GP2: Round 20 – Monza, Italy – Sun Sep 14

The GP2 title may have been decided yesterday with the result of the feature race, but that didn’t stop the drivers still in with a chance of the runner-up slot going all-out as if their futures depended on.

In a very real sense, of course, that’s exactly what was at stake here. GP2 has created a new generation of F1 drivers – from Nico Rosburg to Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock. And while Pantano is a worthy GP2 champion this year, the fact is that at nearly 30 he’s rather too long in the tooth to be the “next big thing” that F1 teams salivate over. Instead, they will be looking at the young guns – and who has the fight and nerve to battle to the wire. Which makes second place very important indeed.

The name with the most F1 buzz around it right now is Bruno Senna. Partly that’s the inevitable appeal of the name – he’s the nephew of the man many consider to be F1’s greatest ever world champion, Ayrton Senna. And despite only being in motor racing for four years (not for him the from-the-cradle ambition of Lewis Hamilton) he’s achieved impressive successes and has been talking with F1 teams about a test spot for 2009.

But failing to finish second could take the shine off Bruno’s appeal very quickly, and going into this final race he was only one point ahead of Lucas Di Grassi, yesterday’s race winner. And looking further back, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonardo were still able to threaten both of them. If the worst happened – well, F1 teams don’t look at drivers who only finish 5th place in championships.

Bruno stated from 4th on reverse grid, with Grosjean in 5th, Maldonaro in 7th and Di Grassi 8th. The start took place just after yet another Monza shower, but conditions weren’t as bad as yesterday and a safety car wasn’t required. However, despite the rain easing up very quickly, the moisture was to hung around in the air and keep the track damp and greasy throughout.

The conditions didn’t suit pole sitter Davide Valsecchi at all, and he suffered horrible wheel spin at the start that allowed Roldan Rodriguez to move decisively over to the inside line around Valsecchi followed by Jerome D’Ambrosio to take the lead into the first chicane. Valsecchi was holding up the field behind him but managed to hold on to 3rd place, and then took 2nd when he passed a struggling D’Ambrosio – clearly off the pace – at the end of the first lap.

How was Senna doing, and where were his rivals? Bruno survived a 360 degree spin at Roggia when he moved the wheel ever so slightly to avoid cars duelling ahead of him. Miraculously he didn’t hit any other car or the wall as he spun, and was able to carry on, but obviously lost some positions and was a bit rattled.

Mike Conway took advantage and passed him on lap 3, and then – to Senna’s horror – Di Grassi also passed him in pretty much the same move. Senna fought back, slipstreaming down the start/finish straight, and got his nose ahead – but couldn’t slow down in time for the chicane. He sailed through, and rejoined the race behind Conway and in front of Di Grassi.

GP2 rules (like F1 – ask Lewis) are that you can’t cut a chicane and get advantage, so Senna would have to hand the place back to Di Grassi. But Bruno was in no hurry and made no immediate move, while Di Grassi was getting impatient – and got lured into a late-braking move in Roggia that saw him slam into the back of Conway. Conway was out with damage, Senna lost a bunch of places spinning to avoid Conway – and Di Grassi escaped with minor nose damage.

Except that there was no way the stewards were going to let that one go. Sure enough, they handed Di Grassi a drive-thru penalty for causing an avoidable accident, dropping him down from 4th to 14th place. In effect, it meant that his campaign for second in the championship was over.

Senna was stuck in 8th, and while he caught the duelling Sebastien Buemi and Jerome D’Ambrosio during the remainder of the race, there was no way past them back into the points. The fate of second place now rested on what happened up front.

Romain Grosjean had a stellar midsection of the race and rose to 3rd, not least with a great move on Pastor Maldonardo. But the effort and its impact on his tyres proved too much, and while he challenged for second he then ran wide and immediately handed the position back, meaning he had to settle for the last podium slot – ahead of Maldonardo in the championship but not enough to catch with Senna or Di Grassi in the points. Its a same, and people had been expecting more form the GP2 Asia series winner, but they were forgetting that Grosjean was new to most of the GP2 Europe circuits while everyone else had more experience (everyone was new to GP2 Asia, by comparison.) Now he’s got that experience on the European circuits, what odds a Grosjean championship in 2009?

As for the race win – for the nine laps it seemed that Rodriguez had it in the bad, pulling out a 2.6 second lead over Valsecchi who was by now fully up to speed. In fact, Valsecchi was reeling in the leader as the conditions dried, and he took the lead at the first chicane on lap nine, and never looked back – pulling away to a nine-second victory.

After a year that has included two big shunts that put him in hospital, Davide Valsecchi is an appropriate and rather moving final winner of the GP2 season, his first win in the GP2 series and on home soil for the Italian as well.

But the final note should be on the champion, Giorgio Pantano. Starting from 10th, he dropped to 17th on the opening lap after a terrible start and a cautious first corner. But he drove a careful and canny race and gradually picked his way through the field and ended up a very creditable 5th. He celebrated his title by stopping on the coll-down lap at the first chicane to throw his gloves into the crowd, and then got back into his car to perform a series of doughnuts at the Roggia.

Combined with Valsecchi and Durango’s win, it capped a great day for Italy in GP2 – and more was to come in the main F1 event later.

Race result:

Pos  Driver             Team                Time
1.  Davide Valsecchi   Durango             38:09.871
2.  Roldan Rodriguez   FMS                  +  9.004
3.  Romain Grosjean    ART                  +  9.537
4.  Pastor Maldonado   Piquet Sports        + 10.190
5.  Giorgio Pantano    Racing Engineering   + 11.428
6.  Jerome D'Ambrosio  DAMS                 + 16.731
7.  Sebastien Buemi    Arden                + 17.675
8.  Bruno Senna        iSport               + 18.540
9.  Ho-Pin Tung        Trident              + 32.030
10.  Andreas Zuber      Piquet Sports        + 33.641
11.  Lucas Di Grassi    Campos               + 42.236
12.  Alvaro Parente     Super Nova           + 46.434
13.  Kamui Kobayashi    DAMS                 + 46.836
14.  Carlos Iaconelli   BCN Competicion      + 51.080
15.  Alberto Valerio    Durango              + 51.743
16.  Diego Nunes        DPR                  + 52.565
17.  Michael Herck      DPR                  + 55.792
18.  Andy Soucek        Super Nova           + 56.456

Retirements:

Driver             Team                Laps
Sakon Yamamoto     ART                 14
Luca Filippi       Arden               12
Marko Asmer        FMS                 8
Vitali Petrov      Campos              6
Mike Conway        Trident             3
Karun Chandhok     iSport              0

Final championship standings:

Driver              Pts
1   Giorgio Pantano     76
2   Bruno Senna         64
3   Lucas Di Grassi     63
4   Romain Grosjean     62
5   Pastor Maldonado    60
6   Sebastien Buemi     50
7   Vitaly Petrov       39
8   Alvaro Parente      34
9   Andreas Zuber       32
10  Karun Chandhok      31
11  Jrme D'Ambrosio     21
12  Mike Conway         20
13  Roldan Rodriguez    14
14  Andy Soucek         13
15  Davide Valsecchi    11
16  Kamui Kobayashi     10
17  Javier Villa         8
18  Ho-Ping Tung         7
19  Luca Filippi         6
20  Adrian Valles        5
21  Yelmer Buurman       5
22  Diego Nunes          3
23  Sakon Yamamoto       3
24  Carlos Iaconelli     2
25  Alberto Valerio      2
26  Ben Hanley           1
27  Adam Carroll         1
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