Germany GP2 race report
Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer edged further into the lead of the 2014 GP2 championship at a steamy and unpredictable Hockenheimring, Germany, on the weekend of July 19/20th. The typically broiling Hockenheim weather, and the influence it had on the ever-critical issue of tyre choice, played a dice-rolling hand throughout the weekend. But the DAMS team - to whom Comma is also Technical Partner - once again drew on their deep well of experience to keep Palmer from Horsham, West Sussex firmly in control of the series which he has lead from the start of the year. Increasing his championship advantage to 41 points over his closest championship rival and former team-mate, Carlin's Felipe Nasr of Brazil, Palmer is now in as good a place as he would wish to deliver on his pre-season pledge to lift the 2014 trophy as the GP2 caravan rolls on to next weekend's encounter in Hungary.
Practice and qualifying
Friday practice found Palmer searching for rear wheel grip as he wound up in twelfth place on the time sheets, over 0.7 seconds off the pace of Racing Engineering's Stefano Coletti from Monaco. But find it he did on just his third lap in qualifying for Saturday's Feature race, with a storming time of 1min 23.383sec, almost 0.3 seconds quicker than ART GP's McLaren test driver, Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium. Coletti was joined on the second row by Caterham's Tom Dillman of France, with Nasr and Frenchman Athur Pic for Campos behind them. Row four was comprised of Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto driving for Trident and Racing Engineering's Rafaelle Marciello from Italy. Joining the hunt on row five for the remaining Feature race points were Caterham's American driver Alexander Rossi and Simon Trummer of Switzerland for the Rapax team.
Searing track temperatures set the tone for the main event, with most of the top ten on the grid opting to start on the prime tyre. Vandoorne made the better start and grabbed the lead from Palmer at the first turn. A second lap incident between Artem Markelov and John Lancaster brought out the safety car just as Palmer had fought off a challenge from Coletti, who in turn was under pressure from Nasr. With normal service resumed, the leaders forged on, all of them concerned about when would be best time to make their mandatory pit stop and change onto the soft rubber. A long way further down the pack, Silverstone winner Mitch Evans had already decided that starting from fifteenth on the grid left him with little choice but to gamble, and the New Zealander's Russian Time team had launched him on the soft tyre from the outset. Given the track conditions, there was scant chance that they would survive one third the race distance of 38 laps, but it at least gifted the Kiwi the opportunity to make rapid early progress through the field. In the event, Evans eeked out 13 laps before his tyres surrendered, but by then he was potentially in quite a good position to be in the mix after the leaders made their stops later in the race. Palmer and Coletti made for the pits on lap 23, Vandoorne and Nasr two laps later. Sure enough, a series of really quick laps on his new primes while all the front runners' were wilting had vaulted Evans further up the leader-board and into first place after all the pit stops were completed. Now the chase was really on, the big question being whether Evans's primes could survive a total of 25 laps against no more than 13 of anyone else's softs. They did, but only just, as Evans took the chequered 0.4 seconds ahead of Vandoorne. The late intensity of the racing behind Evans had matched the temperature in the stadium, with the Belgian under constant pressure from Palmer until the Comma man's tyres finally cried 'enough', dropping him back noticeably on the closing lap, but still finishing third for the final podium position. Coletti and Nasr also fought tooth and nail for fourth and fifth respectively. Trummer, Cecotto and Nathaniel Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus) were next up, with MP Motorsport's Marco Sørensen of Denmark confirming his excellent rookie status in ninth, and Palmer's DAMS team-mate Stephane Richelmi of Monaco claiming the final points in tenth position. Disappointed not to convert his stellar qualifying performance into a win, Palmer was none-the-less relieved to finish on the podium and claim the extra bonus points for pole position and fastest race lap.
The casino nature of events continued into Sunday's Sprint race when teams and drivers were presented with a still very wet – but potentially drying – track for the start of the race. Stefano Coletti and Felipe Nasr placed all their chips on slick tyres, a strategy which paid off with victory for Coletti and second place for Nasr after the early leaders – Berthon, Palmer, Evan and Sorensen – were obliged to pit and abandon their wet weather tyres after Coletti posted fastest lap of the race so far.. A sorting out for the minor places followed a safety car period to remove Takuya Izawa's beached car, with Vandoorne eventually claiming the third podium spot. But the intense race to the chequered flag was always between Coletti and Nasr, with the Monegasque prevailing for Race Engineering by a little over 1 second from Carlin's man. In fourth place, Søorensen again showed that he has taken to GP2 like the proverbial duck to water, while Hilmer's John Lancaster edged ahead of Palmer for fifth, and the final points going to Rossi and Britain's Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (Rapax) seventh and eighth. Along the way, Coletti sweetened his win with the two bonus points for faster lap of the race. With just eight championship points separating them – and 27 points behind second-placed Nasr – Colatti is now locked into a three-way battle with Cecotto and Evans for third place in the table.
You can follow Jolyon Palmer's race by race progress here throughout the season, and get complete race reports, news, features and results on the official GP2 Series website www.gp2series.com
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