Strong pace turns into disappointment in Abu Dhabi
Potential turned to disappointment for Carlin in Abu Dhabi today, as the team took part in its first race in the GP2 Asia Series. Max Chilton started from a strong seventh place on the grid and crossed the line eighth, but was later handed a 20 second penalty for having deemed to have gained an advantage at the chicane. Mikhail Aleshin meanwhile also saw an eventful race; the Russian escaped a potentially horrific start line accident only to retire later with hydraulic failure.
As the lights went out, Chilton made a strong start from seventh, passing the stalled car of Dani Clos off the line. Behind him, drivers at the back of the grid struggled to avoid the stranded Clos, the result of which was a substantial accident involving Luiz Razia and Pal Varhaug. Despite finding himself in the middle of the accident, Aleshin somehow managed to avoid the majority of the carnage, acquiring only a damaged front wing.
With the start/finish straight littered with debris, the safety car led the field through the pits. Running at the back of the field, Aleshin had managed to continue but pitted for a new front wing. With the debris still littered across the track, the decision was taken to red flag the race.
Once the track had been cleared the cars were led out of the pit lane by the safety car, completing one lap before being released for a rolling restart. Chilton once again held his ground and maintained sixth place from Josef Kral behind him.
Aleshin meanwhile was still in the running, the Russian was 21st following a quick front wing change by the Carlin team.
As the race finally got underway, Chilton managed to pull out a 1.5 second gap, as Kral concerned himself with keeping Sam Bird behind him. 19 year-old Chilton
continued to close in on the leaders, and by lap six was just 0.2 seconds off fifth place man Marcus Ericsson.
Stuck in traffic at the back of the field, Aleshin made his compulsory pit stop on lap 10, but the Carlin man suffered a sudden hydraulic failure which caused his car to stall. Aleshin lost vital seconds while his car was restarted, but the delay proved inconsequential when the FR3.5 champion was forced to retire a lap later when the problem became terminal.
On the same lap that Aleshin retired, Chilton took to the pits for his stop. While Chilton's stop appeared to pass without incident, the British racer returned to the track behind Kral and Bird, while Stefano Coletti had also managed to find a way past.
Chilton spent the remainder of the race involved in a close battle with Coletti for eighth place, which would also hand him the final point and pole for tomorrow's reverse grid race. The duo battled hard, with Chilton getting the gap down to just 0.2 seconds on several laps, but Coletti took advantage of the track limits to just stay ahead.
On the penultimate lap Chilton had the gap down to just 0.3 seconds and managed to pass Coletti in the middle sector of the lap. However, officials later deemed Chilton to have jumped the chicane and despite Coletti also having exceeded track limits, Chilton was later handed a 20 second penalty to his race time and was classified 13th.
A disappointed Chilton reflected, "The race was really good, it went to plan and I made a good start. Unfortunately I lost three places in the pit stop and we're trying to work out where we lost the time. I'm very disappointed to have received a penalty after the race when I felt that the car in front had regularly exceeded track limits, but I've already put that behind me and am focusing on tomorrow's race now. I think we've shown that we have really good pace and I'll be pushing hard to make the most of the situation tomorrow."
Reflecting on his race, Aleshin said, "It is always very tricky to start from the back and in this case there was even more chance of an accident because someone had stalled at the front. Somehow I managed to avoid the accident, but just clipped the car that crashed into the stalled car. After that I needed a new front wing, but was able to continue racing, but in my pit stop the hydraulic system failed which caused my engine to stall. I did one further lap and then had to retire to the pits. I feel that we still have a lot of work to do for tomorrow and we need to concentrate on getting the maximum amount of information from this weekend. We have been a little unlucky but we still need to work hard."
Racing Director Trevor Carlin added, "Considering the potential that we displayed as a team before the race, this result is very disappointing. Max did a fantastic job both at the start and the restart and deserved more today. However, as is frequently the case in motor racing the result is decided after the drivers have stopped racing. Mikhail was very unlucky to suffer a mechanical problem which ended his race, but having looked at the footage of the start, he was exceptionally lucky to have escaped any injury, never mind any damage to his car. Tomorrow is a new day for us and we'll build on the pace we've already shown to get the best result possible and create a stronger car for Bahrain."