Mike Conway lost the chance to start from pole for tomorrow’s GP2 Belgian sprint race after a stewards’ decision promoted him to seventh in a penalty-strewn feature race.
The Trident driver had finished eighth, which would have qualified him for pole position in the partially-reversed grid used in the second race of each GP2 weekend.
But the disqualification of third-placed Andreas Zuber for what stewards called “unauthorised repairs” to his car bumped everyone else up a place in the race – and, in the case of the cars finishing fourth to eighth, down a place on tomorrow’s grid.
A busy day for the stewards saw them send Bruno Senna from first back to last with a penalty for an incident that looked eerily familiar to anyone who watched the European Grand Prix.
The Brazilian was released from his pit box into the path of another driver, in much the same way Formula One driver Felipe Massa was in Valencia. But unlike Massa and his Ferrari team, who went unpunished during their race, Senna was given a drive-through penalty for being released in an unsafe manner.
As the field had only recently been under the safety car, they were sufficiently bunched to drop him right to the back. He eventually fought back to finish 12th.
Senna said: “I feel the win was taken away. If you look at it, they should have taken the conditions into account. The pitlane was very wet, so it takes two or three times longer to accelerate away from your box.
“It was impossible for the team to know that I would exit close to the other car. I feel I did everything right and the team did everything right.
“I am really sad about the rules not being applied consistently. Nothing happened at Silverstone when I had to lock-up to avoid di Grassi, and Massa was only fined for what happened in Valencia.”
But series leader Giorgio Pantano was unable to take advantage of inheriting first place from the luckless Senna, as his apparently effortless cruise to victory was ended by engine problems that dropped him to 10th.
A badly-judged attempt at overtaking on the final lap sent him into Lucas di Grassi and out of the race – and afterwards the stewards pounced, ruling he had indulged in “reckless driving and unsportsmanlike behaviour”. The punishment – disqualification from both of the weekend’s races.
Among the drivers left unmolested by the stewards, Romain Grosjean passed Alvaro Parente with five laps to go and took the victory. Pastor Maldonado ended up third when the dust settled.
The race began in the rain under the safety car, and that vehicle made three more appearances before it ended. The worst came when Davide Valsecchi suffered his second major crash of the year. He was taken to hospital, though he’s thought not to have aggravated the injured spine he suffered in Turkey.
Conway had been running sixth as the weather cleared and the field pitted for slicks, but a stuck wheel nut cost him an extra 14 seconds in his stop and he emerged 11th. He fought back to take what appeared at the time to be eighth place and pole in the reverse grid for the next race.
Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Trident managing director, said: “Today leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouth, due to a pit problem that deprived us of a possible podium finish.”
Conway himself said: “The first part of the race was pretty linear, though the track’s condition wasn’t optimal and changed quickly. We decided to pit at the right time, but a problem made us lose valuable time. When I went back out I found the first laps difficult due to the damp track and the slick tyres, and it was easy to make a mistake.”
Speaking before he discovered he would not, after all, be on pole, he added: “In the end I managed to keep a good pace, climbing back to eighth place. It’s a good result for tomorrow’s race two: I hope to make a good start and try pull away from the rest of the pack.”