Romain Grosjean finally clinched another win in the GP2 Series but, once again, the biggest story of the race surrounded the title contenders and their apparent desire to make winning the championship as hard as possible.

Bruno Senna and Giorgio Pantano found themselves running 1-2 behind the safety car called for Davide Valsecchi's second massive accident of the season, but the Brazilian's position was provisional pending a drive-thru for a dangerous release from his mandatory pit-stop and Pantano then suffered a bizarre engine problem while running in traffic that dropped him out of the points.

Senna ensuing penalty dropped him to 24th and last of the remaining runners, but the drama and incident was not over, as the recovering Pantano, having fought back into the points, contrived to spin at La Source after putting a wheel on the wet inside kerb, dropping back to tenth as championship outsider Lucas di Grassi took avoiding action.

No doubt angry at throwing away Sunday's pole position with his indiscretion, Pantano was determined to regain his place in the top eight when the second safety car - for the stranded Alberto Valerio - returned to the pits. However, the red mist before his eyes appeared to blind the Italian veteran to the presence of di Grassi ahead of Roldan Rodriguez, who he was trying to pass at La Source, and the pair made heavy contact, sidelining the Brazilian and badly damaging the front of the Racing Engineering machine.

More importantly, however, the wait for the rest of the field to pass the scene, dropped the hobbled Pantano to the back of the field, eventually leaving him 22nd at the flag. In the mayhem, however, Senna had regained enough places to be classified twelfth, and therefore ten places ahead of his rival for the start of Sunday's sprint - even before Pantano visits the stewards to discuss an incident with Diego Nunes and, presumably, that with di Grassi, that could drop him to the very back of the grid.

Despite the short space of time since Formula One qualifying, the GP2 race was forced to start behind the safety car after a typical Ardennes deluge soaked the track and forced some frantic rethinking in the pits.

Once the field was released at the start of lap three, however, polewinner Senna eased away from the pack behind him, as Alvaro Parente, Grosjean and Pantano followed in line astern. Pastor Maldonado was not about to hang around, though, passing Andy Soucek for seventh before La Source and forcing the Spaniard to also yield to Vitaly Petrov.

It only took a lap on the unpredictable surface - where the second sector was a lot drier than the main straight - before an incident reduced the number of runners. Rookie Carlos Iaconelli lost control on the short straight to Malmedy, rotating into the gravel and forcing Sakon Yamamoto to take avoiding action that dropped him to the back of the pack.

Maldonado's momentum lasted just over a lap before Petrov picked him off at La Source, and the Russian then added Mike Conway to his list of victims as he continued to rise up the order.

At the front of the field, too, things had got close, as Parente had caught, and was challenging, Senna for the lead after the Brazilian made a mistake at Fagnes. Senna survived on that occasion, but clearly thought it was about time he pitted for slicks, following Andi Zuber's lead on lap seven.

The Brazilian was shadowed into the pits by Pantano, and it was here that the controversy started, as iSport's lollipop man allowed his charge to leave the stall just as Valerio was motoring past. Although, like Felipe Massa in the European Grand Prix, Senna managed to avoid contact with his fellow Brazilian, the DPR crew ahead of him looked nervously on as the two cars passed them side-by-side.

More importantly, perhaps, Pantano was right behind his title rival as the pair exited pit-lane and, despite a slow getaway once freed of the speed limit, was best placed to inherit the advantage when the stewards' decision to penalise Senna took effect. Parente, Grosjean, Petrov and Conway all pitted next time around, but none managed to beat the 'top two' back onto the track, as Andy Soucek took a temporary lead.

Zuber showed the benefit of changing tyres earlier than anyone else by blasting past Grosjean on the run to Les Combes ninth time around, but the action was about to be halted as Valsecchi reprised his qualifying shunt from Istanbul by piling into the tyre wall at Stavelot without scrubbing off any speed. With the medical team required to extricate the Italian from his shattered Durango machine, the safety car was summoned, delaying Senna's attempts to take his penalty.

Just as Pantano might have been thinking about assuming control of the race at the restart, however, his car slowed dramatically, forcing the following pack to take avoiding action. After some frantic fiddling in the cockpit, the Italian eventually go going again, but was now running in tenth place. The Racing Engineering team later claimed that the motor had cooled too much while running behind the safety car, causing its management system to lapse into safety mode....

Senna waited a full lap after the lap 15 restart to make his penalty stop, hoping no doubt to open some sort of advantage over his rivals, but it proved to be in vain as the iSport car dropped to the tail of the now 24-runner field.

Parente assumed the lead when Senna finally pitted, but had Grosjean for company after the French youngster had repassed Zuber at the restart. Sebastien Buemi ran in fifth, ahead of Valerio, while Maldonado retook Petrov for seventh as their lengthy battle raged on. Pantano, meanwhile, ran just outside the points, but was implicated in Nunes' dramatic flight across the grass at Les Combes before moving into eight as Valerio threw away a rare chance of opening his account.

Parente's tenure at the front of the field also proved to be short-lived as Grosjean made the most of a mistake by the Super Nova driver to take a run at him out of the Bus Stop on lap 21. Despite being on the outside of the Portuguese approaching La Source, the Renault F1 prot?g? bided his time and, when Parente ran wide at the hairpin under braking, switched back to the inside to claim a lead he would never lose, despite Parente bouncing back to go wheel-to-wheel with his rival into Les Combes.

Having been involved in one moment of controversy, Valerio made a final contribution to another bizarre GP2 afternoon when he spun out for good between Stavelot and Blanchimont with just four laps to run. With his car stranded on the edge of the tarmac, the safety car was scrambled to cover it recovery, bunching the field one final time - but not before Pantano had thrown away pole position for Sunday by spinning at La Source.

The leaders were untroubled at the restart, holding station through the opening turn after just a lap under the pace car, but, next time around, Pantano launched one final attempt to reclaim points after his earlier indiscretion, and succeeded only in committing another. Steaming up the inside of Rodriguez into turn one, the Italian carried too much speed to be able to stop in time and t-boned the innocent di Grassi, breaking his own front wing and eliminating the title outsider. The field streamed through before Pantano could resume, making a bad situation a lot worse.

Grosjean saw out the remaining laps without incident, with Parente equally safe in second. Behind them, however, the Piquet Sports pair of Zuber and Maldonado launched enthusiastically into a repeat of the Barcelona battle, all but banging wheels on several occasions, passing and repassing before the Austrian finally held on to claim a podium spot as Maldonado's last-ditch attempt at the Bus Stop saw him run deep into the run off.

Petrov claimed fifth, ahead of Buemi, Soucek and Conway, but most eyes were already scanning the field for Senna, to see how much capital he had made of Pantano's faux pas. The Brazilian, who continues to trail his rival by eleven points with three races remaining, eventually crossed the line in twelfth, but a long way ahead of the limping Racing Engineering entry, which was classified as the final finisher.

The biggest winner on the day, therefore, was Grosjean, not just because he took his second victory of the season, but also because he reclaimed third in the championship from RDD rival di Grassi, and closed the gap on the top two in the process. He might not be a viable contender for the crown but, with Senna and Pantano doing their best to drop it, who knows......


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment