The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Hungary 03 Aug 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 Hungary, its 23 year-old Frenchman, Guillaume Navarro...
Sunday race report - Buemi grabs easy win ; Senna confirms title intentions
iSport International were able to claim ambitious expectations for Sundays race in Hungary, following Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhoks satisfying results for the team in Saturdays feature race. Bruno was impressive at the start and grabbed a precious podium, even though he had started from eighth position. Now respectively 5th and 6th on the grid for race two, big points could realistically be expected.
With a surprisingly clumsy Grosjean (ART Grand Prix) kicked back to 25th on the grid (he was given a penalty for colliding with Pantano (Racing Engineering) yesterday) and feature race winner Lucas di Grassi (BARWA Intl Campos) starting eighth, Sennas opportunity to catch up with Giorgio Pantano (12th on the grid) in the standings had to be authoritatively grabbed.
Pole sitter Andy Soucek (Super Nova Racing) had a tidy start, defending his position from Sebastien Buemi (Trust Team Arden). Grosjean went wide into Turn 3 and lost a position. On lap two, Di Grassi bumped into Trident Racings Mike Conway, who spun as a consequence. Di Grassi was soon forced to drive through the pits as a penalty for this move. It was a bit unfair, I could have finished on the podium, Di Grassi said. I think it was a race incident, we touched, I got penalised, but I still take one point for the fastest lap. Meanwhile, Racing Engineering team mates Pantano and Villa fought very closely throughout the race. And Grosjean again lost his cool on lap 6 when he tried to overtake Parente on the inside and collided with him.
Soucek was under no particular pressure when he suddenly missed his braking point and offered Buemi an easy victory. Buemi admitted post-race that he had far better pace than Soucek, but that it could have been complicated to pass him if he had not made an error because of the tyres lack of grip. He did, however, pull away by two seconds in the next three laps.
Yamamoto (ART Grand Prix) took his best-ever GP2 result with fourth place, while Senna secured third, trying everything to pass Soucek in the very last stages of the race.
Formula One was in all the discussions after the race, including winner Buemi. Were going to show that we can keep on winning and prove to the F1 people that we deserve it, he said.
Di Grassi admitted post-race that his target was not the championship, but to end up to third, having missed 20 percent of the season: They are happy with that in Formula One.
Senna analysed his own abilities to adapt quickly, emphasizing the fact that there was only half an hour to set the car up and very little time to understand the set-ups and learn the tracks in GP2 - a sign, according to him, that he can make the step up to Formula One. Id prefer a race seat instead of a test-driver seat, as I need to discover the qualifying system, he concluded.
As if they wanted to remind me that the weekend was almost over, the mechanics were already busy cleaning up and putting tools back in the trucks at 8.30 in the morning. A new race starts soon and everything has to be tidy pretty quickly.
Sunday started with a photoshoot with Alastair, LAT photographer for Bridgestone and official GP2 Series photographer. Hes one of the people who has helped to make my articles more attractive and illustrative the paddocks atmosphere. I wont talk long about how crazily huge his camera focus is, but it looks more like a telescope than a camera.
He told me he does not think much in advance about the pictures he takes, and that it is more a matter of feeling and vision. His prefers to shoot portraits and racing action. We were lucky to meet Bruno Senna who agreed to pose with me next to his Monaco and Silverstone-winning chassis. I will cherish this picture, even if he never manages to become a Formula One world champion like his uncle one day.
The GP2 Sprint Race was exciting with Sebatsien Buemi taking his second 2008 victory, and Senna getting closer to Pantano in the championship standing.
In the afternoon, I remembered the invitation I got from the Red Bulletin magazine. I learnt a lot about the magazine and the way it is published during my meeting with two of the journalists at their editorial office. The twenty-member team may well publish a sometimes satirical magazine, but I can tell that those guys are really experienced professionals with a huge passion for motorsport and writing. One of the journalists confirmed that Red Bulletin was first designed for the readers to have fun. And I would like to take the opportunity to apologise to them as they might have missed the pre-race F1 grid as we were talking so passionately!
But soon came the time to leave the track. The last thing I saw from my unique weekend at the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix was the first half of the Formula One race before heading to the airport.
The flight back home was not so sad, however, as I recognised an impressive number of some of the paddocks most influential personalities, including brilliant French journalist Stephane Samson, Renaults Denis Chevrier, Nicolas Todt, Marc Gene and Alex Wurz. Alex told me that they were heading to an endurance test session in Le Mans with the Peugeot 908. All of them, except the 908 guys, travelled in economy and this confirmed what so many people in the GP2 paddock told me - off track, even the most important characters are normal people. Another proof of that was when I overheard Todt calling his father as soon as we landed... Allo, Papa?
Finally, I owe Bridgestone, Clarisse Hoffmann and Debbie Beale a very special thank you. There are no words to describe how unforgettable and potentially crucial this weekend has been for the start of my career path into motorsport journalism. Im not yet sure whether there will be any path, but I have good reasons to expect great opportunities soon. And it might take me towards Eau Rouge! Who knows...
Saturday race report - Di Grassi strongest, Senna takes vital title fight points
There were a number of clues, like a convincing pole position and confidence in his set-up and strategy, which made many observers think that Romain Grosjean would score a Hungary win. Of course it wouldnt be easy, as the eight fastest contenders were only separated by half a second during the qualifying session, but pole in Hungary is more decisive than elsewhere.
Not only did this animated race prove expectations wrong, but it also enabled iSports Bruno Senna to halve his handicap in the title fight from current leader Giorgio Pantano (Racing Engineering). Pantano himself, who started seventh on the grid, shared with Grosjean a race to forget.
When the lights went out, Grosjeans catastrophic start cost him several positions and enabled opportunist Di Grassi (Campos) to take the lead, as Andreas Zuber (Piquet Sport) failed to negotiate Turn One accurately enough. Zuber, with not enough performance to challenge Di Grassi, would stay in second for the rest of the race.
While most of the frontrunners took an early first stop, Pastor Maldonado, who had been unable to qualify after a violent crash in Friday practice, was on a very different strategy. And though he started the race at the back in 26th, he was running up in P1 when he eventually took his one stop. The risky strategy eventually paid off with Maldonado finishing in fifth.
A broken transmission forced fast Vitaly Petrov to give up his fourth place hopes to Senna, who had made an efficient start. I knew everything could happen, Senna explained after the race. I took the outside and managed the tyres. That was my worst qualifying of the year (eighth). The team called me at the right moment when I started to have troubles with my tyres and I did a good race. When asked about his title fight position, he said, I just had to collect points. I had mechanical problems in the beginning of the year; otherwise, Id be closer.
The fact that Pantano and Grosjeans races didnt quite go to plan added to the good fortunes of Senna and Maldonado. But what of race winner Di Grassi? I missed the first third of the season, and now Im fourth in the championship, he said. Im not thinking about the championship, but Im happy to prove I can win with another team.
There is speculation that the return of the Italian driver to the GP2 Series has put him in competition with both team mate Petrov, and Romain Grosjean for a possible future race seat at the Renault Formula One team. With both Di Grassi and Grosjean part of Renaults driver development programme, the media have got to wonder at the thrilling prospect of such a competition between two such highly-rated drivers.
Not that Friday had been a particularly quiet day, but this penultimate day of my weekend in Hungary made me respect the paddock figures, with their busy timetables, even more highly.
Still overwhelmed by the interesting and passionate chat I had enjoyed with French journalist Jean Louis Moncet (Eurosport/TF1/Auto Plus) the previous evening, I was eager for some more great moments. And with an invite to join RMC Radios Julien Febreau in his small commentary box during a live radio programme, I knew I wouldnt be disappointed.
Juliens amazing energy and ability to provide sharp live analysis, while simultaneously watching the race and the live timing screens, playing recorded interview pieces and listening to his assistant, made me think that he might have come from Mars, even though he may pretend hes French. For any ladies out there, Julien is living proof that a man can multitask! For me, although I didnt reveal this to him, I was most excited by the fact that although he is now very important in motorsport circles, when he first came to the paddock, he didnt speak a word of English.
I took some time to go trackside during the Formula One qualifying and noticed that both Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel and Toyotas Timo Glock were really at ease. In fact both Toyota drivers looked very at ease during all three sessions, and it was clear that they found grip in the middle part of the corners and were able to find more traction by the apex than, for example the Red Bull and Honda drivers, who seemed to struggle with oversteer.
During the day I was kept very busy with the GP2 feature race coverage and all the articles and interviews I wrote about different protagonists, including drivers, a team manager, the GP2 series hospitality manager and some Bridgestone personnel who are always very happy to talk about their tasks.
Qualifying report - Grosjean celebrates maiden pole
He may wear flip flops to walk down the paddock, but Romain Grosjean is forgiven as he knows how to use his feet, as he brilliantly showed on track on Friday afternoon. The ART Grand Prix driver claimed his maiden pole position in the European GP2 Series.
Confident in a set-up that enabled him to reach P4 with a 0.144 second gap on Andreas Zuber (Piquet Sports) in practice, and thanks to team mate Yamamotos telemetry analysis, the Frenchman managed a storming 1m 27.782s lap almost one minute before the end of a qualifying session that had been dominated by Lucas Di Grassi (BARWA Intl Campos). The Italian also got kicked back to third place by 0.002 seconds by Andreas Zuber in the last stages of the session.
After championship leader Pantano set the initial benchmark time with his first fast lap, Di Grassi quickly jumped into the lead with an impressive lap, six tenths of a second faster by sector two and eight tenths of a second by the final line.
While Valles (BCN Competition) and Asmer (FMS International) successively spun and managed to get back on track, Grosjean was already making the show, cutting the grass in a bullish overtaking move around the outside of a slower rival. Andreas Zuber fast was leading a fight between himself and Petrov for P3.
Bruno Sennas entourage started to get excited when he took a temporary second place, but they soon had to deal with a hungry Chandok kicking him back to third position. Fourteen minutes left in the qualifying session and Di Grassi seemed untouchable, leading Chandok, Senna and Grosjean. Behind, Buemis 0.620s gap only rewarded him with an 11th place, highlighting how tight the gaps are at this stage of the competition.
Seven minutes before the end of the session, Di Grassi struck again and enhanced his lead by a few hundredths of a second, and Chandok, in an excessively optimistic overtaking attempt, had no choice but to go off track for the second time of the weekend. The move prompted both a yellow flag that ruined dAmbrosios bid for fifth position, and left him disillusioned about racing on a very curvy track with few overtaking possibilities.
Romain Grosjean admitted this pole position was good for his moral after three consecutive second places in qualifying: "This is the very first time I race here on a rough track, but the car felt good because my team mate knew the track better than me this morning and there were some things he was better at. This enabled me to work and clinch the pole and now Id like to win the race tomorrow. Its pleasant to know that were the fastest. Youll have to save the rear tyres during the race, that will probably be the key.
Zuber, who made his way up to the podium here last year, admitted getting a similar result in Race One would be nice, but that his aim was victory. The car is consistent, he smiled, you need a good strategy on the Hungaroring.
Wear flip flops, Andreas - that might help!
Far from being able to precisely figure out myself how complex it must have been to plan my timetable for the whole weekend, I started familiarising myself with it for a few hours on the train during the first leg of my journey to Budapest.
What an awakening! Every single quarter of an hour of the coming days was methodically planned. No improvisation. I suddenly realise how self-disciplined a paddock has to be sometimes for everything to work correctly.
Pit-pass acquisition, introduction to the numerous figures in the paddock, free practice session, press conferences, meetings and interviews - the schedule was tight. In reality, however, I progressively understood that everything is actually quite flexible.
Its easy to forget that this is not only a great show, hundreds of people are frantically working behind the scenes! And when they are kind enough to set aside some precious discussion time with you, it has to fit into their own over-filled timetable. If this free time is, lets say, a media lunch with iSport driver Karun Chandhok, go ahead. You will learn about a passionate, clever, and well-educated driver who has a very global awareness of what he is part of.
In the same way Buda and Pest are separated by the Danube, the GP2 Series and Formula One paddock are close to each other, but far enough away for everyone to work properly. As an e-reporter, I will be just another worker from now on. The hearty welcome is extremely warm. The drivers are accessible, and I will not forget Bruno Senna coming to greet me.
Hes the hottest person in the paddock right now, yet he seems to act perfectly normally. Well, as normal as being a GP2 Series driver allows you to! The mechanics dont even look surprised to see me wandering across the garages among them. And the Bridgestone e-reporter status is clearly something that people recognise, and contacts are made much easier thanks to this sudden credibility. I quickly feel confident enough to go and chat with anyone.
The first highlight of the experience is to realise how free I am to go and see everyones work. I am suddenly allowed - and even requested - to go and ask questions about every single detail I might be interested in. That goes from hospitality management, to driver approach, logistics, tyres, technical, marketing, journalistic or gossip issues. A weekend wont be enough for such a programme! There is always something going on, and when you least expect it you find yourself walking past Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa or Robert Kubica!
On Thursday night, a great surprise awaited me. Bridgestone hosted a dozen personalities in the Formula One motorhome for a friendly dinner. And I am part of it thanks to my chaperone. The greatest names of British journalism are here: Peter Windsor, Maurice Hamilton, Alan Henry, David Tremayne, Joe Saward and more.
I just cant believe that I am actually taking part in a number of specialised discussions with those prestigious names, whose work Ive been reading religiously for years. Those guys of great experience and historical knowledge actually love to exchange thoughts, and as long as you have arguments to explain your opinion about the discussed topic, they wont make you feel like an inexperienced newbie. This must be heaven! The Red Bulletin even invited me to come and see them at any time during the weekend. For sure, I will.
For more on the Bridgestone e-reporter competition, click here.