The already-bizarre GP2 Series championship battle took a fresh twist hours after the opening race of the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, when points leader Giorgio Pantano was excluded from the remainder of the event following two incidents in the feature.
The Italian, who was initially classified in 21st position after a fraught race that included an investigation into a altercation with Diego Nunes, claims that he overtook under the safety car, and culminated with a clash with title rival Lucas di Grassi that the stewards, after deliberation, considered 'reckless driving and unsportsmanlike behaviour'.
The latter incident, which came at La Source on the final lap, followed an ambitious move by Pantano to pass Roldan Rodriguez on a damp still tricky after early race rain. Although he appeared to have cleared the Spaniard, Pantano carried too much momentum into the corner and clattered di Grassi amidships, ending the Campos man's race on the spot.
"I tried to overtake Rodriguez, but touched on the inside, where it was still wet, and had contact with di Grassi," the Italian admitted, before his punishment became apparent, "I couldn't stop the car."
The clash ended an unusually turbulent event for Pantano who, at one point, appeared to be on course for a possible victory. Having run fourth initially, the veteran was up to a provisional second, behind title rival Bruno Senna, after the mandatory pit-stops had been taken. The field was behind the safety car when it was announced that the Brazilian would have to take a drive-thru' penalty for a pit-lane infringement, but Pantano was unable to take advantage - or the lead - as his car suddenly lost power, allowing those behind him in the queue to pass before he finally got going again, now in tenth spot.
Fighting to regain places once the pace car had pulled in, Pantano made it up to eighth, and provisional pole for Sunday's sprint race, but, entering the La Source hairpin, he mounted the kerb and spun on the wet surface, dropping back to tenth. Two laps later, he made his final, most costly, mistake of the afternoon....
“We were not lucky today," the Racing Engineering driver sighed, "When I was behind the safety car, the safety mode of the engine set in, as I didn't pay attention to the temperatures. I dropped back and, at the restart, knew I was in P8, which I was okay with. However, in turn one, I touched the kerbs on the inside and spun."
With team-mate Javier Villa also penalised for overtaking behind the safety car, it was not a good afternoon for Racing Engineering boss Alfonso de Orleans Borbón.
"This wasn't what we had expected, it's a real pity for both our drivers," he noted, again before Pantano's penalty had been applied, "Their starting positions for tomorrow are not very promising, but we will try to make the best out of it - and we continue with the chance to win the championship. Our boys would definitely deserve it, as they have once more prepared the cars perfectly, a big thank you to them."
Pantano may yet escape lightly, as Senna only starts eleventh for the sprint event - following Andreas Zuber's disqualification - after his penalty dropped him to the rear of the field, while di Grassi will have to come from the back of the grid for the second time in two days. The biggest threat now could be feature race winner Romain Grosjean, whose Saturday success moved him back into third place in the championship, now 18 points behind Pantano.