Austria GP2 race report
While it may have been the first race weekend so far this season that he has failed to make a podium appearance, Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer nevertheless stretched his lead at the head of the GP2 championship table with valuable points-scoring finishes in both races at Austria's Red Bull Ring on June 21/22. Palmer battled to a fifth place finish in Saturday's Feature race and sixth in Sunday's Sprint encounter. The 14 points garnered from a generally frustrating weekend for 23 year old Palmer do however leave him with a 33 points lead in the championship over his nearest challenger, the Williams F1 test driver and his former team- mate, Felipe Nasr.
Practice & qualifying
Intermittent light rain in practice made for something of a lottery on a circuit which was also hosting its first ever GP2 event. Neither did there seem to be any great difference between the performance of the prime and option tyres. Ultimately, it was Carlin's Julian Leal who found the best set up and track window to set a lap in 1min.15.652sec, ahead of Raffaelle Marciello and Stefano Coletti for Racing Engineering. Felipe Nasr for Carlin and Jonny Cecotto for Trident were next up, followed by Mitch Evans (Russian Time) Daniel Abt (Hilmer Motorsport) and Rene Binder (Arden) Stoffel Vandoorne (ART GP) and Palmer (DAMS) rounding out the top ten. Less than a second separated the fastest fourteen cars.
With more settled conditions for qualifying, Palmer kept his 100% record of starting from the front row in very Feature race to date, missing out by just four hundredths of a second to Cecotto's 1min 15.312sec pole time. Nasr and Coletti lined up on Row 2, with Marciello and Vandoorne on Row 3. Campos Racing's Arthur Pic qualified alongside Evans on Row 4, with Rossi and Palmer's team-mate Stéphane Richelmi making up the top ten starting order.
A lightning second row get-away by Nasr launched him ahead of pole-sitter Cecotto into a first corner lead he was never to surrender throughout the race. By contrast, Palmer's hesitant start on soft tyres immediately landed him with the unwelcome attentions of Evans and Coletti, behind whom he completed the first lap in fourth place. As the race settled down, Palmer and Coletti homed-in and passed Cecotto who was initially unable to sustain his qualifying pace, but fought back to challenge Palmer as the Comma man's tyres began to slow him and he headed for the pits to change them on lap 14. Rejoining the race in thirteenth place behind Vandoorne who had benefitted from an earlier stop, it was now a question of pressing on as hard as possible until all the mandatory tyre change strategies had played out. Nasr duly made his without losing the lead, but Coletti got gobbled up first by Vandoorne and then by Marciello in the dash to the flag. Palmer then tried but failed to displace Coletti, settling eventually for fifth ahead of Cecotto. Evans passed Rossi for 7th, with Takuya Izawa (ART GP) and Pic claiming the final points in ninth and tenth positions.
With the top eight finishers from the Feature race starting in reverse order for the Sprint, it was Cecotto who stormed past front row starters Rossi and Evans to take and hold the lead for an emotional win following his disappointments of the day before. The Race Engineering duo of Coletti and Marciello also got between Rossi and Evans at the start to set the scene for a race long battle up front for the minor podium positions. Nasr was in the pits and out of the race early after a second corner incident on the opening lap, and Palmer dropped early places after a slow starting Evans nearly had him in the pit wall as the race began. Marciello got past Coletti and Rossi to mount an attack on the leader, but this took a toll of his tyres and he had to surrender to Coletti who had been more prudent with his rubber. Try as he might, the Italian could not quite get to terms with the ebullient Venezuelan, who took the victory by just 0.7 seconds. Marciello just held on to third place nearly seven seconds back, closely pursued by Evans, Rossi and Palmer. Leal and Izawa accounted for the remaining championship points in seventh and eighth places.
So, Palmer carries Comma's colours and a handy – but by no means unassailable – 33 point GP2 Series lead into his home event at Silverstone in two weeks time, July 4/6th. Austria was more a hiccup than a major set-back, but Jolyon was clearly disappointed with his weekend in the Styrian mountains, and he'll be aiming to return to wins and podiums and restore his season's momentum as soon as possible.
You can follow Jolyon's race by race progress here throughout the season, and get complete race reports and results on the official GP2 Series website www.gp2series.com
Comma is a brand of Cosan Lubricants.