Stranger than fiction


Red flags. Booing. Wooing. A weird day in GP2

Strangely, it was only when I found myself tweeting information on Alexa's phone while standing immediately under the lights on the start line while she went off to get more news during what should have been lap 21 that I realised that today hadn't quite gone to plan. I've never been the quickest at realising when life has taken a turn off piste, probably because over the years this job has taught me to deal with things first, reflect on them later (mostly for the blog).

But I should have picked it up earlier. Looking back, it was strange to open the curtains and see the sun (and can I just apologise now for the title of yesterday's blog, which had a lot of people in the paddock assuming I was writing about their love lives: I should have gone with a movie title pun as usual, something like Once Upon A Time In The Wet), and to then have to dig my sunglasses out of my bag.

It wasn't strange, however, to be kept waiting by a driver. In this case it was Luiz Razia, who had 2 photographers, Alexa and I hanging around in the pitlane waiting for him to get to the track for a shoot, with only a few cameras to keep us entertained (and I apologise in advance for anyone who has to see our Facebook pages), before finally arriving to find us all photographing our reflections in each other's glasses.

Well, we were bored.

Then it was time for F1 qualy and a couple of our boys getting into the top 3, before hiking up the hill for the race, and the craziness that ensued. We went through all the usual routines, the lights went out, and off they went.

Esteban has possibly been the most interesting driver to talk to in the paddock this year. There's no question that he was going to be under a lot of pressure this year, and the general feeling is that he will be up in the big paddock soon, but to get there you've got to get the results. And for a number of reasons, they just weren't coming in the first half of the season.

But a break in Mexico turned it all around, and it all seems to come from within him: drivers always say they aren't looking at the championship tables (and then correct you when you get their points wrong), but when he says he is really just looking at the races for the enjoyment they bring, I can look into his eyes and see that he really, really means it.

So when Rio and James were slow off the line when the lights went out, he went right to get around them both. At most other tracks that would be a painted bit of track, but here it was grass, and a wall. And he kept his foot in, even though he was sliding for want of grip. It was one of the most foolhardy, beautifully brave moments of the season.

And Marcus was on fire behind him. Quick into and out of turn one, immediately flat at Eau Rouge and a gust of wind past Esteban: P3. Straight after James, who hadn't run here in a proper car in the dry before, braked too early at the bus stop: P2. Immediately onto Rio's rear wing, clamped to him down the hill and flat at Eau Rouge again, Rio had to lift: P1.

To the press conference: "Then Haryanto only changed the rears, so we lost that position in the pitstop, but lucky for me he spun behind the safety car..." - the entire room bursts out laughing - "Hey, that's not nice!" - even louder laughs.

And then Nigel crashed.

Poor Nigel, who at least didn't suffer more than bruising on his ribs and a bit of a headache, and joins a long list of drivers who have a lot to thank Dallara for. An immediate safety car, and they roll around for a few laps while the marshals tried to pull the battered barrier back together, and then I look up the pitlane and see the cars coming towards us.

Debris on the front straight, I wondered, or maybe a red flag in the pitlane? Oh no, I realised when I looked at the screens, it's lap six. Pitstops.

The noise, the wind, the anxiety, the fear and adrenelin of almost the entire field pitting at the same time is something almost beyond explanation. We're terrified, up on the pitwall and typing rapidly, trying to keep track of the untrackable, knowing that all that ...chaos is going on behind us. We hope, for ourselves, for everyone else, that nothing goes wrong, that everyone's training works, that they all leave in a few seconds and get away safely again.

You can't look behind you, because it might just break the spell. You can only look at the screens and, when the noise dies down, you can breathe again and chance a glance backwards.

Davide Valsecchi had a bit of a moment when he was released and Fabio Onidi was closing in on him and looked to brake hard. They got away with it, but it looked close. Esteban had a slow stop when his right rear stuck, more bad luck after squeezing inside his teammate as they ran side by side down the hill to pick up a position, just as a yellow was waved for Rodolfo Gonzalez's earlier crash into the barriers there.

Rio had his spin and then, with the barriers still broken, they red flagged the race. And suddenly, nothing happened.

The cars were stopped at the bus stop at first, and then waved onto the front straight. Unfortunately not everyone realised this, and a number of guys had shut down their engines, meaning the marshals had a lot of work to do to push the cars around the corner and up the straight.

The red flag came at 16.04, the restart was scheduled for 16.27: a pretty amazing repair job, all things considered.

The crowd were determined to have fun, no matter what happened in front of them. When the cars were stopped they booed, when the screens showed the restart time they cheered, and anything anyone did on the grid got a reaction, one way or another.

Restart at 16.27 behind the safety car: Woo!

Safety car stops 10 metres later: Boo!

3 cars storm past, then stop: Woo!

Mechanics run up the road to pull them back: Cue laughter.

The restart couldn't happen because they suddenly realised that the medical helicopter had taken Nigel to Liege for check ups, so they had to stop everything at the last second (Boo!). And the guys got back out of their cars and looked around to their teams to see what happens next.

James ended up sitting down with his girlfriend, chatting to pass the time. Marcus stood around with his team. Luiz did a few knee lifts to keep warm, and then dropped down to do some push ups (Woo!) while Stefano Coletti watched ("why don't you do some too?" "I would, but I really don't want to start a big competition now, and you know that would happen..."). Some drivers went for a wee in the pits, some just went against the barriers in front of the crowd (Woo!). I'd probably better not say which was which.

And then finally, at 17.04, the race started again, and everyone was determined to make up for lost time, as you no doubt saw on your television. The race ran so long that the F1 teams had to push their cars out of parc ferme during the race, and the GP3 drivers were waved into the pits while the trophies were presented: a couple of the MW Arden cars were covered in champagne because they drove through just as Marcus sprayed the champagne towards his team.

With time in short supply, we rushed to get the press conference done as soon as I finished the race report, with Marcus standing over me for the last minute of it. He and James were huge fun, but unfortunately Davide couldn't make it because he was called to the stewards (the video showed that it was a safe release, that he spun his wheels a bit but Fabio said he didn't feel it was a problem: case dismissed).

And now we have Luiz and Davide on the same points in the championship, with the Lotus guys also on equal points in third, and the paddock has been buzzing in the setting sunlight ever since.

Apparently, it rained yesterday.

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