The three big stories from the weekend in Spa were (a) the weather, (b) Michael Schumacher’s 20th anniversary in Formula 1 and (c) tyre blistering.
Spa is hidden deep in the Ardennes forest, just further along the hill range from the Nordschleiffe. It’s amazing how these two circuits, which are possibly the two greatest in the history of Formula 1 are just an hour away from each other! Spa seems to have its own micro-climate which is the most unpredictable on the planet I think. I remember doing a F3 race here in 2003 where it was like a monsoon at the top of the hill for half a lap and then bone dry near the start line. The teams couldn’t figure out why all the drivers were asking for wet tyres because the sun was shining so brightly where they were standing! Come to think of it, apart from 2007 when I won my first GP2 race there, I have never done a fully dry weekend at Spa.
It’s now become a running joke at Team Lotus that whenever I’m in the car it’ll either be unusually cold or more than likely, pouring rain – Spa didn’t break that record ! Unfortunately it was another fairly unproductive session for me in FP1 with red flags and traffic making a mess of the 5 timed laps I did.
Up until the race the weather was very changeable and it really made life very stressful for the drivers and engineers to decide whether to put a dry set up on the car for the race or a compromised one for rain. In the end, with Sunday being dry, it meant that everyone went into the unknown a little bit as it was the first time at Spa with the Pirelli’s and the DRS but what resulted was a fascinating Grand Prix ! Some of the overtaking moves that Webber and Alonso in particular pulled off were very brave and very impressive to watch.
Overall however, the Vettel – Red Bull combination was just too strong for the rest and the reigning World Champion was able to manage his tyres and the blistering issues they were suffering from to record another race victory – the first one for a Renault engine at Spa since Michael Schumacher’s stunning win back in 1995. Fernando looked like being a contender early on but once Vettel got ahead after the safety car, there was no coming back and in the end on the harder tyre, the Ferrari ace just couldn’t match the likes of Button and Webber for pace. Mark was able to recover from a poor start and make it a RBR 1-2 while Button drove a stellar race, staying out of trouble and getting the harder tyre out of the way early to get on the podium from a disastrous qualifying.
Michael’s 20th anniversary was a big occasion for the F1 paddock folk as it’s the first time that anyone has ever completed two decades of competing at the top level of the sport. I remember reading about his debut in Autosport magazine back in 1991 for Jordan ( about 4 weeks late with the speed of post back then ! ), and how the world was raving about this new “wunderkid”.
Mercedes GP had a party on Saturday night inviting all of us from the paddock to celebrate Michael’s achievement. It seems like he got some very special gifts including a signed engine cover from Ferrari in honour of his 5 World Championships he won with them, an F1 car clutch from Eddie Jordan ( Schumacher retired from that debut race with Jordan due to clutch failure ) , a special 21 carat gold plated helmet from his helmet supplier Schuberth which he wore this weekend and a special new cycle from Tour de France legend Eddy Merckx. Quite a good haul for a dinner party!
As the most successful driver in the history of the sport, it was really nice to see him re-discover some form this weekend. Michael had a great race from the back of the grid to finish 5th and ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg at a track he calls his backyard in the way that Boris Becker used to talk about Wimbledon. For his sake and for the good of F1, let’s hope he can carry that form forward – it will be a fantastic feel-good story to see Michael on a podium again soon.
My former team-mate Bruno Senna was the other big story of the weekend. Despite a shunt on Friday and another one into Jaime at the start, overall he had a very good weekend and I’m very pleased to see him back racing again. It’s nice to see teams give opportunities to new guys, like Tony and Riad did for me in Germany and Eric Boulier has done for Bruno here. End of the day, the only way we’re going to get better and gain experience is by being out on track and while in the short term there may be some pain, in the longer term it could work out better for everyone.
Off to Monza next and the real temple of speed. I love Monza, despite the fact that I robbed outside a fantastic Pizzeria last year ! The circuit just oozes history and character and the Italian tifosi are like nowhere else in the world – in fact, it’s the only circuit in the world where you can smell the barbeques from the Ferrari fan club as you head down towards the first chicane!! I can’t wait!!