By David C. Schilke
Romain Grosjean is picking up right where he left off after winning the GP2 Asia Series Championship earlier this year. In the first round for the main series the Frenchman led off the start line in pole and never lost the advantage through a safety car restart and pit stop. Yet it was not smooth sailing for the DAMS driver, Sam Bird was able to match the champ’s pace and kept the pressure on to the end.
"I'm delighted to start the championship with a victory,” smiled Grosjean. “The team and I have done a lot of work since the Asian GP2 Series to find the right solutions. It was a very interesting race that helped us to progress. Bravo to everybody and it's up to us to keep up the good work."
I'm delighted to start the championship with a victory.
Off the line Grosjean had no problems controlling the field but the standing start lead to chaos further behind. Max Chilton was tagged out by Fabio Leimer, who ended up rolling over the Carlin driver. Behind Esteban Gutierrez and Kevin Mirocha got together, with Gutierrez suffering the worse end of the deal and retired on the spot. Mirocha would finish the race but was not classified in the running.
“I had the inside line, and thought I was in a good position when I was suddenly aware of two white cars heading towards me,” explained Chilton. “I thought someone was going to hit me and then I felt a big impact to my rear left which must have been Fabio [Leimer]. Then I spun round and could see Fabio rolling, before my car came to a rest on the side of the track.”
At the restart. once again Grosjean was away while Bird made his move for second around Dani Clos. The pair would streak away leaving third a battle between the rest of the pack. Bird would go on to gain the extra point for fastest lap but a slower pitstop caused him to miss a chance for the lead.
“I overcooked my pitstop position by about half a meter,” said Bird in the press conference, “which cost me about two seconds in the pitstop: Romain came out about 7.5 seconds in the lead, and he was only about 4 seconds down the road when we pitted, so if I hadn't have done that maybe it would have been a bit closer a bit earlier, when my tyres were a bit fresher. But who knows: all I know is it's a good way to start the year."
Luca Filippi fought his way back into third but was soon taken out by Johnny Cecotto during the pitstop window. That left Clos back into third but Jules Bianchi would later charge past Giedo van der Garde and Clos for the final podium position.
“I used my tyres a bit too much on this first lap, so it was not an easy race: I did some good moves but anyway we finished third, so it's a good way to start the championship,” said Bianchi.
Van der Garde would finish fourth, followed by Stefano Coletti. The last three points positions would go to Luiz Razia, Charles Pic with Clos finishing in eighth after falling behind.
With the top eight inverted for tomorrow’s sprint race, Clos will have a chance at redemption by starting on pole with Pic alongside. Grosjean is already 3 points clear leading the championship but if Bird has a better Sunday the points lead might even out heading out of the season opener.