Nancy Knapp Schilke, GP2 Correspondent
Bad luck for early leader Leimer
Esteban Gutiérrez will celebrate his second GP2 Series Feature race win, but not for long as he and his fellow competitors had a late start today due to the heavy rain at the Silverstone Circuit. Tomorrow morning will come early as the Sprint race is in the morning preceding the FIA Formula One race. Johnny Cecotto finished second, and no doubt he wishes he had been behind early leader Fabio Leimer to inherit the top spot for the win. Jolyon Palmer placed third in front of his British fans at his home race.
“Today it was very tricky conditions in the beginning, and of course it was very important to avoid any mistakes on that side, and then after that a good strategy. I think that worked today,” said Gutiérrez. “I was just trying to enjoy the car, because in these conditions it's really interesting, and a big pleasure to drive the car like this.”
He went on to say, “We definitely need to use this good energy, these good results, to keep the motivation high, but of course we cannot get confident about this: it's important to just keep cold headed, to try to get the most of each opportunity that comes in front of us.”
Like qualifying yesterday, the ever changing weather in Northamptonshire, UK, played a factor in the early stages of today’s race. Instead of the usual standing start, the field was under the control of the Safety Car due to the standing water on the circuit. Losing their place in the running order to make their mandatory pit stop on lap six were DAMS drivers’ Felipe Nasr and Davide Valsecchi. Scuderia Coloni Stefano Coletti also did the dive into the pitlane – all three were part of the five who were handed down penalties after Friday’s practice and qualifying rounds – indicating they had nothing to lose when the field went green.
Once they were let loose, pole winner Fabio Leimer did not hesitate to maintain the lead as they headed into the first turn. Following the Racing Engineering’s driver was Barwa Addax Team’s Cecotto and Palmer in his iSport International car. Behind the three were Lotus GP teammates’ Gutiérrez and James Calado.
It quickly became a train for the top five but behind them was a battle between Luiz Razia and Max Chilton and to their surprise up came Nigel Melker in his Ocean Racing Technology car – all three focused on their own fight – by the end of the lap, Melker held sixth.
The Swiss driver was again dominate, and like he did in qualifying on the wet circuit yesterday, Leimer put down one fast lap after the other to build a gap over his rivals, which he explained “during the first laps I looked for the limit of the car and track. Then I saw that the others were a bit slower than me and I started to save my tyres. But I was still fast, consistent and opened a bigger and bigger gap to the cars behind me.”
On lap 15, Gutiérrez dived into the pits to change to a new set of the Pirelli tyres, and even though he returned in 12th, that move aided his chance to take the victory. His teammate Calado pitted on the following lap followed two laps later by Palmer; however the Briton had bad luck because when he exited Calado was stalled at the exit of pitlane and his car had to be removed which brought out the Safety Car.
All went really well until the Safety Car was deployed.
That opened the door for the rest of the field to enter the pits for their tyre changes. The leader, Leimer, had already been picked up by the Safety Car and had to wait another for another time to make his pit stop. Sitting behind the Swiss driver was the Mexican!
Leimer stated: “All went really well until the Safety Car was deployed. This was a really strange Safety Car as there wasn't really a dangerous situation and Calado stopped his car on the inside of turn 1, which is not really a dangerous area.” He was obviously unhappy and added, “With the safety car being called 10 seconds earlier, there would have been no problem at all, but like this my race was over as all others had the chance to do their mandatory pit stop.”
The field was again released to battle it out but again the Safety Car was dispatched. This time the culprit was Coletti who elected to take on slicks, and ended up going for a spin.
Leimer had no choice but to pit and knew with only a few minutes remaining that the potential victory was lost. “There were not many laps left after this, so, even though I pushed, there was little more I could do,” he said.
Gutiérrez ended up with a gift thanks to the Safety Car, but he held off Cecotto in the final laps.
Cecotto commented, “In the last 2 laps at the restart I was really close to Esteban and I had better tyres, so I really thought I could overtake him: when we came out of the first sector I was really close to him, and coming into the second sector there was some new kind of safety car panels on, and I thought 'oh, they've had another crash and the race is finished', so I lifted a little because there was no point to push like crazy, and 2 corners later there were green flags! So Esteban got a few seconds ahead, and that was it: the last lap it was impossible to regain that.”
Palmer had a battle with Melker but to the cheers of his homeland fans, the Briton took the final podium step. “Starting P3 and finishing P3: I'll take that!” Palmer smiled.
“ It was a tricky race because of the difficult conditions, and in the end as it started to dry out we were struggling a bit more because we were set up a bit more towards the wet conditions, so in the end I was happy to see the chequered flag and take a home podium,” he added.
Melker had Razia in his mirror while he filled the mirrors of Palmer. Razia could not make the move at the end. Melker was fourth, Razia fifth. Rookie Nasr was sixth in front of his teammate Valsecchi. Placing eighth and earning the pole for Sunday’s Sprint race was Giedo van der Garde.
Valsecchi has to hope for a clean start tomorrow from the front row as the Italian lost the points lead today to Razia.