“I’m just very happy; it didn’t take long to have another win…”
Two weeks in fact. Just two weeks, but if Carlin Motorsport’s Felipe Nasr is to really push for this year’s GP2 Series title, then consistency needs to run parallel to his more obvious speed.
Admittedly on this occasion, there was precious little the Brazilian could do about the lost points on Saturday; however one cannot escape the fact that since series leader Jolyon Palmer’s last victory in Monaco in May, Nasr has only outscored the Briton by six points.
That will never be enough.
Yes, Palmer made the most of a glorious Saturday Feature Race at Silverstone, by nabbing 2nd behind the triumphant Mitch Evans, while Nasr crossed the line a distant 7th; the victim of a cross threaded wheel nut during his mandatory stop – but this is racing and these things happen.
Until then, the Carlin man was running a solid 3rd (helped by the early retirement of original leader Raffaele Marciello), but Palmer was looking out of reach. Some points would have been lost, but if nothing else, the gap would have been minimised.
This has become a familiar story. In previous seasons, many have bemoaned his apparent lack of aggression in races, yet on the other hand, Nasr drives with an intelligence that is lost on many in the GP2 Series.
Come Sunday afternoon, the Brazilian was in reflective mood. “Palmer hasn’t had a bad weekend yet, and I’ve had a few: I’ve had a few bad races where I didn’t score any points, so that’s why he got his advantage.”
Expanding on this point, Nasr continues, “Hopefully we will push him to maybe make his team make a mistake or something, and I hope our mistakes are finished: that’s how we win championships, to keep pushing ourselves to the limits, and I’m pretty sure my guys will bounce back and anything like the pitstop won’t happen again.”
There may be some small truth in Nasr’s analysis of the season so far, but he should be aware – in private at least – that relying on the mistakes of others is not the strongest of strategies. In truth, Palmer did make a mistake this weekend in the Feature Race, but the loss was relatively minor. Carlin’s pitstop error however…
While Nasr may not have been able to do much about the lost time in the pits on Saturday, there is an argument his consistency goes missing from time to time.
A post-qualifying penalty in Bahrain, followed by a quiet drive to 8th; a poor start from pole in the Bahrain Sprint Race; a puncture during the Sprint Race at Monaco. Add in the clutch issue in Austria and you can really start to tot up the lost scores and while Palmer is not running away with the championship, neither Nasr closing the Briton down with stealth.
Earlier this year, I asked a significant member of the Carlin team if Nasr had become distracted by the lure of Formula One amidst his close relationship with Williams. The rather telling response came, “Yes and he needs to pull his finger out.”
Nasr still won Sunday, but it wasn’t enough – five points were dropped this weekend and when things are getting tight, that will simply not do. Meanwhile…
“The last 18 months have been really tricky for us […] and it’s a huge relief for everything to come together finally for my first win in GP2. Hopefully it’s not the last one of the season!”
The 2014 season took a long time to get going for Mitch Evans. A horror opening pair of rounds left the Kiwi trailing with only two points following Barcelona, but ever since he scored a podium in Monaco, Evans has started to string points together – so much so, he now sits 4th in the standings, albeit a long way off Palmer.
It wasn’t just a welcome success for the driver. Evans’ victory was also the first for the RUSSIAN TIME team since Sam Bird’s win in Singapore last year.
The race was not without its nerves. According to Evans, “There was a potential clutch problem on the car after race two in Austria with a bit of a dip on the bite point, and I thought it was going to stall [at the start].”
In damp (but drying) conditions, the Kiwi managed the delicate clutch to settle in behind poleman Raffaele Marciello and points leader Jolyon Palmer, with Evans forcing a way past Palmer a few corners in, only for the Briton to grab the place back three tours later.
“The car felt pretty good early on,” noted Palmer, then adding “I could start to chase down [Marciello] for the lead. I was just in a really nice rhythm, the pace was really good on the prime [tyres], and when Marciello pitted I took the lead and could set some good times, and I was just really consistent and comfortable.”
A similar tale was being played out at RUSSIAN TIME, as relayed by Evans: “After Jolyon got me, I got into a good rhythm and was able to stay with the [leaders] and have a crack when it came to the pitstop. Fortunately the guys gave me a good car and I was able to stay with Jolyon and make it work…”
With Marciello leading Palmer leading Evans, the race began its second act and although not action packaged, the story was beginning to unravel behind the scenes. There was no doubt this was coming down to the pitstops, but Marciello – having started on softs – was on a much different strategy compared to the hard tyre shod pair in his mirrors.
Clearing the path for hard tyres on lap nine, Marciello peeled away to the pitlane, offering free air to Palmer. Emerging from the pits in 13th, the Italian was making good use of relatively clear when the Racing Engineering machine began missing gears.
Pretty soon, there were no gears left at all. For team Sporting Director Thomas Couyotopoulo, there was little more he could or say, other than “very disappointing…”
From there, both Palmer and Evans were on their own and while the battle was rarely wheel-to-wheel material, the gap hovered between 1.2-1.8s for lap after lap. Whenever Evans threatened his British rival, Palmer quickened the pace, which in turn drove the RUSSIAN TIME man to push even harder still.
The race would change irrevocably during laps 19 and 20, when first Palmer and then Evans stopped for their mandatory tyre changes. Where Palmer’s in-lap to the pits proved six-tenths quicker, the Englishman’s out-lap was slower – much slower – at 2:15.778s, Palmer’s first lap out of the pits was ropey and he knew it.
To add insult to injury, Evans enjoyed a quicker stop by four-tenths, during which he jumped Palmer for the lead – that Evans’ out-lap was 2.4s quicker than Palmer’s merely cemented the situation.
“I was really surprised coming out of the pits and they told me Jolyon was just coming out of turn one,” said a clearly surprised Evans. “It’s hard to know if the undercut or the overcut is going to work, so I just made the most of what I had, and fortunately I still had some life left in the tyres and had a good in-lap. But the pitstop really helped us.”
In Palmer’s corner, there was no room for excuses and the maturing DAMS pilot took the loss on the chin. “I’m really very angry with myself about the Feature Race. I didn’t push hard enough after my pit stop,” said Palmer. “On my out-lap I was a bit all over the place, and that allowed Mitch to go through for the lead.”
As the new leader attempted to settle, there were still eight laps to go and Palmer was unwilling to give in quite yet. Rolling into lap 21, Evans was forced to defend heavily in Club, squeezing Palmer slightly and crossed the line some 0.8s ahead of the Englishman.
Palmer attempted to hold on, but Evans was soon too distant, such was his comfort on the Pielli Option tyres, as the Kiwi revealed. “The option came in quicker that I thought, which really helped me, and after Copse I just put my head down and the car was better than what it was at the start of the race.”
Unfortunately, the new 2nd placed man’s position was less than ideal. “It took quite a while for the options to come in: normally the undercut is a little quicker, but maybe the cold temperatures meant we were struggling a little bit.”
Thereafter, Evans eased away from the points leader – it was 1.4s by lap 23; then 2.5s on lap 26 and finally 4.9s across the chequered flag on lap 29.
Evans’ victory performance was an excellent one, but there was also the slightest touch of championship drive in the final third Palmer. Better to pick up 18 points from 2nd place, than no points that comes from a retirement. “I’m happy with second, and the closest guys to me in the championship finished behind me, so it’s not a bad result,” confirmed Palmer, yet…
Such was the advantage that Evans held in the final stint, the Mark Webber protégé collected the fastest lap on the 22nd tour – his circulation of 1:42.297s simply could not be touched.
Stoffel Vandoorne claimed his third podium of the season with his drive to 3rd place. The Belgian chased Carlin’s Felipe Nasr right up until the pitstops, when Nasr’s slower stop dropped him down the order.
In one sense, it was not the easiest of drivers for Nasr. On this day, his pace simply wasn’t there with the leaders and it was clear for some time that Vandoorne was pressing hard.
As the stops unfolded, Vandoorne had already lost the guts of twenty seconds to the battling pair up front, although it is unknown whether the ART Grand Prix would really have had the pacer to challenge today. Considering some of the battles Vandoorne has faced so far this year, 3rd place may be a quietly welcomed reward.
There was yet another battle for 4th position between the second Carlin of Julián Leal and the other Racing Engineering entry of Stefano Coletti, which was originally settled in the favour of Leal on the final lap.
After a shocking start, Leal climbed back up the order to take 4th from Coletti through Stowe and into Club; however the pair made contact, prompting the stewards to intervene and penalise Leal for dangerous driving, giving the position back to Coletti after the race. Meanwhile Leal kept his 5th place…
The Leal / Coletti battle offered both Johnny Cecotto Jr and Nasr hope, but neither could shove past the grappling duo and had to make do with 6th and 7th respectively.
A few seconds back, Stéphane Richelmi headed GP2 debutante Marco Sørensen across the line for 8th and 9th with the former claiming reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race.
Hilmer’s Daniel Abt scored a welcome first point of the season thanks to his 10th place finish.
Come Sunday, Nasr needed a straight-forward race and he got it. The Brazilian snatched the lead from the slow starting Richelmi and instantly built a shallow lead over the following Coletti and Cecotto Jr.
The canny Brazilian drove a relatively unflustered race; his confidence on the Pirelli rubber paramount, as he later explained: “In the […] early laps I tried to build a gap to Stefano [Coletti] and then tried to look after the tyres. When he started to get closer again I was able to respond. Then I just wanted to make sure I brought the car home. It’s a good way to finish the weekend.”
While Nasr maintained a 1.1-1.2s during the opening third of the race, Coletti did close up to the leader once the Monegasque driver had shaken off 3rd place Cecotto Jr; however Nasr then simply stepped up another gear and put the race well beyond the reach of his rivals.
From less than one second at the end of lap seven, Nasr pulled out a gap of 6.67s by the end of lap 18 – aided by some burgeoning mechanical woes for Coletti – before the Williams F1 reserve cooled off in the final three tours, allowing Coletti to harmlessly take two seconds back come the chequered flag.
There was another reason for Coletti upping the pace late in the running. The Racing Engineering man was beginning to feel rearguard pressure from the quickening Cecotto Jr.
In a story of inter-weaving battles, Cecotto Jr had fallen nearly five seconds behind the 2nd place man by the one-quarter mark, while fighting off the intentions of Palmer; however as Palmer fell away, Cecotto Jr reeled in Coletti.
Cecotto Jr could do nothing about 2nd place, with Coletti holding his Trident rival to a steady pace through the final tours. If anything, Coletti’s times brought Palmer into the fight for the runner-up spot, but even the Englishman could not take advantage on home soil.
He did have to fight hard for it though. Starting just behind Leal, Palmer trailed the Colombian until the twelfth tour, during which he swept through.
Behind the Coletti-Cecotto Jr-Palmer fight, Leal secured another 5th place points finish ahead of his first F1 test this week. The Colombian is continuing his step up in performance this year, after several years in the doldrums.
Richelmi’s horror start didn’t just lose him the lead. The DAMS racer dropped to 5th of the line and then lost another position when his teammate Palmer slipped by on the fifth lap. The Monegasque driver had no answer thereafter and had to fight hard to keep Evans at bay in the closing laps.
Sørensen took another points finish for 8th place, but was fortunate in that an error by Vandoorne offered up the final score.
Nasr’s victory brings the gap to Palmer to 38 points, with the seventh round at Hockenheim coming up in a week-and-a-half. Although the Brazilian will be disappointed to have dropped five scores to the leading Englishman, there will be some small solace in this damage limitation.