GP2: Round 17 – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium – Sat Sep 6

No race is ever simple at Spa, and definitely not when the rain makes a guest appearance and forces the start of the race to be run behind the safety car.

That was because of fears that the La Source hairpin would see a massive pile up in the wet conditions, but when the race did get underway after a single safety car lap, everything went smoothly.

Bruno Senna led the charge, and was doing pretty well in the first few laps and edged out a good lead until a stumble at the Bus Stop saw him reeled in. And as the track quickly dried, it was clear that Senna’s car was handling the transition poorly compared to Alvaro Parente and Romain Grosjean behind him.

With large parts of the track bone dry by lap 6, almost all of the cars came in as early as they could for their mandatory pit stop and took the opportunity to switch from intermediates to slicks. Those that stayed out even a single lap longer were disadvantaged by it.

Then three things happened in quick succession with major implications for the race and the GP2 championship.

Firstly, Bruno Senna was released from his pit box right in front of the incoming Alberto Valerio’s Durango. Senna had to swerve back into the pix box area to avoid a collision and a mechanic for one of the other teams had to dive for cover. It’s exactly the sort of situation that should have got Felipe Massa a drive-thru penalty in Valencia, but didn’t; but sure enough, word quickly came down to Senna that he was to be penalised.

Senna was livid: “I am really sad about the rules not being applied consistently. Nothing happened at Silverstone when I had to lock-up to avoid di Grassi, and Massa was only fined for what happened in Valencia.” He has a point.

“If you look at it, they should have taken the conditions into account. The pitlane was very wet, so it takes two or three times longer to accelerate away from your box. It was impossible for the team to know that I would exit close to the other car. I feel I did everything right and the team did everything right.”

Senna would have to do a drive-thru; but before he could, there was a major crash out on track. Davide Valsecchi went straight on at Stavelot on lap 10 and crashed deep into the tyre wall at high speed. The medical car was immediately mobilised.

Fortunately Valsecchi was not badly hurt – no broken bones, and no suggestion that he has aggravated the spinal injury he suffered in Turkey earlier this year. However, he was complaining of a headache and will be kept overnight in hospital in Liege, where he was flown immediately after the race. Clearly he will miss Sunday’s spring race.

The safety car bunched everyone up, so that by the time Sena was able to serve his drve-thru penalty, he was dumped to the very back of the running order.

That should have handed the championship on a plate to Giorgio Pantano, who had been running in fourth, but Pantano had his own safety car-related drama when he seemed to lose drive on the hill, and was overtaken by half a dozen cars. Apparently his engine reverted to safe mode during the safety car period when its water temperature got too cold, and cut off; if they hadn’t been coming down a steep incline at that point, he would have been unable to restart.

As it was, he was able to carry on albeit just out of the points. Senna’s penalty and another gained place put him into eights, which would give him 1pt but more crucially the pole spot in the sprint race, so it all looked to be coming good for the Italian.

But Pantano then spun the car at La Source with four laps to go, and lost two places – out of the reserve grid slot positions. Battling to mak up the places, he then tried to pass Roldan Rodriguez  coming into La Source on the final lap, but hit Lucas di Grassi instead resulting in a dismal 21st place finish.

And on top of that, he was then summoned to the stewards room , which decided not only to disqualify him from the first race, but also to bar him from participating in tomorrow morning’s sprint race, citing “reckless driving and unsportsmanlike behaviour”, and adding that he had also overtaken during a safety car period.

Piquet Sports duo Andi Zuber and Pastor Maldonado finished third and fourth, having traded the position on numerous occasions in close fighting during the closing stages, but Zuber was also summoned to a clearly worked up stewards room and handed a qualification for “unauthorised repairs” to his Piquet Sports car.

Vitaly Petrov finished fifth, ahead of Sebastien Buemi, Andy Soucek and Mike Conway, all of whom move up a position as a result. Conway would have had pole for the sprint race before Zuber’s elimination, but that now goes to Jerome D’Ambrosio instead.

    driver          team            gap        laps best time
1   R. Grosjean     ART             -           26  01'59"529
2   A. Parente      Super Nova      00'04"139   26  02'00"621
3   A. Zuber        Piquet Sports   00'05"744   26  02'00"828
4   P. Maldonado    Piquet Sports   00'06"308   26  02'00"211
5   V. Petrov       Campos          00'06"783   26  02'00"908
6   S. Buemi        Arden           00'08"711   26  02'01"781
7   A. Soucek       Super Nova      00'08"939   26  02'01"804
8   M. Conway       Trident         00'09"549   26  02'01"365
9   J. D'Ambrosio   DAMS            00'10"846   26  02'01"961
10  K. Kobayashi    DAMS            00'12"790   26  02'02"090
11  K. Chandhok     iSport          00'13"048   26  02'02"149
12  B. Senna        iSport          00'13"383   26  02'01"967
13  D. Nunes        DPR             00'14"176   26  02'02"522
14  A. Valles       BCN Comp.       00'14"903   26  02'02"582
15  M. Herck        DPR             00'16"537   26  02'02"726
16  H. Tung         Trident         00'17"315   26  02'02"635
17  M. Asmer        FMS             00'17"935   26  02'03"254
18  J. Villa        Racing Eng.     00'18"204   26  02'01"786
19  S. Yamamoto     ART             00'19"705   26  02'02"062
20  L. Filippi      Arden           00'43"184   26  02'02"462
21  G. Pantano      Racing Eng.     01'16"651   26  02'01"394
22  L. Di Grassi    Campos          1 Lap       25  02'01"346
23  R. Rodriguez    FMS             1 Lap       25  02'00"732
24  A. Valerio      Durango         -           21  02'02"660
25  D. Valsecchi    Durango         -           9   02'04"769
26  C. Iaconelli    BCN Comp.       -           3   02'27"700
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