed path with Andi Zuber, he had something else to complain about.
Andi: “What do you mean David is not here?”
Me: “He says he has the flu. But I wasn’t there to check his temperature”
Andi: “Well, I feel sorry for him, but at least we won’t have to put up with the kilt don’t we?”
The most crossed person in the awning was Christian Staurenghi though, our beloved Hospitality manager.
Christian: "You make sure to tell David that I am expecting him in Valencia or else...!"
But we all know that he will never hurt a fly... I really think it was the pain talking above anything else.
Diego Nunes, on his way to having lunch stopped me and asked me what I was carrying.
Me: “Oh, you know. Just this giant poster of David.”
Me: “He’s got the flu" I said for what felt like the hundredth time.
Diego: “Is that a drawing too? The piggy flu. Excellent! Take my picture with it!” he said a little bit too excitedly.
Alfonso de Orléans Borbon overheard our conversation.
Alfonso: “That David! I’m sure he’s not sick. He must be somewhere working on his tan on a beach.”
Later that night, after a crazy hot day that made us all feel quite feverish as well, Robert Kubica, Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella and Tonio Luizzi came for their usual dinner at the GP2 Paddock. “Hey Alexa”, said Jarno. “Where’s David? We saved a seat for him!”
Needless to say that they were all highly disappointed that you could not treat them with one of your famous stories… Even this blog is sorely feeling your absence. So we all wish you well and hope to see you in three weeks in Valencia. Without you, the GP2 Paddock just does not feel the same and everyone is going a little bit coo coo!
One of the main purposes of this blog is to give you a look at what happens behind the scenes, and today we thought why not do that through the medium of photos? That should work wonderfully, we figured, or crash the site entirely. Either way, our job will be done for the day.
We started off the day with a signing session: for the German fans we brought along Nico Hülkenberg, Andi Zuber, Giedo van der Garde and Romain Grosjean (who can't speak German, but at least he has ginger hair, so he looks the part Alexa says: ''He can speak German. ...). It was a bit of a success:
On the way back we were taken through the arena next to merchandise area, which was being set up for a fight tonight:
Giedo: “Who is fighting tonight?”
Nico: “I heard about this: it should be a good match. There are two Germans fighting tonight.”
Giedo: “Two Germans fighting? It sounds like any Friday night when the pubs close.”
Nico: * Bop *
Giedo: “You kind of just proved my point...”
And before long it was time to go up to the pitlane for the race, which involves hurrying up the hill so we can stand around for a while in a side alley until the F1 boys can be bothered to stop, before rushing in to the pitlane to set everything up and then sit around for ages until the pitlane opens, and then sprinting onto the grid so ... well, you get the picture.
Here is Alastair and a colleague hard at work. This is the reason why all the remainder of the pictures were taken by me. Well, that and the fact that Alexa always forgets to use her camera, and gives it to me instead.
Roberto Chinchero, journalist extraordinaire, finding out the latest gossip. He will then relay it to Italy, where it will be dissected by others and rebroadcast in a stunningly different way: this is how we end up with so many strange rumours. Apart from the ones that I start, of course.
Nelson with his old team relaxing before the start, after out-qualifying Fernando. Nice one.
Didier and Alexa chatting on the grid. Didier seems not to have noticed that Roldan was about to collide with his neck: luckily a Bridgestone guy saw it and threw himself in the way to save him. We've got a lot of Bridgestone guys, so that's fine.
Vitaly got lost, again.
Alexa likes to keep the media under control, and sometimes she uses her astounding mental powers: when Radio Europe 1 announcer Julien Febreau asked for one interview too many she made him slap himself using nothing but thought control.
We're all a little scared of Alexa.
This guy walks around the grid reporting to his colleague behind me how many tyres each of the drivers have. Some guys have the best jobs.
We tried to lock Alexa in, but obviously her mental powers mean that no cages can contain her. And now our cheeks are sore, too.
Here we are on the Renault pitwall during the race. Luckily we found a moment in the non-stop action today to get the shot.
This button worries us for tomorrow's F1 race: is that how they're going to slow him down? (hint: for anyone wearing an aluminium foil hat, this is a joke...)
Where the magic happens. Alexa is covering the screen with the live comments on it, so we don't spoil the result for you.
Post race scrum in the pitlane. There's a driver in there somewhere: we'll leave it up to you to guess which one.
“I would have beaten Roldan today: I'm going to sit in P2 for the press conference today.”
Nico shows his total belief in everything I say.
Today, the Nurburgring is oh so very cold. It's not as though I wasn't warned – I came out of a meeting yesterday to a voicemail message from Alexa which noted that “it is freaking cold here” at least five times in about 30 seconds – but the cold still caught me by surprise when we walked past the building site outside and into the paddock.
This morning it felt as though the circuit had never hosted a summer.
“Man it's cold here,” Mark Glendenning noted at the coffee machine, showing the sort of insight that he is rightly famous for. “Isn't it supposed to be July now?” Mark is a fellow Australian who works for Autosport magazine: we've been mates since we worked together in another life, more years ago than we care to remember. “Yeah, but what I want to know is how I can get someone to drive me around the Nordschleife. You've done that, haven't you?” “Yeah, it's amazing, especially when it gets up through Karusel: go through there fast enough, and you may need some more underwear.” “I think we need to steal a driver to do a lap.” A quick scan of the room gave me the perfect victim: “Hey Filippi, we need you to drive us around the old circuit.” “Is it still open? I thought they closed it now.” “I think one of the German car companies rents the place for the weekend,” Mark suggested. “Damn, you don't have any links with them, do you?” “No, but I want to do it! Maybe I will just keep going at the end of race two!” “I don't think you want to do that: you'd do huge damage to the underside of your car. When Heidfeld did it in the F1 car last time they had to run it as high as physically possible.” “Ah, in that case maybe I'll just take Villa's car instead!”
The Nurburgring is a circuit the Italian loves, so you can see why he might want to stay on it for a bit longer, although given his luck here you can find an equal reason for wanting to get back to the pits and out of the way: after qualifying well he was nerfed out of the race at turn one last time by Sébastien Buemi, who came over to apologise only to get the talk to the hand treatment and the cutting, but not inaccurate, comment “you should go back to Formula 3”...
He's not the only one with bad luck here: the FMSI team were struggling after both cars were out in free practice, with Andi Zuber spinning at turn one and Luiz Razia having a big impact with the wall out of turn ten. Zuber tried to bluff his way through when I asked him what happened afterwards, but eventually he had to admit the truth.
“I've been doing one of those drifting courses in Germany this week, you know? I love doing that: it was so much fun. So anyway, I enjoyed it so much, and it's been in my head ever since, and when I was out there today I though 'I wonder if it's possible to drift a GP2 car?' So I thought I'll try it at turn one, the perfect place for it.
“It turns out, it's not...”
Razia was less fortunate than his teammate: although he got through the accident unharmed the same couldn't be said for his car, as the whole rear had to be replaced. His mechanics were immediately on the job, and they did an amazing job: working under incredibly tight time constraints and foregoing lunch they pushed hard to get the car rebuilt in time for qualifying, their arms and hands still a blur over the car as the rest of the field made their way out to the pitlane.
Eventually they finished, but as the session had already started they were unable to use the usual method to get on track, a small entrance gate just after the pit exit next to the medical facilities: needless to say race control were unable to allow them to pop out there on safety grounds. But cognisant of the hard work the boys had put in, an alternate route around the back of the F1 paddock was found, and the series organisers asked if it would be okay to allow them to make use of it, as it eventually worms around to the top end of the pitlane.
Happily they were given the okay, and a quick check to make sure the route was clear gave Luiz the chance to blast down the alley and make use of his mechanics handiwork. Andi made up for his previous blushes by pulling in sixth on the grid tomorrow, while Luiz will just be happy to line up on the grid for his first race here.
Meanwhile, Luca managed to blot his copybook on a very hot lap and spun to a halt at the chicane, throwing away a good grid position in the process. If I were the marshals here, I'd make sure there is something a little more than a few cones to block the way onto the old circuit tomorrow: given his grid position, the Italian may have his mind on other things than the race..
“Have you had a chance to start writing the blog,” Alexa asked. It was a question I was dreading, because I wasn't sure how to answer. “Have you had a chance to start writing the blog,” Alexa asked. It was a question I was dreading, because I wasn't sure how to answer. I figured it was best to just come straight out with it. “Not really,” I noted, “because I wasn't sure if you wanted one.”
“What are you talking about?” she quizzed. “Of course we want a blog: we put one up every night now.”
“Yeah, I know,” I sighed disconsolately, “but no one is reading it anymore, so I don't know if it's worth it.”
“Of course they read it,” she stated matter of factly, “it's just that everyone has forgotten how to post a reply. Maybe you need to write about Alvaro again: that always gets the Portuguese going, at least!” “I think he's had a bad enough day today,” I replied, “I'm not sure he needs anymore aggravation...”
“So what are you going to write about,” she asked. “You must have a lot to talk about after today.”
“I guess so,” I sighed as I thought about what happened over the day. “I could always write about Alastair's finger.”
“Oh, that's a good one,” she squealed, wincing at the thought. “He hasn't stopped complaining about that all day.”
“Well to be fair to him, it must have hurt: he was squatting down to get the shot of Pastor in the pits when the jack failed, dropping the car to the ground and smashing the jack into his finger.”
“Ouch, it makes me wince just thinking about how big his finger was afterwards! It was so swollen!”
“Yeah, but the weird thing is he was more upset that they crowded around Pastor and no one even said sorry to him. I guess photographers really are expendable.”
“You better not let him hear you say that: he's already moaning enough.”
“Okay, I'll be nice: it is his birthday tomorrow, after all...”
“Maybe you could write something about Karun? About how he ran all the way down the pits to complain to iSport about Diego blocking him in qualifying.”
“Heh, you were going to go over and say hello until I saw his eyes and stopped you. Luckily it was his old team and they knew how to handle him!”
“Yeah. Oh, or you could put in how I texted him last night to remind him that he had to come to the signing session, and he said 'yes Mum' so I replied that he should clean his teeth and get to bed early because he had a big day today, and he said 'have you seen the grid, I'm starting from outside my house!'”
“Well that's better than starting outside your house!”
“That's what I said: he just laughed and said 'maybe if we were still racing in Magny Cours!'”
“He's a cheeky one: after the signing Lucas di Grassi was doing his usual shop steward act, trying to convince Vitaly and Karun that they should all go to Charlie Whiting and ask to change the qualifying session because of the traffic. Karun kept going 'yeah, totally with you there', until we got out of the van: he just looked at me as Lucas wandered off and said 'yeah, that'll happen...'”
“I don't know what else I could write about though: it's late, and we had to get up early this morning to beat the traffic.”
“Oh, write something about Sergio: he was great today.”
“He was, wasn't he? 25th on the grid to 4th at the flag, and maybe he would have been on the podium if he had another lap.”
“That's because of me, actually: I told him this morning that I really wanted to see the old Asia Series Sergio back, and he just looked at me and quietly said 'me too': you know how shy he can be. And then after the race he came straight over, a huge smile on his face, and just blurted out 'I'm back!'”
“Yeah: with the pace he had today he has to be on the podium if he gets a good start.”
“Or a win: I could live with that, too!”
“Or maybe I could write about Nelson's bet with Bruno Michel.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, the other week in Istanbul they were talking after the race and Nelson said 'Alberto was great this weekend: I reckon he'll win a race this year', and Bruno must have been in a bad mood or something, because he said 'no way'.”
“Really?” “Yeah, and you know what Nelson is like: he immediately said 'he will definitely win this year, I bet you he will' and then Bruno couldn't back down so he said 'okay, I will bet you a dinner' and they shook on it.” “So I bet Nelson is happy now.” “Oh, certainly: Bruno was trying to say there was nowhere to eat around here, and Nelson just smirked and said 'I used to live in Oxford, I know exactly where we should go' and burst out laughing: apparently the place costs a fortune, and Bruno had to agree!”
“So you see, you've got plenty to write about then.” “Yeah, maybe so: if only I could think of a way to put it all together.”
“I'm sure you'll think of something. I'll go and get you a coffee while you think about it...”