Giorgio Pantano has admitted that he was operating without a safety net as he chased this year's GP2 Series title, knowing that he had already had more opportunities than most to clinch what has, in the past, been a passport to Formula One. Despite that, however, the Italian also confessed that he would not wait forever to make a return to the top flight.
Having joined Racing Engineering for his fourth crack at the title, Pantano appeared to be the most complete driver in the field, although fate intervened to delay his confirmation as champion until the final round, fittingly on home soil, at Monza. Pole position on Friday extended his points advantage to 13, with just 18 remaining over the weekend, and Pantano appeared to be on course to take a fifth win of the season until an error in the final few laps of the feature - crossing the pit-lane 'blend' line as he rejoined after his tyre stop - left him to celebrate becoming champion from tenth place.
"It sounds great - the name Giorgio Pantano and the 2008 championship works together very well!" he smiled after the celebrations had died down, "I am so happy, but I'm a little bit worried about the race today.
"If I can take a podium tomorrow, then I can probably start to convince myself that I won the championship because, at the moment, I am a little bit angry about what I did at the exit of the pit-lane and because it was not possible to win the race. But the pressure is starting to go down now and, tomorrow, I have nothing to lose, just to gain. For sure, I want to make tomorrow what I didn't make today, minimum on the podium, and I'll try to do my best without taking any risk and do a perfect race."
Having tasted life in F1 with Jordan in 2004, albeit in less than satisfactory circumstances, Pantano has been chasing an opportunity to return, and saw moving to Racing Engineering as his best, if final, opportunity. The F1 rumour mill, however, has been all about the man he beat to the championship, Bruno Senna, suggesting that Pantano's dream may yet be dashed.
“I am extremely happy because to get this title as it was my last chance to show what I am really capable of, and find a way back into F1," he confirmed, "The people are saying to me 'take the championship first, and then probably you have the opportunity'. Everyone who won this GP2 title went to Formula One, and I'm just waiting now.
"This year, they are calling me the daddy, or the granddaddy, but the granddaddy still wins races and wins the championship, you know? I am not 'the daddy' - I am still hungry, and I still want to show what I can do. They need to look to what I am doing! I'm not waiting for [F1 for] long, but I'm waiting a little bit, because I have to focus on my future, my career, because I cannot live without anything."
Having raced for Super Nova, Fisichella and Campos in the first three years of GP2, Pantano was keen to find the key to unlocking the title before it was too late, and found just that by teaming up with Alfonso d'Orleans Borbon's Racing Engineering outfit. The partnership was one borne out of mutual desire to claim success both felt had passed them by in previous years, and proved to be driving force in lifting the Spanish squad to the front of the pack.
"I have to really say thanks to the entire Racing Engineering team, especially to the mechanics, because, during the entire year, we had no mechanical problem whatsoever," Pantano acknowledged, "That means that the team was working very hard and seriously, and we shared the same big goal of winning this championship.