Monaco GP2 race report
So attuned is he to bending to their unforgiving demands that Jolyon Palmer – Comma's sponsored driver in the international GP2 championship – has come to regard the streets of Monaco almost as his spiritual home. He really loves the place, and with good reason: the glamorous Principality was the scene of his first GP2 success in 2012. This year, on the weekend of May 23/25th, the 23 year old son of former Formula 1 driver, Jonathan Palmer, took command of proceedings from the very outset to more than double his already impressive points lead in the GP2 championship table and leave no one in doubt that he is now the man to beat in 2014.
Palmer stamped his mark on the session with the only lap in the 1min 20sec bracket, three tenths quicker than Johnny Cecotto for Trident who in turn was half a second ahead of Palmer's DAMS team mate, Stéphane Richelmi, these two being the only drivers within a second of Palmers pace. Stefano Coletti for Racing Engineering and Mitch Evans for Russian Time were next up, ahead of Cecotto's team mate Sergio Canamasas, Rio Haryanto for Caterham Racing, Felipe Nasr and Julian Leal for Carlin, with Alexander Rossi for Caterham completing the top ten.
A lap time margin of 0.4 seconds around Monaco might as well be the difference between night and day, but that is what Palmer registered over New Zealander Mitch Evans to claim pole position for Friday's points-heavy Feature race. Haryanto and Richelmi populated the second row, with Cecotto and ART Grand Prix's Stoffel Vandoorne next up. Hilmer Motorsport's Daniel Abt and Coletti filled row four, ahead of Coletti's team mate Raffaelle Marciello and Carlin's Julian Leal rounding out the top five rows.
Starting on the super soft option tyres, it was Evans who made the better start off the grid to squeeze through Ste. Devote and head Palmer - on prime tyres - up the fast drag to the Casino. Evans began to stretch a lead before an early safety car was deployed, following which Palmer really started to turn up the heat on the Kiwi, passing him at Ste. Devote before the race was red flagged to clear a multi-car incident at the Mirabeau. With the race restarted, Palmer then banged in a succession of faster laps to build a 9 second gap to Evans who was beginning to struggle on the soft rubber. The safety car then emerged once more to allow the marshals to deal with a tête-a-tête between Leal and Marciello, and all the leaders headed for the pits for their mandatory tyres change. Palmer and Evans re-joined – still effectively in first and second - behind Vandoorne and Simon Trummer respectively, both of whom had yet to pit. Once the pit stop phase had played out, the contest resumed in earnest, with Palmer anxiously in control and Nasr, who had pitted really early from eighteenth on the grid, up to third place behind Evans as the race ran out. Cecotto and Canamasas finished fourth and fifth, leaving Arthur Pic for Campos Racing heading Haryanto and Richelmi to close out the first eight and determine the front four (reverse order) rows of the grid for the Sprint race. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs for Rapax and Tio Ellinas for MP Motorsport were the final points scorers in ninth and tenth positions.
After the race, a somewhat relieved Palmer commented: "I was struggling for grip on the option tyre, but there were yellow flags every lap in the end, and I was making sure I didn't get faster under yellow, so I probably slowed down too much..........I was trying to control the race but it was not easy. I was glad it finished when it did."
Palmer clearly loves street racing. Last year, he dominated with maximum race points for pole position, fastest lap and victory in Singapore. In GP2, that's quite a rare achievement. He did it again this year in Monaco.
Comma is Technical Partner to the Le Mans, France based DAMS GP2 team, so there was further celebration in the Comma camp when Palmer's team mate, Stéphane Richelmi, converted his pole position start into a thrilling victory in front of his home crowd to celebrate his first champagne–soaked win in GP2. The race quickly developed into a straight fight between Richelmi and a fast starting Canamasas who had displaced front row starter, Haryanto at Ste. Devote on the opening lap. The two leaders opened a sizeable gap before the inevitable Monaco safety car made its appearance and closed up the field. When racing resumed, so did the battle up front, but the Indonesian was unable to displace Richelmi, and the DAMS driver eventually prevailed by just over 2 seconds at the chequered flag. In their wake, a familiar Monaco dog-fight was waged for the minor places, with Haryanto claiming a comfortable third podium spot some 6 seconds behind Canamsas, and Cecotto, Pic, Evans, Palmer and Quaife-Hobbs all finishing close together in the final points scoring places, although some way adrift of the podium trio.
After the three opening rounds, Palmer on 103 points now has a lead of 46 points in the eleven event GP2 series over his nearest rival, Felipe Nasr on 57. Cecotto is third on 49 points with Leal fourth on 47. Richelmi's Monaco win boosts him to sixth with a tally of 32, eight behind fifth place Pic on 40. The Palmer/Richelmi DAMS team are riding high in the teams' championship over Carlin, 135 points to 105. The next round is in Austria at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, on June 20/22. Can anyone put the brakes on Palmer before he's completely out of sight?
You can follow his progress here throughout the season, and get complete race reports and results on the official GP2 Series website at www.gp2series.com
Comma is a brand of Cosan Lubricants International