For a time, it looked as if the Felipe Nasr of old had been pushed aside and that there would finally be a “real” championship fight between the quiet Brazilian and Britain’s Jolyon Palmer.
Come Sunday afternoon, a very different realisation swept through the paddock, where, if nothing else, Palmer had emerged very much on top of his title rival.
Over the course of fifty-one laps in two races, Nasr may have blown his best opportunity to make great strides, but on Friday evening, the story was very, very different indeed…
As qualifying closed, Palmer slotted into 4th place – three ahead of Nasr, until the stewards investigated and discovered the DAMS machine did not have the necessary amount of fuel for a sample, rendering his session null.
“It’s very disappointing to have to start last,” the Briton said as he reflected upon the decision on the stewards, adding, “the car wasn’t under weight, and we had enough fuel for a sample, but we didn’t have the mandatory one litre of fuel in the car at the end and that is the regulation. There was no performance advantage here and it was a mistake with the fuel calculations.”
Nasr, meanwhile, did not have the best of qualifying sessions either. Palmer’s disqualification promoted the Brazilian to 6th, but considering his fight, he needed to be higher.
What was initially a poor result turned to something more positive as the evening drew in and news of Palmer’s penalty spread. More than anything else, Nasr now needed to capitalise on his rival’s misfortune and decimate the points gap.
That Nasr could then only manage two 6th place finishes compared to Palmer’s 8th (Feature Race) and victory (Sprint Race) has almost typical of the Brazilian’s seeming inability to convert advantages this season.
Palmer, on the other hand, has taken his chances and when necessary has pulled some championship worthy drives out of the bag – Saturday at Monza was a case in point.
Palmer was understandably ecstatic. “Unbelievable! It’s a weekend I’ll remember for a long time,” he beamed. “Friday was obviously extremely disappointing, but we all did a really good job, put it behind us on Saturday, and planned how we were going to come back from it. The race [on Saturday] went nearly perfectly, really: the car was good, the strategy was good, and then [on Sunday] starting from the front it was a bit easier, and we just had to control the pace.”
Meanwhile, over in the Williams F1 team hospitality on Sunday, the Didcot team – of which Nasr is the reserve driver – had announced the retention of their current line-up of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
The GP2 title may not be the only thing Nasr lost grip last weekend.
McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne took his third GP2 Series win of the season, although the Belgian had to fend off Arthur Pic for the duration.
A poor start by Pic (Campos Racing) gave poleman Vandoorne an added advantage off the line, with Vandoorne drawing his ART Grand Prix machine just over two seconds clear by the third lap.
Thereafter Vandoorne conserved his tyres, allowing Pic to close to within one second of the leading man. Despite a concerted effort by the 22-year-old Pic, the Frenchman could not quite close enough to force and error from Vandoorne.
Vandoorne would eventually stop after twelve laps, temporarily demoting the Kortrijk-native to the outskirts of the top ten. Pic stopped one lap later, but the Campos man could not do enough to overhaul his rival. As others ahead pitted too, the pairing also drew back toward the front of the order, with road finally clearing when Marco Sørensen stopped after twenty-one laps.
Pic stayed in Vandoorne’s mirrors for the final stint, but as his tyres aged, the Frenchman’s efforts were hamstrung.
Where he would close on the long straights, Pic would inevitably lose ground through Curve Grande, the Lesmo bends and Parabolica, gifting Vandoorne a solid gap as they approached the hard breaking points. Vandoorne relaxed on the final lap to allow Pic to close to within 0.6 at the flag, but realistically, the Belgian was never going to let this slip.
Mitch Evans took the final podium position for RUSSIAN TIME. The Kiwi initially held sway with the slow-starting Pic, but fell back as the race – and his Pirelli tyres – aged. Indeed a radio failure meant Evans missed his first calls into the pits for new tyres, with the Mark Webber protégé not stopping until lap thirteen.
Emerging just ahead of an aggressive Stéphane Richelmi, Evans kept the DAMS man at bay for a few laps, before gingerly building a gap to his Monegasque rival, who – for a time – was fighting his own battle with Daniel Abt, Andre Negrão, Felipe Nasr and Julian Leal.
The quartet fell away as their own battle became more intensive and with Evans already in the distance, Richelmi had little choice but to accept a solid 4th.
Despite growing pressure late on from a pushy Nasr, Negrão secured 5th place – his highest in GP2. The key move for Negrão’s race came on the 19th lap, when the Brazilian passed a struggling Abt, only for Leal to run Abt off the road two corners later.
Abt retired on the spot, while Leal was hit with a drive through penalty, while the released Nasr chased after Negrão. Despite a series of quicker laps, Nasr could not make a move on Negrão and finished just 0.4s adrift as they crossed the finishing line.
Sørensen dropped back to 7th after his stop, but he had to work hard to stay ahead of the charging Palmer late on. Having started last, Palmer made a startling jump off the line and had claimed ten places in the opening two laps.
Palmer stayed out until lap 20, emerging 10th when strategies had played out. Following Leal’s drive through, he took Stefano Coletti for 8th and reverse grid pole for Sunday’s race.
Coletti seemed to wake up when Palmer slipped by, but would spend the final laps fending off Johnny Cecotto Jr who accepted 10th and the last point.
The race was marred by a ridiculous moment at the start of the second lap, when Kimiya Sato blasted his way through the Roggia chicane, removing the innocent Danïel de Jong from the action. As the field ricocheted lightly, Rene Binder spun Takuya Izawa around, while Raffaele Marciello went off track and retired while attempting to avoid the incident.
Jolyon Palmer his third GP2 Series victory of the season at Monza on Sunday, bringing his lead over Felipe Nasr to 43 points with two rounds remaining. Palmer led from the beginning and initially held his DAMS teammate Stéphane Richelmi behind, before Stefano Coletti emerged as his chief rival.
Where Palmer made a solid start, Richelmi shot up the order jumping from 5th to 2nd by the first corner. Richelmi’s effort was helped by a sleepwalking Nasr, who dropped down the order like a rock from the second row, while Marco Sørensen lost positions by locking up into the Roggia chicane and Andre Negrão slipped to 4th.
Palmer’s lead was annulled when the safety car emerged on lap one, thanks to Sergio Canamasas. Skipping over the Ascari chicane, the Spaniard rejoined slowly amidst traffic, almost causing Adrian Quaife Hobbs to smash into him and forcing the field to bunch up. As a result Pierre Gasly and Andre Markelov collided heavily on the straight exiting Ascari, while Julian Leal picked up a puncture from debris.
Meanwhile as the field sorted itself into some order, Canamasas’ Trident teammate Johnny Cecotto Jr made an unrealistic move on Nathanaël Berthon into the Parabolica, which sidelined both.
It was a moment of unbelievable stupidity from the Trident pairing, but from Canamasas, the moment was particularly ‘special’.
From the lap seven restart, Palmer held a narrow lead over Richelmi, until Coletti slipped through four tours later. As fast as Coletti was, he could not pressure Palmer into an error, with the DAMS man earning a precious victory.
Richelmi stayed 3rd to collect his third podium of the season; however the Monaco native had to work to keep Sørensen behind in the second half of the race.
Negrão completed his best GP2 weekend by taking 5th just ahead of Jon Lancaster, while Nasr regained ground to claim 7th and just two points. The Brazilian was heading for 8th when Mitch Evans tried an unrealistic move on Negrão in the Retifilo four laps from the end, resulting in race ending damage for Evans.
Arthur Pic took 8th and the final point following a mid-race error that cost him two places to Nasr and Lancaster.
Following his brainless opening lap maneuver, Canamasas continued to cause havoc when he crashed into Rene Binder at the Roggia chicane on lap 11. While recovering from that mess, Canamasas clattered into the side of Raffaele Marciello in Lesmo, as the Italian was slipping past the sluggish Spaniard.
On a day when the series showcased some fabulous on track action, Canamasas did his best to cast a poor spell. When on lap fifteen the Spaniard was finally shown the black flag, it underlined that the series is still populated by some dreadfully undeserving talent toward the rear of the field.
Canamasas is not a child. He is not inexperienced. After two-and-half seasons of GP2 and two of Formula Renault 3.5, he is far from inexperienced and he should know far better.
It will be interesting to note whether Canamasas actually appears in Sochi in five weeks. Should he emerge with a slap on the wrist or no further sanction, then the series will suffer a dent in its reputation.