As starts to a race weekend go, it wasn't a great one. Another moment of stress on the one weekend where the team would want to do all it could to avoid any at all. And it wasn't even Friday.
Racing Engineering is one of, if not already, Spain's premier race team outside of Formula One, so the Spanish Grand Prix, at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of the country's second city, is a vital event on its GP2 Series calendar. The chance to entertain guests, engage with both current and potential sponsors, and generally feel the warmth of the home nation's support marked Barcelona out above the likes of Silverstone, Monza and Spa-Francorchamps.
Having one of the natural successors to double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso in the ranks helps too, and 22-year old Dani Clos, good-looking and articulate, does his bit to engender support, with his own fan club providing vocal support and a splash of yellow to contrast, patriotically, with the Ferrari scarlet adopted by Alonso's hordes of followers.
Clos, fortunately, wasn't the problem. Instead, it was his team-mate causing the headaches for team boss Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon as he drove through most of Spain to reach the latest destination on what has fast become a global tour for GP2. Highly-rated German Christian Vietoris had declared himself unable to take part on health grounds, but had done so very late in the day, leaving de Orleans with little time to source a replacement. GP2 Series rules stipulate that each team must field two drivers at every round, so the race – the first of a long weekend – was on.
For most of the 1200km from the team's base at Sanlucar de Barrameda, close to the Jerez circuit in the far south-west of Spain, the team boss and general manager Ines Koschutnig worked on finding an ideal stand-in, bearing in mind that the team would be going directly from Barcelona to Monaco for back-to-back race weekends, and there was no guarantee that Vietoris would be ready for the season's blue riband event. Various names were discussed, but one, Portugal's Alvaro Parente, was the one de Orleans wanted most.
“There were several drivers that we considered,” he confirmed, “but Alvaro stood out for many reasons. He was already known to the team, having raced with us before, and would therefore need very little time to settle in, but also brought a lot of GP2 experience and would be available for Monaco if needed. There was no point looking for someone in Renault World Series or Euro F3 as both had races that clashed with either Barcelona or Monaco, so Alvaro fitted the bill. It was just a question of striking a deal with McLaren……”
Parente, having served two full seasons years in F1's feeding ground already, had hoped to have moved up by now, but a disappointingly brief spell as reserve driver with the Virgin Racing team in 2010 – curtailed by a shortfall in promised sponsorship – had left him searching for a ride. Instead of settling for something in order just to be racing, he had instead found employment developing McLaren's potent new MP4-12C for the GT classes. Prising him away from the programme, albeit temporarily, had its price, but it was one Racing Engineering was prepared to pay.
Parente had arrived in Barcelona and was being fitted for his race seat by Thursday evening, his name and national flag already covering over Vietoris' on the gantry that carried light and lifeblood to his mount for the weekend. A fully self-sufficient race team, despite its distance from a major city, Racing Engineering produces its own livery stickers, each one carefully calculated and measured to produce the least wind resistance when its two cars are running on track. Aero benefits are not the main concern for the graphics that adorn the pit area, but the team's attention to detail and professionalism would not tolerate having 'Vietoris' and the German flag above a car driven by someone else.
The team was already hard at it when de Orleans arrived at the circuit the following morning, exercising a well-practiced drill in order to ready the two Mecachrome-powered Dallaras for the weekend's first GP2 session. It may only have been half an hour of 'untimed' practice, but every lap on track is vital in a series known for its close competition – and moreso for Racing Engineering after a nightmare start to the 2011 season in Turkey two weeks before.