“GP3 Series Analysis: Eriksson closes in”
One does always need to be spectacular or stylish to be victorious. Sometimes success comes when partnered consistency.
Roll stylish and consistent together and you will have a potent – and incredibly rare – mixture at your fingertips.
Until Silverstone, GP3 Series points leader Alex Lynn had been the stylish one, taking two Race One victories, but not finishing either of the Race Two events. Jimmy Eriksson, meanwhile, had been passively consistent with three podiums and a 6th place finish.
Such has been his apparent dominance when the big points have been paid out, this should – for all intents and purposes – be Lynn’s championship to score. Thankfully racing, like life, is rarely such a simple thing.
Now 20-years-of-age, Lynn is riding the crest of a wave. A winner at Macau last November, the Essex-born racer followed two rather successful years in Formula 3 by joining the Red Bull Junior Team and moving to GP3 with Carlin.
Eriksson, meanwhile, is a 23-year-old from the small town of Tomelilla, which is perched on the southern tip of Sweden. Upon moving to Koiranen GP at the start of the year, little was expected of Eriksson following a disastrous campaign with Status Grand Prix in 2013.
After sixteen races, Eriksson had scored no points and languished 24th in the standings. In a relatively short season, memories of the Swede’s German Formula 3 title success were extinguished.
Eriksson and his teammates were embarrassed further when Alexander Sims stepped in for a single round at the Nürburgring and scored a podium…
Where Lynn has stepped to the role of the series front man with relative ease, Eriksson’s step up has been exemplary, if a touch unexpected. Of course, there are still the usual incidents that can catch you out too – see the clash between the Status GP man and Patric Niederhauser in Race Two; a race in which Lynn finished 6th to claim four points.
These small scores matter too. During moments like this, it is worth remembering that in 2012, Mitch Evans won the GP3 title by just two points, one year after Valtteri Bottas claimed the crown by just seven [note 1}.
Come the next rounds in Germany and Hungary, Eriksson needs to assert himself once again to keep the pressure on Lynn as they enter the holiday period, but for now, it’s still too close to call – and that in itself probably rankles Lynn.
There were probably some uncertain looks in the GP3 paddock on Saturday morning. A greasy Silverstone circuit does not build confidence – it was warm, of course, allowing the track to come to the drivers toward session’s end.
That Jimmy Eriksson set the pole time just before a huge crash between GP3 debutantes Mitch Gilbert and Sebastian Balthasar can be offered up to luck, but occasionally luck does actually play its part.
Come the race, the poleman – and recipient of four bonus points – still had Lynn lining up alongside him on the front row. Suddenly a title battle that looked so unlikely not too long ago, was on the cards.
Considering how weather can change in flash at the Northamptonshire circuit, Eriksson was not in the mood to make bold prediction. “First of all,” he said, “we have to wait and see what the weather conditions will be. Then for sure my aim is to stay in front, make a good start and stay there.”
And stay there is exactly what happened, but it was no easy feat for Eriksson, as he held Lynn at bay to the flag.
There was further fortune for Eriksson at the start for Lynn had a poor start – fortunate because Eriksson was less than impressed with his own getaway; however he 23-year-old settled into a rhythm. “The first few laps were really good for me, I could open up a small gap to the other guys and I then tried to save my tyres.” Analysing his opening gambit, Lynn offered the following: “I think I put too much emphasis on trying to get a better start than Jimmy and in effect it created a worse start for me, but from then it was a really good race.”
With an almost two-second lead after the opening tour, Eriksson drew away while Lynn fought off the turn one intentions of Jann Mardenborough; however once the Nissan GT Academy winner had been dispatched, Lynn went on a charge.
Where Eriksson generally held his pace in the 1’50s, Lynn began to dip into the late-1’49s and then quicker still as the fuel burned away.
At the one-third mark, Eriksson almost had a lead of 3s; however within an extra five tours, that shrunk to 1.5s, as the laptimes began to even out into the mid-1’49s. Throughout this, Eriksson maintained one eye on the road and another on his mirrors. “I saw he was catching up with me until the end and pushing a lot to go for the quickest lap,” noted the leader.
For Lynn, his emerging pace had much to do with the changing physics and conditions of his Carlin car as the fuel ebbed away: “The balance started to become closer to me and how I wanted and then it became easier to push. In the end I was able to catch Jimmy but he drove a faultless race and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
There was one final burst from Lynn, who ripped an entire second out of the gap to Eriksson on lap 11 and the Englishman continued to close, until the Koiranen racer reasserted his position over the final two laps.
Despite his intentions and aggression, Lynn could not quite find a way past the stoic Eriksson, with the Tomelilla native emerging as the top man after fifteen tours of the Silverstone circuit.
“I just tried to stay cool and manage my tyres,” said Ericsson, adding, “I knew already my tyres were going away a bit but later in the end he was really close to me but I tried to be smart and stay in front which I managed.”
Suffice to say, it was an engaging effort by Lynn and when he scored the fastest lap on that crucial eleventh tour, he also secured two bonus points.
Behind the leading duo, it was all rather more sedate. Despite a sluggish getaway, Marvin Kirchhöfer’s early move on Emil Bernstorff was enough to secure 3rd place for the ART Grand Prix driver. Following the race, Kirchhöfer was rather circumspect about the sprint. “My start was not so good, but I made back the positions I lost as soon as the first lap. From then on, we were missing a few tenths to stay with the leaders.”
Thereafter, Bernstorff was pressed hard by Nick Yelloly (Status GP), but Yelloly couldn’t make a move stick on his Carlin rival, ensuring the pair took solid points for 4th ands 5th.
After making his GP3 debut in Austria two weeks ago, Riccardo Agostini secured his first points with a fine drive to 6th. The young Italian held a small, but comfortable gap over Richie Stanaway (7th) and Dino Zamparelli (8th) – the latter of whom earned the reverse grid pole for Race Two.
Despite a great start, Mardenborough immediately dropped backwards on lap one as he was hung out to dry. The Nissan GT Academy winner fell to 9th and ended the day less than two seconds up on Dean Stoneman, who registered the final point.
Sighs of relief all round come Sunday morning at Status Grand Prix, especially for single-seater returnee Stanaway. “I haven’t won a race in three years,” said the Kiwi, adding, “It’s been pretty frustrating to go that long without winning a race.”
It has, at times, been relatively frustrating to watch too. After breaking his back during a Formula Renault 3.5 race at Spa-Francorchamps in 2012, it was feared the motor racing world may have lost grip of a highly rated talent.
Leading a Status Grand Prix 1-2 on Sunday (leading teammate Yelloly and Carlin’s Bernstorff), Stanaway reminded us why he was rated so highly in the first place. Stanaway also commented: “It was an awesome day for us, obviously a one-two for the team which is perfect. We have really turned the car around and quite radically different to where we’ve been already this year. It’s working for us and we’ve got it to where we need to be.”
The Kiwi took the lead from Zamparelli at the start and never looked back thereafter. Admittedly, the Tauranga native has been critical of his own starts this year, but amidst the cool British sunshine, everything came together. “Yesterday I had a horrible start and today was good. It seems that this year I made an awful start, following by a good one, bad one, good one. I need to get those more consistent.”
While Stanaway recorded steady times in clear air, the tense battle for the runner-up position between Yelloly and Bernstorff allowed the Status GP man to escape slightly. Stanaway explains: “I had a bit of pressure from Emil on the first lap, but I was pretty desperate to stay in the lead. Once I managed to stay in the lead after the first couple of laps, Emil and Nick started fighting a bit and I got a bit of gap.”
The gaps were not spectacular – they didn’t need to be – with each tour, Stanaway brought the lead up incrementally, eventually taking the chequered flag by 2.7s.
There were still concerns regarding tyre wear in the second half of the race; however as the wear was matched fairly evenly across the field, Stanaway was able to cruise home. “With about six or seven laps I had a bit of graining but it seems everyone had that, actually the gap stayed pretty consistent with everyone. Just with it being quite cold and quite a stressful opening lap it was hard to manage the tyre.”
It is a victory that brings Stanaway to the outside of the of the GP3 Series title battle, as the Status man now sits 18 points adrift of leader Lynn.
Behind Stanaway, Yelloly took a timely podium – his first of the season. Starting 4th, the Briton was ahead of Zamparelli by the opening turn and then made that 2nd a lap later, as he dispatched Bernstorff around the outside of Brooklands one tour later.
From there, Yelloly pulled away from the pack, but could not do anything about his teammate up front. “A 1-2 for Status is great,” Yelloly said. “We did struggle with tyres towards the middle of the race and we both just backed off and managed to pull away from Bernstorff which was nice.”
As noted by Stanaway, Yelloly had some fears about the level of tyres wear, leading to the Englishman to lean off the pace slightly. “I think if either of us had pushed a bit more it may have been a bit sketchy towards the end so I backed off two or three seconds to make sure I was in clean air.”
Meanwhile Bernstorff drove a quiet race to 3rd after graining his front left early on. Once he lost out to Yelloly, the Carlin man had few issues from behind, as eventual 4th place pilot Kirchhöfer disappeared from his mirrors after a few tours.
Agostini grabbed 5th for Hilmer. The Italian took the top-five position after passing Zamparelli at the halfway point, although Agostini still had to fight off the intentions of Stoneman; however the latter dropped back on the final tour.
Stoneman’s misfortune promoted Lynn to 6th place, where he edged the clearly disappointed Zamparelli on the final lap. Jenzer’s Matheo Tuscher came home a solid 8th to score the final point.
With the next round at Hockenheim in two weeks, Lynn takes an eight-point lead over Eriksson, with Stanaway an addition ten adrift and as Yelloly mentioned after Race Two, “Regalia [was consistent] last season and he ended up 2nd in the championship so if I can keep scoring points and plugging away at it we’ll be fine.”
There was some additional delight for Lynn, whose main title rival, Eriksson retired after clashing with Niederhauser and Pål Varhaug toward the end. The incident earns Eriksson a five-place grid penalty for the opening race at Hockenheim.
Beyond the points, there was disappointment for European F3 regular Mitch Gilbert. Following his big shunt, he was ruled out of the rest of the weekend.
So, consistency or stylishness..?
A polite lie, in a sense – a cheat as it were. While Bottas did indeed win the 2011 GP3 Series by seven points, it was done with a different scoring system, which would probably render my point a touch void. But I will use it regardless.