Exclusive | Timo Glock’s F1 race engineer Francesco Nenci on how he was “basically homeless” following the incredible ending to the 2008 Brazilian GP

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The 2nd of November in 2008 will forever be remembered in the history of Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton passed Timo Glock on the final lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix just before Junção. It saw the Brit pip home hero Felipe Massa to the title by a single point in the most dramatic of finishes. Had he not, Massa would not have won the championship as he won more races in 2008.

Photo Credit: Toyota Racing

Speaking exclusively to Pit Debrief about that race and what happened afterwards to him on a personal level, Francesco Nenci, race engineer for the German on that day, explained how learnings taking from the a race three years earlier helped him make a call that almost completely changed the outcome of the title battle between McLaren’s Hamilton and Ferrari’s Massa.

At the 2005 Belgian Grand Prix, Ralf Schumacher was in contention for a podium at the very least. On a rather cold, misty and dreary day at the iconic Spa venue, the German driver was putting serious pressure on race leader Juan Pablo Montoya before pitting with 20 laps to go. The high downforce configuration they went for worked a treat as the 6-time Grand Prix was very quick in the long middle sector.

Photo Credit: Toyota Racing

Nenci made the decision to put Schumacher on the dry tyres as Toyota attempted to secure their first win in Formula 1. Unfortunately for the Italian, his driver and the team, it proved to the wrong call. Schumacher spun at Les Combes on his out lap after rejoining in P4.

It was Nenci’s first year as a race engineer and admits how long it took for the track to dry to be able to fit slicks caught them out.

“In 2005, it was a different point. I was very inexperienced at the time. It was my first experience as a race engineer.

“I made the wrong call for the tyres. Possibly without it we could have done really well.

“Spa is a difficult circuit because even though there might not be a lot of standing water, there is a lot of humidity and a lot of fog sometimes. It takes ages to dry up.

“So even if you don’t have a lot of spray, the circuit temperatures stay low and it doesn’t dry up. That confused us.”

With hindsight, Nenci concedes that doing another stint on inters would have been the right call. Only in the last 5 or 6 laps did the track dry out sufficiently for the slicks to eventually have a pace advantage. Schumacher set the fastest lap on the penultimate tour as he managed to finish P7 and get a couple of points.

“We were on an aggressive strategy, three stops. At the time we had to decide the fuel before qualifying — we went for an aggressive strategy to give us the freedom to be able to react to the conditions.”

“We ran Monaco downforce in Spa which was a downside in qualifying. But knowing it would be raining the day after, it was definitely the right call.

The Italian engineer admitted what happened hurt and took all the steps necessary to learn and improve from it.

“I did a mistake due to inexperience. We took the opportunity to do a lot of pit stops to be able to change the tyres [at the right point]. I should not have been scared to do another stint with the intermediate tyres. We would have stopped again anyway.

“It was really painful, so I really learned from it. I personally made my own tools to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore, and I really got on top of the strategy in mixed conditions.”

Photo Credit: Toyota Racing

The harsh lessons learned from Spa in 2005 could be applied in a positive way at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, as Nenci explains.

“In São Paulo 2008, we got to the stage where if you have a good preparation in these conditions, you don’t do a mistake.

“It’s all about observation, data analysis, calculation, simulation. We really put a big effort on it and really got on top of it.

“We had our clear KPIs [key performance indicators] to react to these conditions.”

Heading into the closing stages, Glock had been running in a pretty lonely P7, around 19s behind Hamilton who was in P4. Things quickly changed, however.

As it started to spit with rain, Hamilton and the other five cars in front of them boxed for the intermediate tyre. Glock and Toyota teammate Jarno Trulli did not. The German driver moved into 4th.

“To me, at least, it was possible to judge the conditions,” explained Nenci on the call to stay out. “The conditions were not for wet tyres at that moment. Overall, the conditions were for dry tyres.

“In our case by not having pitted, we had gained positions. It was the right call at the time.

“On the radar it was clear where the rain was coming from. It was clear most of the circuit was dry.

“We know how long it takes to change tyres. We knew how much we would have lost on track. We saw the benefit and we took the chance, which worked, in my opinion.

“Yes, it was aggressive. But, at the end, Formula 1 is not easy. Timo and Ralf were really really skilled in these conditions.”

Nenci was right to point to Timo Glock’s skill in these conditions. The German was over 13s quicker than Trulli across the final six laps. Had he run at the same pace as the 2004 Monaco GP winner, Hamilton would have made the ‘is that Glock’ move much earlier on the final lap.


Lap 66 — 1:17.992

Lap 67 — 1:18.897

Lap 68 — 1:18.816

Lap 69 — 1:18.688

Lap 70 — 1:28.041

Lap 71 — 1:44.731


Lap 66 — 1:19.113

Lap 67 — 1:20.528

Lap 68 — 1:20.188

Lap 69 — 1:22.428

Lap 70 — 1:33.539

Lap 71 — 1:44.800

Glock had actually been pulling away from Hamilton and Vettel through to lap 69 as the dry tyres on his Toyota continued to perform strongly, but the rain and conditions got increasingly worse over the final two laps — it was time for inters. A gap of around 14s was wiped out on the final tour as the 3-time F1 podium finisher got overtaken at the start of the last sector by his fellow German and the Brit.

Ultimately, he finished 6th. It was still a net gain of a spot as he stayed ahead of Heikki Kovalainen.

As they were so focused on doing their own race, Nenci and Glock only realised after the German got out of the car that they ended up in the middle of one of the most breathtaking moments in the history of Formula One.

“If it would not have rained on the last lap, the last corner, it was easier. But we gained a position at the end of the race.

“We didn’t realise, let’s say, [that we were] in the middle of a championship fight. We had no idea.

“When Timo jumped out of the car he saw people were shouting at him — and he didn’t realise what was going on. Me neither until Timo came to me and said, ‘you know they are shouting at us because we’ve been in the middle of the championship fight’. We did our race.”

To this day, Glock still faces accusations from fans online that he slowed down on purpose to let Hamilton through to deny Massa the championship that day in São Paulo.

But what has gone untold until now is an incredible story of how Francesco Nenci’s family and relatives initially disowned him after what happened on the final lap of that Sunday in November at Interlagos.

The Italian engineer is married to a Brazilian woman. He was told to stay away from home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but he eventually had the opportunity to explain the circumstances of what went on.

“Many people did not understand the reason of our tyre strategy.

“This is understandable since not everybody is familiar with pit stop times calculations, or lap time estimation.

“So for most of the people we were in front and we should have stayed in front, independently from how we got there or why.

“And that included my family, being Italian married to a Brazilian I was told not to come back home, on either side of the ocean.

“I was basically homeless until I got a chance to explain the background of our strategy.”

Photo Credit: Toyota Racing

Nenci also spoke about the close relationship he had with Timo Glock during their stint together. The German driver secured his maiden F1 podium with P2 at the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix when the Italian was his race engineer, and they followed that up at Malaysia in 2009.

“Timo is such a nice guy. We really had big emotions together. We were talking to each other on the radio continuously, like how I would talk to my brother.

“I always really felt the full trust from him. We had such a nice relationship.

“Even when we met in DTM [Glock at BMW, Nenci at Audi], sometimes we would fight [jokingly], ‘why did you do that, no you do that, you did that’. It was really nice with him.”

Photo Credit: Toyota Racing