Having triumphed, with Clos, in the final race of the third GP2 Asia Series, the team entered the main championship with high hopes and great expectations. It had also ended the previous season's summer series with Vietoris taking victory in Italy, but both the car and tyres were different when de Orleans took his team to Abu Dhabi in February.
Racing Engineering had been the only notable absentee among the GP2 faithful when the Asia Series was first launched with the intention of bringing on young talent, and especially that from emerging motorsport nations. Because it ran the original spec Dallara, making use of the newly-redundant machinery supplanted by the second generation introduced for the 2008 summer series, de Orleans saw no benefit in competing, especially as the cost of travelling to destinations in Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE and Bahrain were far likely to out-weight the sponsorship that might be brought to the team.
This year was different though. Not only were all teams mandated to contest both series but, for the first time, the current spec Dallara, now in its third iteration, and new Pirelli tyres – replacing the tried and trusted Bridgestones – would be used, meaning that anyone not competing would be at a serious disadvantage when the main series kicked off in Turkey. That, and Clos' victory in the final race of the Asia Series – at a very un-Asian Imola of all places - was why the team's results at Istanbul Park were such a shock.
“We were very upset with the results in Turkey,” de Orleans admitted, “The Pirelli tyres were very complicated to understand, very inconsistent, and we need to work to understand how to find a proper working solution for Barcelona.”
Both Clos and Vietoris had been on the pace when it mattered in practice and qualifying, and the Spaniard made a noticeably blistering start to Saturday's feature race to move into podium contention, but problems with the tyres ultimately relegated him to eighth – and a single point – while Vietoris made two stops instead of the usual one, and only found he had his car 'under him' in the final stages – when he lapped up to ten seconds quicker than some of his rivals!
Clos' result, ironically, gave him pole position for Sunday's sprint event that acted as curtain-raiser to the Turkish Grand Prix but, despite another good getaway and leading for the first couple of laps, the Spaniard was unable to keep Stefano Coletti behind him and, once the Monegasque was through, the floodgates opened, with Clos eventually winding up 15th. Vietoris' race wasn't much better, the German ending his weekend in the barriers at turn three after brake failure.
“I really don't want another weekend like Istanbul and think this was a one off event,” Koschutnig confided, “We won the last race of this year's Asia Series and were very competitive during the pre-season testing and, therefore, Istanbul was a big surprise for us. However, everyone has worked very hard since then and now we understand very well what happened there.
“While we were fast in qualifying, Saturday and Sunday was not what we were hoping for due to a variety of reasons and there were quite some points we threw away, which is a pity. But the important thing is to understand what has happened and why. The tyres are a major issue this year and we are optimistic that we will be back to our normal form in Barcelona.”
The first priority for the Spanish round, therefore, was to try and confirm that remedies implemented since Istanbul would have the desired effect, at least allowing Clos to compete as expected, while giving Parente as stable a platform from which to dial himself back in, the two-time GP2 race winner having sampled neither the latest Dallara or its Pirelli tyres before the Friday morning session.
“Following Istanbul, we had to have an in-depth look at all the different parameters involved in the performance of our cars during the weekend to understand and optimise the choices for Barcelona,” sporting director Thomas Couyotopoulo revealed, “Obviously, in GP2, as well as in F1, we have seen this year that the strategy and choice on set-up has to be done taking into account the very high tyre wear of the Pirellis. A great effort has been made to analyse the data of every session and race in Istanbul and identify the validity of the choices made.