105 points. That is one hell of a lead for Stoffel Vandoorne at the top of the GP2 Series standings.
While eight races still remain – four Features and four Sprints – and there is still 192 points on the table, it is looking more and more as if Vandoorne has his hands wrapped tightly around the throat of this championship.
The Belgian proved his worth once again at his home race in Spa-Francorchamps – his 2nd major victory at the circuit having tasted success there in Formula Renault 3.5 two years ago. “Today was a very great day for us,” said Vandoorne after his Saturday success. “The whole weekend had started perfectly for us. We were quickest in free practice and then quickest in qualifying as well. To win my home race is something really special.”
Behind him, one challenger – Alexander Rossi – prospered, while another – Rio Haryanto – crumpled. At the Hungaroring four weeks previously, it was the other way around.
Haryanto’s campaign has been showered with inconsistency. Three Sprint Race victories have been tempered by middling performances in the Feature Race – where it really counts. Rossi, on the other hand, has been busy scoring regular points, but just not enough of them. Amongst five podiums, the American has recorded his fair share of 4th, 6ths and 7th’s… It’s not enough, for either driver.
Although a Sprint Race win is nice, we should not try to kid ourselves – the grid for the Sunday morning special is set-up from a partial reversal of the Feature Race result, where those swho start 8th “earn” the pole.
Haryanto and Rossi have nabbed four victories between them this year and all have come from reverse grid races, having finished 2nd, 7th and 8th (Haryanto) the previous day, while Rossi’s Sprint Race win came from a 6th place finish on Saturday at Spa.
Vandoorne continues to score big with each passing weekend, as he continues to pull away from his fellow competitors. Confident and assured, the McLaren junior is simply in a different league right now.
Admittedly, Vandoorne did enjoy some luck on Saturday in the Feature Race. From pole, a sluggish start meant Sergey Sirotkin grabbed the immediate lead; however the Russian botched the exit of La Source, running wide and allowing Vandoorne back ahead. “My start wasn’t really great. I lost a position to Sergey. But then I got into the lead again quickly,” quipped the ART Grand Prix man. Behind them Nobuharu Matsushita made mincemeat of the rear of front row starter Oliver Rowland.
The ART Grand Prix team also showed great capability of thinking on their feet when they switched Vandoorne from soft Pirelli’s to the hard compound during a safety car period on lap six, brought out when Danïel de Jong suffered a horrific accident at Blanchimont following a clash with Pierre Gasly.
There is little doubt that the championship leader’s cause was helped when the safety car picked up the wrong driver. Crucially it gave Vandoorne a free pass and while others ahead still needed to pit, the Belgian simply kept a solid pace and drove back to the front. “We had eight or nine cars ahead of us after that I think. From then on I knew it was going to be difficult for them to get back to us even when they had the softer tyres in the end.” This may not have been the sexiest way to win the race, but who cares when the points are the same.
One shouldn’t count on luck, but when it does arrive, one would be foolish to ignore it. As the field filtered, Arthur Pic and Artem Markelov rose to 2nd and 3rd – the latter having started near the back of the pack, but neither had a patch on the leader. “I tried to control Arthur behind and Artem as well to make sure they couldn’t pass me and keep a good enough gap with them,” said the victor. “To get another victory after the summer break does feel good. Some people asked me after two more challenging rounds for us in Silverstone and Budapest if we had lost it, but today shows that we haven’t lost it at all,” Vandoorne noted.
Julian Leal, meanwhile, courted 4th place for Carlin, while Mitch Evans (RUSSIAN TIME) pipped Rossi to 6th position. Following a pitch infringement, Haryanto could do better than 13th…
Rossi did turn it around to a degree on Sunday. The American took his first GP2 win since the 2013 finale in Abu Dhabi and did so by forcing the issue with Racing Engineering teammate Jordan King on the approach into Les Combes on the opening lap.
Thereafter, Rossi and King held station, while a forceful Evans grabbed 3rd after late moves on Nathanaël Berthon and Rossi. Although disappointed to not score a podium, it was another score for Vandoorne while Haryanto took an anonymous 10th place and no points. The championship leader, meanwhile, had been paying plenty of attention to his tally. “To be honest, you’re always looking at [the points] … I’ve been leading since the beginning of the season and we’re still on the same flow now,” concluded Vandoorne.
There does appear to be much talk of Rossi getting the draft for the Haas F1 seat for next year, although sources inform me that precious little of that talk is emanating from Charlotte.
If anything, there are apparently no American drivers on their ‘shortlist of ten’ for the team’s debut season, but Rossi’s weekend results do at least bring him into focus, as he requires at least 2nd in the championship to score enough Super Licence points to graduate to the leading category.
It is difficult to imagine a situation where Vandoorne loses this championship. In fact, such is his dominance the Belgian racer can seal the deal in Sunday at Monza. Yet from the outside, it appears as if his promotion to the top level is still the subject of discussion at McLaren, as the Woking team ponder their options for 2016.
The team do have Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on their books, but considering Vandoorne’s level of talent, it would be frankly astonishing if he is left on the sidelines in a manner similar to Kevin Magnussen.
Red Bull youngster Daniil Kvyat jumped teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the points standings yesterday, following a gutsy drive to 4th.
The Russian made a late race charge to collect twelve valuable points to bring him six clear of Ricciardo, leaving him a credible 7th in the World Championship as the Formula One circus prepares to move to Monza.
From 12th on the grid, Kvyat has taken four positions by the time the stops began in earnest of lap eight, including moves on Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) and Felipe Massa (Williams), with the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas dropping behind after a pit mishap.
Thereafter Kvyat ran at a keen pace, as he initially chased Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and later Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and climbed to 5th, when Red Bull opted to bring the Russian in for his final set of tyres on lap 27.
Prior to that, Kvyat’s strategy seemed to be something of an off-kilter manoeuvre by Red Bull. At the end of lap 20, Ricciardo’s Red Bull machine suffered an instant power loss at the exit of the Bus Stop chicane, prompting a Virtual Safety Car; however unlike several others in the field, the Milton Keynes squad order Kvyat to stay out, allowing the 21-year-old to make the most of his Pirelli tyres.
And he did so. From the beginning of his second stint, Kvyat settled into a consistent pace in the 1’56s range and only stepped out of that consistent range when the Virtual Safety Car was in place. “The strategy from the team to keep me out during the virtual safety car was good and we were able to have a strong last stint,” he commented.
It proved to be one of the strongest stints of the entire Grand Prix, with Kvyat maintaining an impressive pace that kept him at the top end of the laptimes throughout the run.
Emerging from his second stop in 9th, Kvyat claimed one place when Max Verstappen’s strategy took him out of contention; however it was here that the Red Bull man showed his teeth with cool overtakes on Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari, lap 37), Massa (lap 40) and Sergio Perez (Force India, lap 41). Speaking of his positions gained late in the race, the former GP3 Series champion commented, “I had a lot of overtaking opportunities and the car performed well.”
With two laps remaining, 5th became 4th when the one-stopping Vettel suffered a right rear tyre failure at the tip of Radillon, ending the German’s run with only short distance remaining. “It was a very interesting race and really good fun,” said a delighted Kvyat, then adding, “The team did a good job and we scored some solid points. We should be happy with the performance today and hopefully we can continue this form over the next few races.”
It was a performance that did not go unnoticed by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “Dany drove a very strong race to finish fourth from his starting grid position of twelfth. He produced some very strong overtaking manoeuvres and the strategy worked very well, so we were able to score some very useful points.”
Following a great start where he jumped from 5th to 3rd, Ricciardo’s day was seemingly smooth, before going south toward the halfway mark. The Australian was running a similar strategy to Kvyat, which – considering his early race performance – could well have secured him 3rd, although a tricky time on the medium compound Pirelli’s saw Ricciardo lose some time before retiring.
Kvyat remains some 22 scores adrift of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, despite the Finn enduring a difficult weekend at the office.
Romain Grosjean secured Lotus’ first Formula One podium since the 2013 US Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps today.
The Frenchman’s effort went some way to curing what has been a difficult week for the Enstone squad, during which their financial issues once again made the headlines.
The result was also tempered by some luck, when Grosjean gained 3rd from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel two laps from the end, when the right rear tyre of Vettel’s SF15-T machine blew apart in spectacular fashion.
“Today’s result is wonderful. It’s good for the team and for myself of course,” said a clearly delighted Grosjean. Continuing he added, “Yesterday’s good qualifying result put a smile on my face but today was an unbelievable race. Everything came together when it mattered during those 43 laps. I drove with my heart today and pushed 100 % throughout the race.”
Starting 9th, Grosjean jumped the slow starting Felipe Massa (Williams) on the opening lap, before a retirement for Grosjean’s Lotus teammate Pastor Maldonado offered up another position. The former GP2 champion followed Williams’ Valtteri Bottas until the stops; however an additional lap in clear air for the Lotus man was enough to take him past the Finn for 6th.
The charge continued with a move of Daniel Ricciardo on lap 18, although the Red Bull driver’s eventual retirement three laps later rendered his effort mute. It was a charge that brought Ricciardo back down to Earth following his Hungarian podium of four weeks ago. “I lost power going into the chicane, everything switched off, including the dash. It looks like it’s electrical but we’ll see what the investigation brings,” noted Ricciardo. “It’s disappointing not to finish, we are not sure what the issue is but the team are investigating.”
Indeed it was Ricciardo’s retirement that unraveled the next stage of the race. The Australian’s Red Bull machine suffered a complete power shut down at the final corner on lap 20, necessitating a Virtual Safety Car as marshals attempted to move the Renault-powered machine. It would key for Grosjean, who stopped on lap 21 – along with Massa, Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen as strategies unfolded under slower conditions.
Ferrari having pitted Vettel on lap 14 altered their strategy to keep Vettel on track for the duration, while Grosjean rejoined just over 5s adrift of the German – attempting to make the medium compound Pirelli’s last 29 laps would prove a bold strategy for Vettel and Ferrari and one that would eventually bear no fruit.
Chasing the Ferrari hard, Grosjean closed in to less than a second from the rear of Vettel, but was struggling to make a move stick the DRS zone, when Vettel’s right rear Pirelli blew apart. “We deserved to finish on the podium but that’s racing,” an angry four-time champion said post-race. “I think this is not easy to accept for a driver, even if it’s not as bad as in Silverstone few years ago, but still we need to talk to each other as it can’t happen without prior notice. There’s no explanation for what happened: it’s not a puncture, the tyre just exploded.” It was an explosion that left Vettel furious post-race and demanding answers from Pirelli. The Ferrari man would eventually classify his car in 12th.
While feeling for Vettel, Grosjean was – naturally – in a delighted mood. “We were really trying to go for the podium this afternoon and I felt very emotional during the last lap of the race! It’s a great feeling today.” With a breath, the Lotus man added, “I did some great overtaking manoeuvres and was really pushing to catch up and hopefully overtake Sebastian Vettel – of course it was bad luck for him to have had the tyre issue at the end.”
It was not all good news for Lotus however. Having crashed during the opening free practice session on Friday, Maldonado’s machine slowed significantly after he clouted the curbs in Radillon, forcing the Venezuelan to retire in the pits at the end of lap two. “We had been doing a great job this weekend, especially yesterday. The car was feeling very good, very competitive and I had a good race start,” said the 30-year-old.
“We had an issue with the drive of the car which the team are investigating. I’m disappointed about the issue we had today but that’s racing sometimes. We are keeping focused for the next race now and Romain has shown what is possible. I love Italy and Monza so I’ll be doing everything I can for a strong result there,” added Maldonado, whose torrid season continues to go from bad to worse.
Despite this good result, there is still a cloud hanging over the Lotus team, but with Renault apparently still in talks to buy the team back for the 2017 season, the uncertainty will only continue.
Lewis Hamilton dominated today’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, cementing a 28-point lead ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean took 3rd to secure the Enstone team’s first podium since Austin in 2013.
The initial start was aborted following a mechanical failure for Nico Hulkenberg on the grid; however Hamilton led the start proper from start-to-finish holding off – in turn – Sergio Perez (Force India), Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).
Also with a great getaway, Perez was able to get a run on Hamilton and even nosed ahead of the points leader on the outside of Hamilton on the approach to Les Combes on the opening tour, but it was not enough to solidify the lead.
Thereafter Hamilton extended his lead to over six seconds over Perez, when the Mexican opted for an early stop on lap eight, dropping him in behind Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and promoting the slow starting Rosberg to 2nd place.
It was something of a minor recovery for Rosberg, who having dropped from the front row to 4th spot on the opening stretch into La Source, assumed 3rd from Ricciardo when he pitted on lap seven, before Perez too made way for tyres.
Rosberg made his first tyre change on lap 12, with Hamilton coming in one lap later; however Perez’ additional six laps stuck behind the Renault-powered Red Bull ensured Rosberg maintained his 2nd spot.
The now medium tyre shod Mercedes-duo continued to power ahead from the pack, but by lap 15 Rosberg had removed nearly four seconds from Hamilton’s 7.2s lead.
The German racer closed to within 1.8s of the lead when Hamilton slowed too much under the Virtual Safety Car on lap 22, caused when Ricciardo’s Red Bull shut down awkwardly at the exit of the final corner.
Yet once alerted to the shrinking gap, Hamilton began to ease away from his Mercedes counterpart and extended the gap to 5.5s by the time the reigning champion stopped for his final set of tyres on lap 29.
Rosberg pitted one lap later and while he closed to less than four seconds of Hamilton, the reality was the race had been won and Hamilton was merely pacing his efforts, taking care to maximise his point score and register his sixth victory of the season.
There was a brief scare two laps from the end, when a long-running Vettel suffered a right rear tyre blow out at the top of Radillon, but were able to avoid the debris and rubbish in the final miles.
On the podium following the victory, an exultant Hamilton said, “We’ve had such a great crowd here this weekend, so thank you all for coming. For me an incredible weekend. Today was a dream.” Hamilton even made a slight dig at Rosberg, revealing how much of an advantage he believed he had in hand. “Nico had good pace but I was able to answer all the time. At the end when I saw a tyre had blown on another car, I was very cautious.”
Rosberg continued home to assume 2nd spot, confirming Mercedes first 1-2 finish at the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit since 1955; however the contender was clear a to where and how he lost this race.
“I completely messed up the start,” commented the runner-up. “I fought my way through and gave it everything, we were both really on the edge all the time. Lewis did a great job and deserved the win. I gave it everything – but not enough.”
Despite the race being run, Rosberg was in no position to hang around, due to impending birth of his first child with wife Vivian Sibold. “I’m rushing off – we’re expecting our first child at any moment” enthused Rosberg.
Grosjean grabbed the final podium spot from Vettel when the Ferrari driver’s tyre let go on lap 42. The Frenchman had been catching Vettel for sometime after it became clear that Ferrari’s one-stop strategy was no working, with a 5.2s gap closing to less than one second in the final stages.
Yet getting close to Vettel was not as easy as initially assumed and in the final miles it looked as if Vettel might do enough to keep his Lotus-Mercedes rival behind, but as the Pirelli pulled apart, Grosjean was promoted to the final podium spot. “It has been an incredible weekend for us. I still can’t believe we are on the podium,” exclaimed Grosjean. “These guys work so hard to give us this car. Of course at Spa I still remember Turn 1 in 2012 [when a crash led to a race ban], but I think that made me stronger. For us [third] has the prize of a race win.”
Vettel’s late retirement brought the feisty Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) up to 4th, with Perez having to settle for 5th ahead of Felipe Massa (6th, Williams), Kimi Raikkonen (7th, Ferrari), Max Verstappen (8th, Toro Rosso), Valtteri Bottas (9th, Williams) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) rounding out the points in 10th.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr would end the race just outside the scores in 11th, with Vettel eventually classified 12th in from of both McLaren’s (Fernando Alonso, 13th; Jenson Button, 14th) and both Manor’s (Roberto Merhi, 15th; Will Stevens, 16th).
Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso suffered a mechanical issue on the warm-up lap; however the managed a minor fix, allowing the Spaniard to obtain some mileage, albeit two laps adrift. This lasted until lap 35, when the Italian team eventually called his day.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) also retired with a mechanical issue on lap two, while Hulkenberg didn’t even get to take the start, after his Force India gave up the ghost on the initial warm-up lap, causing an aborted start.
One of Formula 3’s biggest selling points is that its rulebook is one of the few to still possess “open” technical regulations.
Although what one can do with the cars is highly restricted, that does not mean the teams are wholly bound following the final chassis homologation, unlike in GP2 or Renault World Series for example. In those categories (and numerous others), teams are forced to run specification cars with identical chassis, tyre and engine packages.
There are those who believe this evens out championships and make it fairer for the drivers, while at the same time, a great many will disagree, arguing that spec championships play too well toward teams with the best engineers and facilities. That such a level playing field is rarely achieved by spec championships might lend one to agree with the naysayers, but as with with everything in motorsport, the complexities of how teams and drivers perform run far deeper than that.
Those who back championships with open regulations will argue that it allows engineers and designers to work in an environment that is at least in line with the top level of motorsport, even if it is to a very limited degree. Also they might opine that developing cars is what helps nurture drivers as they move toward categories, like Formula One or LMP1; categories in which cars never stay the same.
Detractors will point toward growing costs and that drivers don’t notice the alterations enough to comment on them or offer up good enough information to make them worthwhile.
Regardless, these open regulations are to stay in Formula 3 and may become a key part of the returning FIA Formula 2 when that eventually launches with a new car in 2017.
Meanwhile, at the Red Bull Ring a few weekends ago, both Carlin and Prema Powerteam turned up with bargeboards featuring rivets – all with the aim of sculpting nuanced airflow toward the rear of the Dallara.
Money well spent or an unnecessary throw away? Naturally it depends whether you are a winner or a loser.
Antonio Giovinazzi took his fifth FIA European F3 race win of the season, albeit without running a single lap under anger.
In torrential rain, the race ran three laps under the safety car, before race director Sven Stoppe threw the red flag.
After a delay of seventeen minutes, the race restarted for a single lap, only to be red flagged for the second and final time.
As a result, the final order matched the starting order, with Antonio Giovinazzi “winning” ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Sérgio Sette Camara.
Also taking points were Markus Pömmer (4th), Lance Stroll (5th), Charles Leclerc (6th), Jake Dennis (7th), Alexander Albon (8th), George Russell (9th) and Callum Ilott (10th). Kang Ling pulled into the pits to retire after two laps, while Julio Moreno spun going through turn six a lap later.
Two laps were completed ensuring half-points were awarded.
Felix Rosenqvist secured the 22nd Formula 3 victory of his career at the Red Bull Ring today, with a commanding performance.
Driving for Prema Powerteam, the Swede fought off the advances of Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam Carlin), while rookie Lance Stroll took his first podium of the season.
From the outside, it was all plain sailing for Rosenqvist, as he led off the line from the battling Giovinazzi and Stroll, building a gap of over two seconds in the first few tours. “I learned a lesson from race one and got a better start – a quite good one actually!” said the victor. “Initially in the race, my car was very strong and I managed to pull a bit of a gap to Antonio.”
Once clear of the improving Stroll, Giovinazzi piled on the pressure and notched up some four fastest laps over the course of the race as he closed to within eight-tenths of the lead; however it was not quite close enough to topple the dominant Rosenqvist. “Mid-race [Giovinazzi] seemed to pick up the pace a bit and I had to respond. We kept around one second and then it went out to 1.2s – it was moments like that for the whole race.”
At times, the race seemed more like an extended qualifying stint as opposed to a twenty-four lapper and eventually it all became a bit much, as Jagonya Ayam Carlin racer Ryan Tveter discovered on lap eighteen. Pushing hard, Tveter ran into the gravel at turn five, where his tyres dug in, beaching the American. With the 21-year-old locked in a precarious position, race control had little choice but to call the safety car.
Initially the situation left Rosenqvist worried, but the Swede regained his ground after the lap twenty-two restart. “You never know what happens after the safety car. Sometimes you have tyres that are not working and luckily this time, we pulled ahead of Antonio in the last two or three laps, so it was good.”
For Giovinazzi, it was a positive result, despite losing seven points to his title rival; however the Italian had to fight for that 2nd place in the opening laps. “I had a bad start from P2 – I lost a position with Lance and after that, I took it back at the hairpin,” said Giovinazzi; however his difficulties continued into lap two. “Lance tried to take back my 2nd place, but I closed a bit the door and after turn three when I was free, I started to up my pace and it was really good.”
Despite his mid-race push, Giovinazzi could not press Rosenqvist into an error and while the safety car offered the Carlin man an opportunity, Giovinazzi could do little to force the issue. “After the safety car, I had a really good restart, but I was a little bit far [behind] so I had no possibility to overtake him. I think we did a good race for the points.”
It was a good day for Lance Stroll who finally took his first podium following a season of numerous ups-and-downs. The Canadian dropped several seconds behind the leading pair, but managed to hold Charles Leclerc at bay for the duration. A good effort from the teenager.
Leclerc made the best of a so-so qualifying, by climbing 4th from 6th on the grid. The Monegasque racer took George Russell on the opening lap and then pick a way by Sérgio Sette Camara a lap later. Thereafter Leclerc followed in Stroll’s wheeltracks, but could not do anything to break the Canadian ahead.
Alexander Albon also made an excellent start to jump from 8th to 6th on lap one and then get by Camara on lap three. It stayed like that for several laps, until Camara was penalised with a drive through penalty on lap six for jumping the start, dropping him out of sight.
Russell settled into 6th and was looking to stay there, until Markus Pömmer slipped by just after the safety car. It was yet another recovery driver for the German, who once again got off the line badly. Russell collected 7th as the chequered flag came down.
Jake Dennis enjoyed a quiet race to finish 8th, comfortably ahead of Mikkel Jensen (9th) and Gustavo Menezes, who took 10th from Raoul Hyman two laps from the end. Menezes had started 14th and was 11th at the end of lap one and spent the following twenty-four laps battling with Hyman, during which the pair swapped positions on several occasions.
French racing driver Brandon Maïsano has split from Prema Powerteam following race one of the eighth round at the Red Bull Ring.
Maïsano has thus far endured a torrid 2015 season, with the 22-year-old sitting 12th in the standings, some way adrift of his teammates Felix Rosenqvist, Jake Dennis and Lance Stroll.
Following a difficult opening race, where Maïsano finished 26th, the Frenchman came to an agreement to end his Formula 3 campaign with immediate effect.
Prema Powerteam team principal René Rosin commented, “We are saddened for the end of the long-time relationship with Brandon, who scored brilliant results with us in the Italian Formula 3 Championship and in the Italian Formula 4 Series last year.” Rosin added, “I wish Brandon a successful future in his next career endeavours.”
Maïsano has yet to release a statement.
After some success initially, Maïsano’s career had hit something of a brick wall in recent seasons. A champion in Formula Abarth in 2010, Maïsano was taken on by the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2011. Having secured 4th and 3rd respectively in his 2011 and 2012 campaigns, Maïsano was dropped by the FDA, leaving him without a drive in 2013.
Maïsano returned to action in 2014 by entering the Trophy Cup of Italian F4 Series (for drivers over the age of 18 years) with Prema Powerteam – a category that he dominated.
Graduating to European F3 has been troublesome for the Frenchman. Maïsano has scored a best race result of 4th at Spa, but has spent much of the season either in the lower reaches of the points or out of the points altogether.
In a championship where much was expected, Maïsano has shown glimpses of speed, but has often failed to deliever.
Jake Dennis took his fifth FIA European Formula 3 victory in style at the Red Bull Ring today.
The Briton headed fellow championship challenger and poleman Felix Rosenqvist and points leader Antonio Giovinazzi by a narrow margin, but rarely appeared under threat from the chasing duo.
Former championship leader, Charles Leclerc, could do no better than 6th place behind Lance Stroll and George Russell.
Without doubt, it was Dennis’ stellar start from 2nd on the grid that gave him the lead and the victory. From the line, the Prema Powerteam racer outdragged his more experienced teammate to first edge alongside and then complete the move into the turn one Castrol Edge.
Thereafter Dennis led, but could not relax as Rosenqvist shadowed for the following twenty-four laps. “I had a really good start; it was one of my best of the season,” said a delighted Dennis after the race. “Felix’s was good, but I just had the edge and I tried to push and try to get away, but Felix was very quick – as he has been all weekend – so I knew it was going to hard to pull away.”
Despite getting out in front, the race was not plain sailing for Dennis, as he began to suffer from set-up conditions for a different kind of race.
Assuming that he may not jump into the lead at the start, Dennis and his team set the Mercedes-powered machine with a large portion of front downforce, which is good when following someone in dirty air, but can become troublesome if driving in the open.
The nature of the Red Bull Ring, with just nine corners at 2.6 miles, usually means the gap between the cars over a lap is relatively small and it was no different this weekend, yet that also means it is somewhat harder for a driver to make a significant enough of a difference to push up the order.
For much of the distance, Dennis had the race sown up, but an error two laps from the end almost changed everything. “I got a massive oversteer moment through the last corner and I went completely on the astro [turf], so from then on, the car was just undriveable. I just lost all grip,” commented Dennis.
With Rosenqvist having closed from seven-tenths to just two-tenths behind, Dennis drove the final few miles extremely defensively. “I had to pull out karting maneuvers to try to keep Felix behind, where I slowed it down in the middle of the corner and tried to get a fantastic exit out of turn two and that is exactly what happened. Then it brought Antonio into the equation…” It made for some extremely close action late on, with Rosenqvist clipping the rear of Dennis in turn two toward the end.
As Giovinazzi closed back to with half-a-second of both Dennis and Rosenqvist, the Swedish Rosenqvist switched from attack to defence, gifting Dennis with some much needed breathing room, yet there were still nerves. “My engineer said that I had another lap after that one, which I didn’t exactly want, but then I crossed the line and saw the chequered flag and that was a big relief. I needed it after [qualifying] 2, where I’m starting 10th, so I needed to push like mad. I’m extremely happy.”
Rosenqvist was reasonably happy to take the points for 2nd place, but with both Giovinazzi and Leclerc in arrears, the Swede also felt dropping behind Dennis represented a lost opportunity.
Giovinazzi, on the other hand, was happy, but admittedly quite conservative. Having taken Stroll just after turn one on the opening lap, the Italian held a solid 3rd place, while Rosenqvist trailed Dennis. After dropping back by approximately one second mid-race, the Italian drew back to the leaders in the final miles; however was not as inclined to risk his car in an unclear manoeuvre.
Stroll maintained 4th for the duration, as held a solid gap to Russell throughout, while Leclerc’s 6th place finish sees him lose more points to the title protagonists. Alexander Albon held 6th for a time for Signature, until van Amersfoort’s Leclerc passed him on lap thirteen.
Gustavo Menezes climbed from 10th to finish 8th and claim four points. The American battled early on with Mikkel Jensen, with the pair swapping 9th and 10th places twice on lap three, only for Menezes to finally slip by on lap nine. Menezes then went after Sérgio Sette Camara and passed the Brazilian for 8th on lap sixteen, leaving Camara to take 9th and Jensen to take 10th.
Markus Pömmer made an awful start, as he dropped from 9th on the grid to 32nd by turn one. The German then ramped up the order to finish 17th; however that meant the German still took no points, despite the effort.
I did not know Jules Bianchi.
In acknowledging that, it is the case that I had met him on a few occasions, but at no stage did I ever know him – there is quite a difference.
Over the years, there was plenty of stumbling along as I shadowed a few steps behind the young Frenchman on the motorsport ladder.
Upon making my start as an F3 journalist around late-2010 / early-2011, Bianchi had already moved up to the GP2 Series, having won the Euro Series in 2009 with ART Grand Prix.
Bianchi stayed with ART for the next two seasons and while he did not attain the success many expected of him, he did put in some wonderful performances and battles, not least against Christian Vietoris with whom Bianchi enjoyed a wheel-to-wheel tussle at Silverstone in 2011.
By 2012, Bianchi had moved on to Formula Renault 3.5 Series, just as I was making my first forays into GP2. It was a key year for the Frenchman – just as the leading category of the World Series by Renault gained stature; Bianchi fought an intense title fight with Robin Frijns and Sam Bird, with the Dutchman Frijns winning out in controversial fashion.
Bianchi moved on to Formula One with Marussia in 2013, but it was not until a year later that I was granted working access to the F1 paddock.
Thereafter we nodded a couple of times and I grabbed a few words from him at the occasional post-session media debrief, but that was it.
At no stage was there an opportunity to pull together a long form interview with Bianchi. Truth be told, by the time of my last European Grand Prix at Monza, the Lewis/Nico battle was really hotting up and a tale of Bianchi fighting away at the rear of the field would always destined to be a hard sell.
From what I gathered, he seemed like a nice chap, but come my final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi last year, Bianchi had already suffered his accident and the Marussia team had – temporarily – disappeared from the grid. The opportunity to do something had passed.
And life went on.
As much as it pains me to say, but Bianchi’s eventual passing did not come as a shock. Given the nature of his injuries and then length of time he was in a coma, his death – when announced early on Saturday morning – had been robbed of its immediacy.
That horrific jolt in the arm had already occurred on a grey Sunday morning in London, as I watched the Japanese Grand Prix in my flat. Don’t get me wrong – Bianchi’s death is a sad, tragic end to a young life, but it did not come a significant shock. Mostly it was a sense of resignation. A finality.
One cannot begin to imagine the horror with which the Bianchi family, his girlfriend Camille Marchetti and his friends had felt through those nine months since the crash at Suzuka and I would not even try.
It would be arrogant to presume that I could ever touch the grief felt by those close to Bianchi; arrogant to believe that I could ever sense that mourning. That grief could never be mine.
Tomorrow morning in Nice, the world says goodbye to Jules Bianchi. Mostly I feel sad that I barely got to say hello.
I will miss Bianchi’s abilities behind the wheel of a racing car, no matter how ungamely the machine; I will miss Bianchi’s desire to fight, no matter how small the reward; I will miss viewing the joy upon success and pain in defeat. Most of all, I will miss a future robbed of a potential star.
No one will ever know the heights that Bianchi could have reached and in this, I will not presume Grand Prix victories or possible World Championships were his to be had – we will never know. From this vantage point, I can only say “what if…?”