That’s 200! A large number of races indeed. An anniversary suitably celebrated by the GP2 Series on the Saturday at Hockenheim.
For this writer, it goes back further than that. So many Saturday afternoons sitting in watching Formula 3000 on Eurosport – oh, the heady days of Williams protégé Juan-Pablo Montoya and McLaren junior Nick Heidfeld battling it out sticks in the mind.
But it could never last. Like so, so many categories, Formula 3000 became entangled in its own myth and soon spiraled out of control and by 2004, it was a dead category.
When Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen leapt straight from Formula 3 and Formula Renault UK respectively into to Formula One, F3000 should have taken action there and then.
Instead, it maintained an arrogant stance, its head stuck firmly in the sand and watched as the world passed it by, while increasing costs and irrelevance cast its death spell.
And the world did pass it by…
In 2005, GP2 blew all that away. Names like Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hülkenberg, Jules Bianchi, Sebastien Buemi and James Calado have passed through and graduated into the likes of Formula One, DTM and the World Endurance Championship, while others have moved into the IndyCar Series, WTCC and national or international GT racing.
Admittedly, recent years have seen difficulties arise, especially where funding is concerned, but the series has made a number of moves to reduce the financial burden – it needed to.
Formula One has also proved a problem. With the huge monies needed to fund even a back of the grid seat, some drivers – and recent champions – have been overlooked in favour of those with blank cheques waiting to be signed.
Through all this, the GP2 Series has been kept on its toes, partially by its sibling, the GP3 Series, but mainly by the Formula Renault 3.5 category, which also acts as a guide to the top rank of motorsport.
Could it be healthier..? Yes, but then again so could most of motorsport.
“The car was sensational today,” beamed New Zealand born racer Mitch Evans, after he won the 200th GP2 Series race at the Hockenheimring on Saturday.
Thanks to a mixture of clever strategy and stellar driving, the RUSSIAN TIME racer stifled Stoffel Vandoorne and Jolyon Palmer through the final few laps, to take the race by just 0.414s after 38 tours.
Under the intense heat, tyre degradation was originally thought to be a potential deciding factor; however while the drop off was less than expected, the soaring temperatures did considerably alter the approach of the drivers, as drivers found they could push just a little harder than originally anticipated.
It transpired there were other considerations too. Having discovered a problem with the front anti-roll bar after qualifying, the team realigned and pushed into the race using information from Silverstone.
However, having only qualified on the eighth row, the task at hand was massive. “We were out of position massively, but we weren’t sure where we were in terms of speed. We were a bit lost…”
Incredibly, the baseline Silverstone set-up worked and Evans’ intelligent drive thereafter did the rest. Starting on the soft Pirelli tyres, Evans escaped a first lap scare when he collided with Alexander Rossi; however the Kiwi emerged undamaged. “I had a really good start up to P11 in the first lap I think and made up a few more I think up to P8…”
Rossi was less fortunate. “It was disappointing to be hit by Evans in turn six just after the safety car. It was another opportunity lost, ending my day with minor damage to the steering.”
From there, strategy began to play its canny hand. Maintained a steady pace before pitting on lap 13, Evans fell to behind the recently stopped Stéphane Richelmi, whom was dispatched within three laps. “After the pitstop it was pretty much about putting my head down and look after the tyres a bit longer,” the Kiwi mentioned.
Now just over thirty seconds adrift of the lead, Evans began to cut small clumps of time out of the leaders; only lose tenths here and there when traffic came into play; however the RUSSIAN TIME threat remained. He further told, “I was not cruising but I was taking one lap after the other, taking care of the tyres. I knew I had a good pace, but I was hoping for top eight or top six…”
As Vandoorne controlled the front with a series of laps in the 1’28” bracket, Evans launched into the 1’27s on the harder Pirelli’s, yet the once the edge peeled away Evans began lapping approximately one second slower, while Vandoorne began to dip into the 1’29s.
It was enough. As Vandoorne returned to the track after stopping on lap 25, the Belgian dropped in behind Evans, but unusually held back, as he explained: “The radio was not working properly.” As his inner ear monitors crackled, half messages were sent back and forth, with garblings gaining clarity. “I asked the team if I had to push and overtake. I misunderstood the team and I thought Mitch still had to stop. So I didn’t even try to attack him.”
It was only two laps from the end when the Belgian realised the true position of the race, but it was too late by then and while Evans was certainly beginning to struggle on his Pirelli’s, Vandoorne was not convinced a push for the lead would have worked in his favour. “Whether I could have overtaken Mitch is difficult to say, but at least I could have put pressure on him,” noted the ART Grand Prix man.
Vandoorne did make one attempt for the lead on lap 38, but it was far too lte and Evans held his nerve and his lead to take his 2nd win of the season. Make no mistake – this was a brilliantly gauged victory for the RUSSIAN TIME team. Still smiling, still in shock, Evans beamed, “I’m still trying to realise what happened really. Now I’m very happy with two feature race wins in a row.”
Palmer dropped two seconds behind Vandoorne in the last couple of tours, but the championship leader was well ahead of 4th place driver Stefano Coletti come the end. Coletti, however, only narrowly pipped Felipe Nasr at the flag, after the pair had an astonishing battle with Simon Trummer, Johnny Cecotto Jr and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.
After running 4th for much of the race, Nasr stopped on lap 24 – one after Coletti – however having dropped three seconds behind the Monegasque driver in the first portion of the race, there was little Nasr could do to overhaul his rival, despite Coletti setting an astonishing slow in-lap. It’s another points finish for Nasr, but also more points lost to Palmer in the standings.
Amidst the quick Coletti / Nasr fight, the early stopping Quaife-Hobbs proved a blockage late in the race, while Trummer and Cecotto Jr stumbled over each other as each tried to break the Englishman.
Trummer followed through into 6th place – setting his fastest lap on the last one –while Cecotto Jr’s pace fell away, while he maintained 7th. Nathanaël Berthon persevered to take 8th after stopping on lap 13 – a brilliant drive to the points and reverse grid pole for Race Two.
Marco Sørensen finished 9th after climbing up from the penultimate row of the grid and Stéphane Richelmi closed out the top ten, scoring the final point for DAMS.
The race was briefly interrupted after the start by the safety car. Following collisions between Sergio Canamasas and Conor Daly, Artem Markelov and Jon Lancaster and the Evans / Rossi incident, the area from the exit of turn two, through the Parabolika and the Hairpin became littered with debris. With punctures a very real possibility, the race was neutralised for three laps until the carbon fibre remnants were cleared. Daly was also hit with a drive through penalty for pit lane speeding, when his speed sensor failed for the fifth time this season.
“It’s been a long time,” exclaimed an astonished Coletti on Sunday following his first GP2 win in over a year.
Having seen off ART Grand Prix’s Stoffel Vandoorne just after the midpoint, the GP2 veteran bore some intensive pressure from championship challenger Felipe Nasr in the final laps, but held on to win by 1.2s.
Starting 6th on a wet and cold Hockenheim circuit, the Monegasque racer was one of many drivers involved in low speed collisions and spins that – for a time – turned the race on its head.
Inexplicably at the time, Coletti opted to start on slick tyres and dropped as low as 18th in the early stages, but with the track forming a dry line and others beginning to pit for slicks, the race came to the nimble Coletti. It was a masterstroke. “The mission at the start was to at least stay ahead of all the other drivers who also started on slicks in order to be in front as soon as the track dried up.”
The cooler temperatures kept the leader’s tyre degradation in check, although there were still occasional scares due to falling lower than usual levels of grip. Yet Coletti persevered, taking a popular victory under some of racing’s trickiest conditions. “In the end, it worked out quite well,” said the slightly surprised victor. “We had a safety car that helped us in the first few laps. That helped to keep the gap with the cars ahead of us not too big. Then, we knew we just had to wait…”
For Nasr, it wasn’t quite enough. Like Coletti, the Brazilian gambled on slicks at the start and for a time, it appeared as if he too had made a dramatic error; however there was some logic to the pre-race gamble. “When I was on the grid, we looked around and Mike, my engineer, told me that it had stopped raining. It was still warm outside and the track dries pretty quickly here. I knew it was going to be very difficult at the beginning, but we took the decision together to start on slicks.”
From 4th, Nasr fell to 20th, but he too began to progress up the order as grip came back to the slick shod men. “I was just keeping the car on the track, avoiding everyone. I had cars spinning in front of me, a lot of spray…”
Indeed Nasr may have had a better chance at stealing the win from Coletti had he not engaged Stoffel Vandoorne in a battle lasting several laps; however once clear, the Carlin racer proceeded to swap fastest laps with Coletti – a battle won by the latter on the final tour. “When my team told me that there was one lap to go and that Felipe had the fastest lap, I pushed really hard on that final lap and got it,” said Coletti.
Vandoorne may consider this a lost win, but he may also take comfort from securing a podium having started on the fourth row. Following a brilliant start, the Belgian made easy work of initial frontrunners Nathanaël Berthon and Marco Sørensen, before slipping into the lead past a struggling Mitch Evans.
The McLaren junior held the lead until his pitstop for slicks on lap thirteen, but by that stage Coletti had closed in enough to demote Vandoorne to 2nd. Thereafter, the ART Grand Prix machine struggled under the cool conditions as his Pirelli’s refused to grip, allowing Nasr to first close in and then take the runner-up place on lap eighteen.
It looked for a time that Sørensen might pull a surprise result from the bag after having taken Berthon and Evans; however even he proved sluggish in the mid-race conditions compared to the eventual podium men.
The Dane still managed a solid 4th ahead of Jon Lancaster (who started 23rd!) in the Force India backed Hilmer machine. Lancaster kept feisty series leader Jolyon Palmer behind him as the race closed. Palmer won a hard-fought ten-lap battle against the non-stopping Alexander Rossi with three tours remaining, but the Englishman ran out of time. Rossi settled into 7th, just over four seconds up from the final points scorer Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.
There was an early four-lap safety car period to remove the stricken and ablaze Stéphane Richelmi from the exit of turn one, while the race was neutralised once again on lap fourteen to take Arthur Pic’s broken Campos machine from the exit of turn two.
All this means Jolyon Palmer leaves Hockenheim with a 41-point lead over Felipe Nasr, as the Englishman once again extends his advantage by a narrow margin. Nasr really must charge if he is to seriously challenge for the title. Only a week to wait…