No one saw that coming. To be fair, it's one of the most unexpected results we've had, especially if you take out races with variable weather, but I doubt there was anyone who would have put money on Johnny Cecotto in a Trident winning the feature race in Barcelona. And that includes the Venezuelan himself.
In Bahrain we asked Johnny to talk about the circuit for the this week’s preview: he's got a lot of experience, we thought, and it was probably his turn anyway. And while Johnny was his usual garrulous self, smiling throughout and being nothing if not entertaining. "But I don't really like the circuit," he admitted. "It's very tricky to get a set up right, because there are all the fast sections but the third section is very tight and with a lot of corners, so it's difficult to find a compromise that works. But mostly, it’s that I’ve never had good results there!", he said laughing.
He and the team worked hard nevertheless, looking for the perfect balance between the two demands, but it wasn't looking great: walking back from the pitlane yesterday with the Venezuelan, the sting of the extraordinary temperatures finally dropping away but with him still radiating heat from his exertions, and he just couldn't put a brave face on it: P16 was way off where he wanted to be.
"Of course I'll try hard tomorrow, sure," he wavered, "but it's hard to see much chance for anything. Maybe not even in the points..."
Jolyon Palmer was probably his polar opposite: he was clearly satisfied with his weekend so far, and if he'd naturally have rather been on the other front row spot, he carried the air of a man who had little to worry about in the race, even if it was his teammate who had pipped him to pole. Racing drivers always think they can beat their teammates, and the Briton's demeanour told everyone around that he had another win targeted for the next day.
His confidence was still on display this morning when we took him and a number of drivers to the F1 Game Zone to put on a demonstration for the fans: it's something that every driver moans about doing until they get there, when their competitive instincts kick in. "I always do badly at these things," Julian Leal complained good naturedly, "but it's not my fault: they always put me in a Caterham or a Marussia!"
"Yeah," Jolyon agreed, "if they put me in a Caterham today, I walk!"
Cue comedy pretend walk out when the Briton's screen shone green...
He then compounded his problems by having a terrible qualifying lap, lining up last on the grid. Alexa walked over just before the start of the race, and noted: "Sergio Canamasas is in the other Caterham, so you'd better try to beat him!"
It's always interesting to see a driver in this situation, because you don't usually get an opportunity to see exactly what they do at work, their hands, feet, face, even if they profess to not really care about it while they're there. When the lights went out Jolyon made a perfect start, running up the outside on the left to take a few cars before a flash of green came across the screen: "No! Sergio's run me off!"
After that things got really serious: after bouncing off the wall he came screaming back on track, bouncing in his chair in an effort to generate more speed, and proceeded to overtake everyone, albeit after slightly tapping someone on the way, and was in the lead until the last lap when Facu Regalia tapped him into a spin and undid all his hard work.
And the winner: Kimiya Sato. Mostly because he was the only one not to pick up a penalty.
On the way out, it was time for the debriefs: "Sergio, I can't believe you put Jolyon into the wall at the start..."
"It wasn't my fault: someone hit me!"
"Yeah yeah, save it for the stewards. Julian, you had a Red Bull: what's your excuse?"
"I know, but the pedal was a bit loose, so I had to keep stretching further to brake!"
"Sure, and did you have a rock in your shoe too?..."
After that there was only time to grab a quick bit of lunch and get all the last minute preparations out of the way, and head out to the pitlane. And then that race happened.
All eyes were on the screens watching the time gap between Palmer and Cecotto: when it finally became clear that Johnny was going to pull off a huge upset, Alexa tweeted Sabina Rosa, the Trident head of communications "are you still breathing?", only to receive a reply "shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!"
When it was finally over, the Italians could release all that tension they'd been compounding through the race: some of the team were in tears under the podium, while Sabina couldn't stop hugging everybody around them. Giacomo Ricci, who joined the team this year as team manager, couldn't stop punching the air in the direction of the podium, with relief and delight fighting each other across his face for control.
"Which race feels better: this one, or your win in Budapest?"
"Budapest, of course, because I was in the car! But this result..." he tailed off, laughing, still unable to formulate his emotions into words.
And then there was Johnny himself, standing on the top step of the podium and beaming beatifically at his team from on high, looking incredibly young and leaning forward at impossible angles, as though trying to be on the podium and down with his team simultaneously. Clutching his heart during the anthem, his face was creased with joy at achieving the seemingly impossible, at doing more than he ever thought possible, at winning in Barcelona.
Sometimes the best laid schemes of mice and men often amount to naught, or so the saying goes. Anyone who has tried to organise a group of racing drivers, or anyone else involved in racing, can vouch for that from bitter personal experience. And yet, the basis of racing is plan and so on we tilt, every race, trying to defy nature and arrange activities for them.
If you're reading this, you've probably heard of Run That Track, an organisation which raises money for good causes via sponsorship from UBS, who donate $100 to Make A Wish Foundation per lap for everyone registered who runs the circuit. To be fair, the clue is in the name.
For some reason, Alexa thought she would arrange for all the drivers, as well as their teams and media, to do a group run on Thursday evening in Barcelona, possibly thinking that they've done so many laps here that there is no way they could get lost: it would probably be bad to lose a driver before the weekend starts, although I assume it would give our website a hell of a bump in traffic.
So she thought that organising a mass run for everyone in the paddock would be a. a good idea and b. actually possible, and has been ringing and emailing everyone involved over the last few weeks to make it happen. And on the day, everything naturally ran as smooth as silk.
Of course I jest: this is GP2, we don't do easy.
Rounding up that many people is like herding cats. For example: Tio Ellinas arrived at the circuit for the start of his first weekend in GP2, proud as punch and smiling at everyone, until Alexa walked over to MP to round up their squad. "Tio, are you coming over to the pitlane to join us?" she asked innocently, and he just laughed and pointed at his shirt, which proclaimed RUNNING SUCKS.
That'll be a no, then.
But 100 or so brave souls trudged over to the pitlane, looking for all the world as though they were heading over to the headmaster for punishment, only to find that the pitlane and the circuit were blocked at both ends by some temporary fencing: the circuit opens the pitlane to fans on Thursday night, but unfortunately they block off either to end to stop them walking too far.
"Guess we can head back then," someone giggled, earning himself a stern look from Alexa before she pulled out her phone to yell at someone while everyone milled around, with some of them even making an effort to get ready for a run.
Mitch Evans and Stoffel Vandoorne were two of the latter, and both looked keen to go despite their efforts last Sunday: Wings for Life hosted a simultaneous run for charity in 35 countries (making us so very, very glad that we didn't have to organise that...), with Mitch as a Red Bull backed driver planning for it well in advance and putting in 30km, while Stoffel got a call on Sunday morning, grabbed his shoes and put in a quick 20km before getting on with his day.
Pirelli racing manager Mario Isola was one of those who would probably have been happy to see the run called off: he had previously noted that he was going to do a run on Sunday to see the circuit ahead of the F1 race, before noting that his legs could probably take it and said he'd join his team on Thursday. After a call to the circuit manager someone was dispatched to open the gates, and Alexa asked Mario if he was going to stretch ahead of the run: "it won't make a difference," he sighed, "it will probably take me an hour and a half anyway, stretch or no stretch..."
As soon as the gates started to open, Alexa saw her chance: "There's a gap! Go!" Racing drivers can't resist, and the horde was off.
There were 2 different approaches at work: Mitch declared ahead of the event that he wanted to win, and he did: a spectacular time of 15 minutes and fifty seconds assured that. And then there was a different view: the ART GP3 drivers used it as an opportunity to catch up on their gossip, bimbling around together and chatting happily before coming home 37 minutes later, declaring it to have been a lovely bonding time for them.
Unfortunately for Alexandra Schieren, the Pirelil head of communications and one of the few women to run, she fell over midway through the lap and hurt her knee, but battled on bravely and still managed to finish, amusingly ahead of her boss, prompting Mario to ask if her lap time still counted.
At least Jolyon Palmer turned up to the run on time: he was late for the race winners photoshoot, and this after saying in Bahrain that he doesn't really enjoy them because he worries that he looks a bit daft in them. I'm sure there are other drivers who would tolerate that for the comfort of having won the last race, but I digress.
With Alexa worrying that he wasn't going to turn up at all, the likeable Englishman finally turned up, and was all apologies for putting everyone out. "What have you got for us this time?" he smirked, and was happy with the concept: a relay race with Stoffel and a steering wheel as the baton.
He smiled when he saw the results, much to the delight of Alexa, who asked what he wanted to do if he was in the shot in Monaco: "I think we should sit around and blow bubbles," he smirked. "Anything with minimal effort from me would be fine..."
Happily he was early for the press conference today, with teammate Stéphane Richelmi and Stefano Coletti right behind. Stéphane was on pole, obviously, but was mock outraged at Alexa because she had initially mentioned Stefano in the top spot on Twitter. "I know!" she sighed. "All your fans have been bombarding me! It wasn't deliberate, it was just the autofill put his user name instead of yours!"
"It's okay," he laughed, "I know he's your favourite..."
Everyone managed to sit in the right seats, and the press conference went off without a hitch. But if you notice bubbles in the photos for tomorrow's press conference, you'll know why: sometimes, plans just don't go the way you plan.