“You're not going to have an easy job with the blog this weekend,” Alexa noted in passing when we spoke ahead of my flight to Brussels: when I asked her what she meant she would only state enigmatically that's I'd see when I got there.
But Spa is always a bit difficult: it's in the middle of nowhere really, so it's not the easiest place to get to, and it always rains, but after a few trips there you just assume it won't be easy and just get on with things and hope for the best. And I still love coming here, of course: it's Spa, after all.
It was only when I got here this morning that I spotted the obvious problem: Christian had set up the hospitality area at the Nurburgring by mistake. Well, Didier ended up in Spa one year when he was meant to be driving to the German circuit, so I guess these things happen.
We turned up in the paddock to find the Addax and Manor GP3 teams where the hospitality area has always been: some bright spark decided that it's not fair to put the GP3 teams down the hill and make them walk up to GP2 for lunch, and instead put hospitality outside the paddock and across the river on the way to Stavelot so everyone has to walk the same distance.
A much better idea, obviously.
The distance, along with the rain, meant that the only time we saw most people was in the pitlane for the sessions: drivers famously don't like to exert themselves outside of the car (or training), and with no television here (we're too far away to get the signal, apparently) they might as well hibernate in the truck between sessions, while a lot of the mechanics just got sandwiches and kept working in the pits, where it was dry.
The weather was causing its usual havoc: the rain started just as the cars got into the pitlane for practice after a typical sunny session for F1, fell a little heavier as they went out on track and pulled back slightly as Maldonado got a clear track to set the best time, then dropped like an anvil to stop anyone else having a go. When Fabio Leimer slithered into the wall at Blanchimont the red flags came out, and we watched the clock tick away to zero.
The sun came out for F1 again, naturally, and we got so excited that we were talking about taking sunglasses with us to the pitlane for qualifying, fools that we are: obviously the rain started up again just as the cars came into the pitlane. “Bernie pays for the sun for F1,” I sighed to Bruno Michel as we watched the teams' umbrellas get blown across the cars, “why can't we?” “You don't understand,” the series organiser smirked, “we pay for the rain: it's much more fun that way...”
And then qualifying happened.
So many stories, so little time. Pastor decided to take a gamble and put slicks on, rolling off with three minutes to go so that he was first in the queue to get out of the pits: just as he did this the rain slated down, the guys all slid around Pastor and ran away on their out lap before the red flags were shown, with the conditions too crazy, too treacherous even for our guys.
Almost half an hour passed before they were allowed out again: the rain was so heavy in between that the medical car was struggling just to stay on track as they went round and round to gauge the conditions. Luiz Razia won the race to be the first one back out – everyone wanted the position, as it gives you a clear view of the circuit – and promptly set the quickest time, but a little mistake put him into the wall and out of the running.
Another red flag, another race for pole position in the pitlane for the restart. Returnee Romain Grosjean won this one, but only after pulling out sharply in front of teammate Jerome d'Ambrosio, who was rolling down the pitlane after being weighed. One-two for Dams as the lights went green, one-two for Dams on the timesheets after the first flying lap, and another red flag period when Giedo van der Garde and Vladimir Arabadzhiev slid off track at opposite ends of the circuit.
Michael Herck was the first man back on track this time, just ahead of Leimer (for his first lap in the session, after his mechanics did a mighty job of getting his car running again after his shunt in the earlier session), Grosjean went fastest in the first sector and then ran long through the gravel, with the Romanian setting the top time ahead of yet another red flag, this one shown for Adrian Zaugg's accident at Pouhon.
Just under five minutes remaining, and Max Chilton led them out for their last shot: one warm up, one flyer, rain falling from the sky like the bottom had fallen out of the bathtub. Step up local hero Jerome d'Ambrosio, cutting Herck's lead to two tenths in wretched conditions after a fraught couple of months to put himself on the front row against the odds.
And when the penalties shook out he got pole, with Michael failing to slow enough in the treacherous conditions for a yellow flag. Tough break, but motor racing is a tough business: one mistake is all it takes.
Press conference, dinner, and they went home to bed: we haven't seen much of the drivers so far this weekend, we haven't got many funny stories to pass on about their antics outside of the car. But this is Spa, and Spa is always about the racing.
That's why we always love coming here.