It’s been an interesting day today. F1 qualifying was full of surprises, and the NEC freaked me out for a while when the live timing messed up and left me wondering what happened to the race leaders! GP2 was also rather crazy.
The star of the show was Stoffel Vandoorne. Dominating from pole, he held back all comers to win and set the fastest lap, even after hail caused a red flag. Second in the race was Jordan King. Pierre Gasly held him back in the opening laps before the Frenchman fell back, and was then involved in an incident with Josh Hill and Pieter Schothorst that brought out the safety car. King held on, however, and did well to defend from eventually third-place man Jake Dennis. After the red flag, Vandoorne and King hadn’t been registered by the live timing as having crossed the line the first time, and it seemed like they had fallen back a lap very suddenly leaving Dennis in the lead. However, this was sorted out in the closing laps.
The remainder of the top ten were: Andrea Pizzitola, Kevin Kleveros, Jeroen Slaghekke, Steijn Schothorst, Shahaan Engineer, Jakub Smiechowski and Sandy Stuvik. I am most surprised by Shahaan Engineer’s good performance in his first year out of karts, and it seems the Indian driver is set for a good career in single-seaters judging soley on this weekend’s performance so far.
The biggest surprise of the session was in Q1, with two midfield drivers – both of whose teammates made it to Q3 – going out in the first session. As you can guess, this means one of the Caterham drivers was faster, and the honour went once more to Heikki Kovalainen. The two drivers missing out were Jean-Eric Vergne and Michael Schumacher, whose DRS hadn’t been working; Kovalainen beat him by 0.013s!
Q2 and a KERS problem for 5-place penalised Maldonado meant he didn’t bother running. The Venezuelan starts 22nd, while Kovalainen will be 16th. Only Red Bull and McLaren got both drivers through into Q3, leaving an interesting distribution of teams across the grid. The fastest dropout of Q2 was Raikkonen, his teammate unfortunately doing the deed. He was joined by Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Massa and Senna. Di Resta, despite doing excellently for Force India, was never shown on screen. Many suspect this is because of the team’s ‘misbehaviour’ in skipping FP2.
Q3, and the fastest lap goes to… it’s something we haven’t seen for a while, but Sebastian Vettel went fastest. Hamilton was unable to match him and went second, with Webber third and Button fourth. Rosberg will start fifth, with Daniel Ricciardo an impressive sixth. He will be short on tyres, however. Seventh went to Grosjean with Perez eighth. Alonso starts ninth, and it must be embarassing for Ferrari to be stuck behind two engine customer drivers. No time was set by Di Resta who starts tenth.
A dominant victory went to Davide Valsecchi, but behind him the feature race was filled with excitement. Even before the race, Jolyon Palmer was forced to retire with mechanical issues. In the opening laps, an incident between Coletti and van der Garde saw Coletti go out. The Dutchman continued to have an appalling race, stuck at the back and losing bits of his Caterham on Nathanael Berthon’s Racing Engineering.
Luiz Razia made an excellent start to get up to fifth, then began battling his way through the field. His first conquest was Felipe Nasr. Next up were Cecotto, Gutierrez and Valsecchi. It was time for pit stops, and Chilton came out ahead of Calado, Razia, Nasr, Gutierrez, Cecotto and Clos.
Cecotto overtook Gutierrez. Fabio Leimer’s Racing Engineering car struggled in the pits, and the Swiss driver emerged behind the queue. An amazing battle commenced between the group, just avoiding having an incident with later-stopping Berthon. This eventually resulted in a race-ending clash between Nasr and Cecotto. Nasr was blamed, receiving a 5-place penalty in the sprint. The safety car was called out, removing Valsecchi’s 12-second lead. Calado was second with Razia third, Chilton fourth and Gutierrez fifth.
The safety car came in, and as Calado defended from Razia, Valsecchi was able to re-establish his lead. Dani Clos began losing positions, first to Fabio Leimer and then GP3 graduate Tom Dillmann.
Just over eight laps to go, and Gutierrez was holding off Dillmann (now ahead of Leimer), but Razia overtook Calado. The Brit began struggling with his tyres, and found Chilton close behind him. The pressure off, Razia surged ahead towards his former Caterham teammate.
Dani Clos was next to lose his tyres, dropping out of the points while birthday boy Chilton overtook Calado followed by Gutierrez. Calado now had to defend from Dillmann. Chilton defended hard too, but despite all his efforts lost the podium to the Mexican. Calado had better luck, holding off Dillmann for fifth.
The remainder of the points were taken by Leimer, Onidi, Haryanto and Hartley. Valsecchi also took the fastest lap, and despite retiring in the Malaysian sprint, his two poles and two fastest laps were enough to get him into the championship lead. Razia is second, Gutierrez third, Calado fourth, Chiulton fifth.