By: Tom Haapanen
- Bianchi wins wheel-to-wheel battle with Vietoris
- Grosjean takes fourth to pad championship lead
Jules Bianchi could not have asked for a more dramatic maiden victory in the GP2 series, as he took the win in the wet-to-dry feature race at Silverstone over Christian Vietoris and Marcus Ericsson.
The 21-year-old Frenchman started from pole position by the virtue of his impressive wet- weather qualifying performance, but there was to be no immediate getwaway. Instead, with rain falling, the stewards decided to call for a start behind the safety car, and the field circulated in formation for three laps until the skies began to clear.
Once released from behind the safety car, though, Bianchi asserted his speed immediately, beginning to edge away from his challengers and quickly established a one-second lead over second-placed Alvaro Parente. Vietoris followed in third, with Dani Clos and Ericsson behind him in fourth and fifth.
Bianchi stretched his lead out to over seven seconds, but the track was now beginning to dry out, particularly on the racing line. Ericsson and his iSport teammate Sam Bird were notably struggling to keep their wet-weather tires working in the changing conditions.
It was not surprising, then, to see Ericsson dropping into the pits first, on lap 12, to pick up slick tires for his second stint; Stefano Coletti followed him in on the same lap. Bird ran wide at Copse on his in lap, and quickly came in for his tire change, followed by Giedo van der Garde, on lap 13.
By now it was very clear that slicks worked much better than rain tires, and the pits were quickly flooded as everyone came in to shed their raingear. Critically, Vietoris, who had by this time made his way past Parente for second, made the move on lap 14, while Bianchi and his ART team decided to wait one more lap.
Vietoris practically flew around the track on his out lap, while Bianchi struggled around one more time before pulling into the pits on lap 15. With slick tires, he pulled out, and got onto the track just ahead of Vietoris, the German locking onto the back of his gearbox.
"Christian pitted earlier and he was really quick," said Bianchi. "We had a small fight which was quite good, really fair, and in the end I finished first so it was a good strategy."
The two circulated for a lap nose-to-tail, Bianchi looking as if he might be able to make his car wide enough to prevent Vietoris from passing on the still partly-wet track. However, at Luffield Vietoris saw an opportunity, and grasped it with both hands, pulling ahead of Bianchi on the exit.
I just saw the replay a few minutes ago, and it looks quite good on TV as well!
Bianchi regained the lead at Copse Corner, only to see Vietoris take it back at Stowe -- and then took it back again. The Frenchman was now determined to keep the lead, and put his foot down for a series of hot laps to gradually pull away from his rival.
At the chequered flag the difference was a much more comfortable 4.177 seconds, but that reflected more Vietoris' late-race struggle with his worn left-front tire than the tense mid-race battle that had determined the outcome.
In the end, though, Vietoris had to hold off the charging Ericsson and, behind him, Romain Grosjean, who came through from 13th on the grid to finish fourth. Less than 1.5 seconds covered second through fourth.
Bird finished fifth, five seconds behind Grosjean, allowing the latter to build up his championship lead as van de Garde finished back in eighth place. Grosjean still leads, then, now by 40 points to van de Garde's 34, with Bird at 31 and Davide Valsecchi -- who finished 15th and out of the points -- at 30 points.
Van de Garde's eighth place will give him pole position for tomorrow's second race, though, given GP2's inverted race grid. Coletti will start alongside him, with Clos and Bird on second row of the grid.