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.