It was a perfect day for Jolyon Palmer: the young Briton converted a pole position into victory at the weekend's first FIA Formula Two race at Autodromo Monza, and then followed up that feat by claiming pole position for tomorrow's second race as well.
"It wasn't an easy one," Palmer said. "When Johan came through the pits, I was leading with a comfortable gap. The safety car changed everything and after the restart the car wasn't feeling as good, but I had a lot of boosts left."
And it did not look easy at the start, either: second-place started Johan Jokinen challenged Palmer into the first turn, and then passed him on the outside at the second. However, the Dane received a drive-through penalty on lap eight: he had stalled his engine at the start of the warm-up lap, and the stewards assessed a penalty against him for threading through the field back to his original starting position.
And no sooner did Jokinen pull into the pits and Palmer assume the lead than the safety car came out to collect the field in a queue, as Mihai Marinescu and Jack Clarke made contact. Marinescu thought he had found a way past Clarke, with a slingshot from drafting the Briton on the front straight, but as Clarke moved to the right side, he touched Marinescu and spun into the barriers.
Once the safety car pulled away and racing resumed, Palmer returned to the front of the field, this time pursued by Dean Stoneman, who had gained four places on the first lap alone. Stoneman was determined to drive for victory, and caught up with Palmer several times. One the last two laps, he was close several times, but could never get into a position to seriously challenge Palmer.
The closing stages were tense," Palmer recalled. "Dean was right behind me and I was delighted to keep him there."
At the finish, the two were nearly side by side, as the difference was just 0.812 seconds. Kazim Vasiliauskas and Will Bratt followed them, five seconds adrift, but separated from each other by just 0.740 seconds. Marinescu was fifth, 11.671 seconds off Palmer's pace, and was followed by Benjamin Bailly and the recovering Jokinen.
Meanwhile, championship leader Philipp Eng, who started well back in 11th, was unable to move up at the start. He spent much of the race stuck in a queue at the back of the field, and finished in the same 11th position and out of the points.
With Palmer and Stoneman finishing 1-2 and Eng well back, a singular point now separates Eng from Palmer and another from Stoneman. And that could well change tomorrow: Palmer will again start from the pole, as he beat Sergei Afanasiev by a comfortable 0.252 seconds in the second qualifying session.
Afanasiev, who missed the first qualifying session yesterday due to illness, was at ease on the Autodromo in his first qualifying session on the famed circuit, and edged Will Bratt by 0.071 seconds to take a front-row starting position.
Championship leader Eng did much better today than in yesterday's session, and will start fourth, having edged Marinescu by eight thousandths of a second, and Kelvin Snoeks by eleven.
Stoneman, though, will start from tenth so the battle for the championship lead will -- at least tomorrow -- be between Palmer and Eng.