It was a strange feeling to be back in the paddock after a couple of races away (albeit for the best reason ever – my son Arthur is the best thing to happen in my life since I met my wife): I've never missed two races before, and you sort of wonder how things will be after a break away from the coalface.
As it turns out, I only had time to put my bag down before Alexa had me writing up a race preview and some other items while she organised a bunch of things for the end of season party on Sunday. Some things never change.
She was also running around madly because she had to organise something different this year: the teams had all congregated at the football pitch just behind the Variente Ascari for the first annual (hopefully) GP2 teams tournament, and like everything else in this paddock, they were taking it very seriously indeed. Well, apart from the ones who used it as an opportunity to get a few early beers in, anyway. Yes, you know who you are.
Needless to say, the GP2 staff team was entirely useless (if only I didn't have all those reports to write up for Alexa!). And, perhaps inevitably, the final came down to iSport vs ART, one of the big grudge matches in the paddock, and with so much at stake it was always going to end up with a penalty shoot out to break the deadlock. And we all know what the English are like at penalties...
There was also a photo shoot organised for the five guys in the fight to be this year's vice-champion. Unfortunately they were all getting along a little too well, cracking jokes and looking a little too happy to be there. “Come on,” implored Alexa, “I need you all to look mean, like you'd do anything to come out on top.” “I'll try,” Sam Bird sniggered, “do you have a prayer mat I can borrow?”
This morning there was another challenge for the drivers: they had to sign all the photos for the competition from earlier this year. A few of the guys took it as yet another contest, and were racing each other to see who could get through their stack the quickest (Jules Bianchi put in a notably huge performance), but Romain Grosjean deserves a special commendation for getting through almost 1000 signatures before free practice.
I can't help wondering if it made the difference in his performance today – he only missed pole by a couple of tenths, after all. It would be ironic if his fans lost him pole position...
We were heading back to the paddock after a fairly quiet free practice session only to see Jules heading back towards us on a bicycle. “I like the changes the team have made to your car!” “Yeah, for sure I can get pole on this!” His teammate Esteban Gutierrez and Davide Valsecchi had come together during the session, and I couldn't help but wonder if he had been called up to the stewards because they saw a collision between green and yellow cars and just figured Jules was involved.
Even though Stefano Coletti was out for the weekend after his accident in Spa, he still turned up to support his Trident team: his denim patch printed back support brace was a questionable fashion accessory, though. He popped his head around the door when he saw me setting up the press conference backdrop: “I don't think you'll see me in here for the press conference this weekend.” “That's okay, you can still come and ask some questions.” “Really?” he asked, delightedly. “I just might do that! I can come and ask them something funny, or really embarrassing!”
Unfortunately he didn't come in – he definitely would have had a laugh with Luca and Fabio, as they all get on really well – although it was embarrassing enough for Alexa as it was. “I spent the whole press conference thinking about the Rapax teammate interview, when Fabio kept going on about his lucky underwear, and I was wondering if he was wearing them. Were you thinking about that?”
Obviously I wasn't, because why would I? But now that she's put the thought in my head I am actively hoping that Fabio misses out on a podium finish tomorrow. I'm sorry Fabio, but none of us want to be thinking those thoughts in the cauldron-like (it is right behind the kitchen) heat of the press conference room.
I'm sure you understand: let us know if you've burnt the offending item, and you'll be welcome back any time.