I love coming to Monza: I always have. It was the first grand prix I ever came to, and then later it was my local circuit when I lived in Milan for a few years, so it's always been a bit of a homecoming.
I imagine that Ocean don't share my enthusiasm though: an accident in Spa left the Portuguese team scrabbling around for any way to get back up and on the road just to get here. Happily no one was injured, but with the truck out of action they needed help fast: Thierry Boutsen Racing stepped up to the plate, with the Belgian ex-F1 star lending Ocean a truck to get them to Italy and through the penultimate weekend.
It meant that they could deal with the insanity that is Monza with the rest of us, at the busiest weekend of the season. There was more work that usual when it was planned to unveil the 2011 car in a presentation in front of the F1 media, with the truck stopping over on the way from Mugello to the next test at Jerez.
Giorgio Pantano will be driving at that test, but unfortunately he wasn't able to come to Monza: with action photos needed for future press kits and the like something had to be done. Alexa drew the short straw and was soon put inside the car, helmet stuck on her head as Didier and Luca Pignacca (the Dallara car designer) pulling the car back and forth while Alastair swooped in and out for the dramatic “movement” shots until she couldn't take it anymore.
“It's so small in there!” she sobbed afterwards. “There's just no room to move, and when they closed the visor I was suffocating: I don't know how the drivers do it!” Luckily the photos were done before the media descended on the hospitality area: the launch was a great success, with the last journos finally leaving at 21.30, so that the car could be put back in the truck and sent on its way to the south of Spain.
There was another photo shoot set for the afternoon, between the two title rivals. Pastor was up first, with some shots in the paddock with his car (Rapax did a great job of converting a two car garage into Team Maldonado for the shoot) and out on track, with Alexa having to carry the “Pastor Champion” pitboard through the paddock behind him.
She obviously got a lot of people making inevitable sarcastic comments (“hey, he's not champion yet...”), but she also got one she didn't think about: Sergio came out early and asking why she only had one sign made up. Thinking fast, she replied: “Well it's just in case he wins this weekend, as we'll need the shot ready to go: you can't win the championship here, but if you have a good weekend we'll make one for you in Abu Dhabi of course...”
This morning was the usual craziness getting into the circuit: we followed a Maserati all the way from the hotel but didn't think about it until we got just outside the paddock, when the usual huge crowd there went crazy. We thought they were just classic car fans until we remembered that Fernando Alonso was driving the car...
Ho-Pin Tung was back in the paddock, although sadly not in the car as he still isn't quite ready to race again. He was his usual cheerful self though, and was wandering around to say hello to everyone. We were sitting on the pitwall ahead of free practice when he came over to say hi, and I noticed the brace he was wearing: it looks a bit like the kidney protectors you wear for karting, and although it looked a bit painful he was pretty chipper about the whole thing.
“I don't mind at all!” he laughed when I mentioned it. “It helps to keep my gut in, so I can eat lots of crap and no one notices!”
The Addax guys had a one-two in free practice, but Pastor was strangely off-song, struggling to keep his car under control as he constantly cut the chicanes, losing all his best lap times in the process. He had a similar problem in qualifying, cutting the first chicane once and then being thrown off the kerb and into the gravel next time round to put himself out of the running for pole.
Jules stepped up to claim the top spot, in what was probably the most popular result of the season after the Frenchman's battle to get back on the grid after Hungary. He just pipped his teammate too, albeit that the top three were split by less than a tenth.
The press conference was a laugh, with Sam and Jerome making jokes at each other's expense, or ganging up on Jules (“no one has won from pole this year – no pressure!”). Afterwards someone asked the guys if they had any problems seeing when the cars are so fast, and Sam was blasé: “I was doing about 336kmph, and it was like a drive in the country.” “How fast?” Jerome spluttered. “Over 330: it was really easy.” “Okay: I need to go now, I have to call Mecachrome...”
Sergio and Pastor couldn't stay away from each other: after following each other around for photo shoots, they now line up tomorrow on the grid next to each other in 7th and 8th respectively. Unfortunately we realised that, cynically, if Pastor was to take Sergio off, the points difference means the championship would be over.
Will Buxton came down to see how things were going, and immediately asked if anyone had mentioned this to Pastor yet. No, we replied, we don't really want to put those sort of thoughts into his head. “Oh, well I'll go and tell him then!”
Heading straight over he went to shake the Venezuelan's hand before being waved off: it turns out that he has hurt his right hand earlier today. “No problem,” Will smirked, “you only need one hand to take Sergio off tomorrow and claim the championship.” “I couldn't do that!” he gasped, shocked, “You would say terrible things about me in the commentary!” “No, I'd say that moves had shades of Senna...” “I could never do it! I would never know what to say to everyone, for a start!” “That's easy: you just say that you've always been a massive Senna fan, and learnt how to race by watching him on TV!” It's amazing how much some people change when they move to a new job...
The top three psyching each other out, with P7 and 8 at war: is it too late to put a bet on Grosjean or Parente claiming a win tomorrow? I think I need to find a betting shop with late opening hours...