The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Monaco 24 May 2008
Since its inception in 2004, the GP2 Series has established itself as a serious breeding ground for Formula One talent - with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton as evidence. And official tyre suppliers to the series, Bridgestone, are helping to do the same for motorsport journalism, with their e-reporter competition.
The nine 2008 finalists will each get to report from one European round of the series, and will be supplying Formula1.com with details of the GP2 action, plus a diary reflecting their experience as a first-time paddock correspondent. For Monaco, its 26-year-old Italian, Lorenzo Quolantoni...
Qualifying report - pole position for Pastor Maldonado
Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado secured his second consecutive pole position here in Monaco on Thursday. Despite the impossibility of overtaking, the Piquet Sports ace is all set on winning the first race. Maldonado stopped the chronometer at 1m 21.073s, setting the fastest lap for the second time in Monaco under perfect climatic conditions. He preceded Bruno Senna by just 0.178 seconds, with Mike Conway grabbing third position.
The qualifying session started with a typical Monaco feature: a crash. Andy Soucek did not manage to complete his first attempt. Next was Ho-Pin Tung, who ended his day at the Piscine corner. As Marcello Puglisi spun in Casino, Adrian Valles chose a more classical spot, Sainte Devote, with only five minutes to go. Red flags were waved to remove his BCN off the track. Nevertheless the Spanish driver will begin tomorrow from an excellent fourth place.
Maldonado set the fastest time halfway through the qualifying session. At one point Senna got as close as 46 milliseconds but the South American regained his advantage by improving his previous time. I could have gone faster, but I kept a certain margin. Everything was under control, the confident poleman declared afterwards. However, images told a different story: he went wide in Sainte Devote and had to get pushed back on track by marshals at one point in the session, not to mention the fact that he also lightly hit the guardrail preceding the tunnel.
Eventually, though, he secured the most precious pole position of the year. Last year, I said that starting from pole gives you an 80 percent chances to win; I think I can easily raise it up to 90 percent. On a track where overtaking is virtually impossible, his second victory on the Rock is just one step away. Nevertheless we can trust Bruno Senna, Mike Conway and all the others not to make Maldonados life easy.
It was very early in the morning and initially my guide and I were unsure if we were on the right road to the GP2 paddock. Forget road signs, maps or GPS navigators - you know when you have arrived in Monaco! With the cheapest car around costing 50,000, the awesome buildings and only luxury shops everywhere, you start to imagine that you just have just seen Princess Stephanie of Monaco around the corner. I didnt? I must be dreaming
My first surprise was the GP2 paddock. It wasnt what I imagined it to be. It looks more like an enormous covered car park. Which it is in Monaco - the GP2 crew has to set their quarters in a place called Parking des Pecheurs (Fishermans Parking). On closer scrutiny, I noticed that all 13 GP2 teams are able to cope with it very well. Despite the lack of space it is interesting to see the teams working so close to each other. It makes the whole event even more charming.
The starting of the engines made sure I was completely awake. I met with Debbie and Alexa from Bridgestone, who both introduced me to world of GP2 and also briefed me of my itinerary here in Monaco.
After the free practice, drivers drove their car back to the paddock. I helped Sebastien Buemi push his Arden back in his garage, as no mechanics were there to help the Swiss driver. He thanked me but you could read the disappointment on his face as he had just finished in 12th place this time.
As the teams were working hard to prepare for the qualifying session after lunch, I met a sweaty Romain Grosjean who had been running under the sun to get some exercise - and to stay away from the tension. After the qualifying session and a few interviews, it was time to go back to the hotel. Although it was just day one, my brain is already full of images - and noise. May I have some more please?
Friday race report - Sennas name shines once again in Monaco
On Friday afternoon in Monaco Bruno Senna won his first race of the season. The Brazilian led a faultless race from the start to the end, just ahead of polesitter Pastor Maldonado and his iSports team mate Karun Chandhok.
Maldonado said that starting from pole position in Monaco gives you a 90 percent chance of winning the race. The remaining 10 percent is dependent on no mistake being made... and to have a good getaway. However this didnt happen to Maldonado as he spun his wheels too much at the start; Senna immediately overtook him. The Venezuelan driver just managed to defend his second position from Conways assault. Further on in the first lap, Petrov lost the control of his Campos and ended his race against the unlucky Kobayashi. They were the first to retire from the race.
Senna soon set a quick pace. With a comfortable six-second gap from Maldonado, he went for his pit stop on the 20th lap. Two laps later, Maldonado did his tyre change as well. As he came out of the pit lane, Senna had already passed by. However, the Brazilian had to face a final adrenaline rush: a traffic jam, involving 10 cars in Casino Square. Championship leader Pantanos car was blocking the road! The Italian had been hit by Buemi, who had tried a desperate overtaking manoeuvre. As the marshals removed the car, the heat was back on.
In the last stages of the race, Maldonado managed to reduce the gap to Senna, but due to the impossibility of overtaking, the race ended with victory for the Brazilian, who also set the fastest lap. Today in Monaco Sennas name shone once again.
By tradition there is no racing on Friday in Monaco, not for Formula One at least. As a result, there was no traffic jam and we arrived at the GP2 paddock early. Not too early for the Trident team though, who were already practising wheel changes. Although they were a bit slower than in F1, it was impressive to observe. It helps you understand that strategy is fundamental here in Monaco; losing just a second in the pit lane could cost precious championship points.
Then it was time for the moment all of us have been waiting for, the race. Sennas relatives were here to watch the race. Did I say to watch it? No, it was more like they were living it! When the TV screen displayed Maldonado coming out of the pits behind Senna, I witnessed a big explosion of joy. Without hesitation they all ran towards the circuit, even though there were still 20 laps left to complete. I assumed they arent superstitious. They came back as winners with mum holding Brunos helmet like a trophy. Brazilian TV and photographers interviewed her as a result. Looks like Sennas mother will soon be the most famous parent in motorsports... along with Lewis Hamiltons father of course.
Later, as I was talking to a very disappointed Romain Grosjean, I had the opportunity to meet Maïque Perez, the Formula One commentator for Swiss television and we exchanged views on the Swiss drivers in GP2.
Soon I realised that the paddock was getting empty. The day was over for most of the GP2 crew. Day two had just flown by... a truly spectacular day. Roll on the final day if only my Monaco Grand Prix dream could go on and on...
Saturday race report - Conway storms to Monaco sprint win
On Saturday afternoon in Monaco the Trident team scored the perfect result, as Mike Conway grabbed victory and team mate Ho-Pin Tung finished second. Super Nova driver Alvaro Parente completed the podium.
Drivers at the top of the grid were able to keep their starting position as the red lights went out. Race one podium sitters Pastor Maldonado and Karun Chandhok went through misfortunes though; Maldonado hit the Indian in Sainte Devote and the safety car came on track as soon as the first lap was over to allow the marshals to remove both their cars. The restart positions remained unchanged.
On the eighth lap, championship leader Pantano crashed into Puglisi, as he tried to overtake the Durango driver after the tunnel. On the same lap, Valerio spun in Casino, exactly as he had in race one. The safety car was out again for a final time. With few opportunities to overtake, positions then remained unchanged from the restart to the chequered flag. Conway won for the first time in his GP2 career, with a huge 19 second gap on his team mate. Starting from first gave me an excellent opportunity to win, and I took this great chance. Now, I feel it has made up for race one, as I was third when Villa hit me in the very last lap said the 24-year-old Briton.
Fridays winner Bruno Senna grabbed two more points, thanks to his fifth place, with a total of 12 points for the whole weekend. His excellent overall performance meant that now with 24 points, he is on top of the championship together with Pantano. Lets see how the Italian responds in the next race in Magny-Cours.
It was drizzling as I arrived in the GP2 paddock this morning for the last time. I thought for a moment that my rain dance had had some effect. Yes, I had been wishing for rain this weekend as it was my best chance to see a spectacular race in Monaco. Alas, the rain soon stopped and the race track was bone dry again.
A short visit to the F1 paddock was scheduled for today. Although it was a very quick visit, it was long enough to understand how crazy Formula One is. McLarens and Ferraris motor homes are the best examples. They arent just huge, they are gigantic!
I had lunch in Bridgestones F1 motor home together with Kamui Kobayashi and some Japanese journalists. Unfortunately I couldnt speak Japanese and as there were no subtitles, I wasnt able to understand any of their Japanese jokes. Im sure they must have been funny though, considering how they kept on laughing throughout dinner.
When I returned to the GP2 paddock for some interviews, I noticed that mechanics were already dismantling garages and packing away their stuff. It suddenly dawned that my reality will soon return - just as I was getting used to the GP2 way of life.
Whilst waiting for the cars to come back after race two, I met Fabrizio Corgnati, a former Bridgestone e-reporter finalist. Hes now working for F1GrandPrix. We talked briefly about his career and the e-reporter contest and he told me it gave him a good opportunity to meet people and network with other journalists.
As some of the trucks left, I had only one wish in my heart: to follow them to the next Grand Prix - and the next and the next. But, it is now time for France and the next e-reporter. I hope he will enjoy the weekend as much as I did!
For more on the Bridgestone e-reporter competition, click here.