Filippi amazed by 'unbelievable' 2011 result
15 September 2011
"It's unbelievable!" said Luca Filippi on Sunday after clinching the runners-up position in the 2011 GP2 season, saying he wanted to get his hands on the trophy straight away just so that "I can read it on the plate!"
It really has been an astounding season for the Italian driver, who has been knocking around in GP2 for five years without really catching fire. He was the last driver signed up for a regular race seat at the start of 2011 (by Super Nova Racing) and notwithstanding a strong early outing for him at Monaco, it hardly looked as though this was going to be a break-through year for him either.
After five race weekends in the nine-event season, he and Super Nova decided to part ways as the result of a new sponsor coming on board. As luck would have it, Scuderia Coloni needed a fill-in driver for the following race at the Nurburgring after Kevin Ceccon - himself a stand-in for Coloni's original lead driver Davide Rigon, who suffered serious ankle and leg injuries in the season opener in Turkey - decided to return full-time to Auto GP.
Filippi stunned everyone - including himself - by promptly winning the feature race, which happened to be his 100th GP2 start, and then following it up with third place in the sprint race the next morning.
"At a certain point where my GP2 future wasn't confirmed, I had nothing to lose and maybe I was more relaxed," reflected Filippi. "After that I thought okay, I can enjoy my hundredth race and have fun. And I won it! When you taste the flavour of victory you push even harder."
Small wonder that Coloni was suddenly very keen in extending that one-race deal as far as it would go. Filippi even managed to get Super Nova - for whom he was still competing in Auto GP - to release him for the next GP2 race at Budapest which clashed with an Auto GP event. Filippi then continued at Coloni for Spa and Monza, which was enough to give him the momentum to keep finishing on the podium and to clinch the second spot against drivers such as Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde, Christian Vietoris, Sam Bird and Charles Pic who had looked firmly well-positioned to fight amongst themselves for the honours.
So what was it about the change in teams that had sparked such an amazing transformation in Filippi's fortunes?
"Everything went so well because the atmosphere and the motivation in the team is something unbelievable," he told the GP2 Media Service at a press event at Monza. "We were pushing so hard together, and the smile on the faces under the podium is something to remember forever. I think we will never forget this summer: me and the whole team."
Not that Filippi will say a bad word against his original team at the start of the season, however. "I had a great chance from Super Nova to race, but maybe for myself racing with the pressure was difficult, even if they did everything for me to make it right, and I am very thankful for that.
"They will always be my historic team, and when I am 80 I will have a picture of them in my office, and I am very thankful to David and John and Andy, because they did everything for me. I am a little bit sorry, because I couldn't do the same with them."
Super Nova's loss was most definitely Scuderia Coloni's gain. Prior to Filippi's arrival at the team they had struggled in the wake of losing Rigon to injury, with their other driver Michael Herck only able to chalk up a single point in the Valencia sprint race in the first five events of the season. Over the course of the remaining four race weekends, they now amassed another 45pts - all thanks to Filippi. It was an astounding turnaround for the team.
"What this team is doing is amazing," said a jubilant team owner, Paolo Coloni, at Monza. "In just four events we took results that usually require a whole season and we are proud that the Italian flag was being waved on the podium once more. Luca, the engineers, the mechanics, all of them are working hard for the same aim, and the results are there to prove how good they are."
He was especially happy to emerge from the Monza feature race with a home victory for the whole Italian team and driver. "This win is what they deserve, and the best way to say thanks to the Italian fans for their support," he said.
But Filippi still went into the final sprint race behind on points and behind on the grid to Jules Bianchi, who now looked to have a firm upper hand in the battle for runners-up position in the drivers championship. Surely it was too much to dare hope that Coloni and Filippi could pull it off and steal the honours at the line? As it turned out, it would mean surviving a first corner collision with another contender, Charles Pic, and then finding someway of clinching a crucial bonus point.
"We knew that we had to do our race on Bianchi and we did that, sealing the runner-up spot with that fastest lap," said Paolo Coloni. "Our feelings went from fear, when he was hit by Pic, to joy when he crossed the line, doing exactly what we asked him even with a damaged car.
"I can't find the words to describe the emotions that this second place with Luca is giving us," he added. "What we did in just four rounds is unbelievable, the team guys were flawless and now it's really time to celebrate!"
"I can't believe what we did. If somebody would have said this to me in Nurburgring, when we started racing together, I would have answered no way, because I had a too big gap to close," said Filippi. "Our only chance to make it was being perfect in each weekend and that's what we did, but how we did it was amazing ... Three wins, four first rows, I'm a bit overwhelmed!
"I want to say thanks again to these guys, they gave me a new life and together we have something special, something I never experienced before. Now it's time to party, we deserve it."
Filippi is in some fine company by clinching the "vice-championship," as GP2 refers to the runners-up position. Heikki Kovalainen, Nelson Piquet Jr., Lucas di Grassi, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez have preceded him in the achievement.
So will the F1 paddock also now beckon for the GP2 comeback kid?