Andreas Zuber took his first GP2 Series victory in today's sprint race in Istanbul. Starting second after his seventh-place finish in yesterday's feature race, the Trident Racing snatched the lead from polesitter Xandi Negrao in the run to the first corner, and never looked back.
"I did a great start so I was able to lead the whole race," exuberant Zuber recounted after the race. "It's fantastic, even considering the great battle behind me, today nobody could have taken away the victory from my hands."
The 22-year-old Austrian was in top form throughout the race, holding off third-place started Adam Carroll after Negrao retired with steering problems. Carroll gave a strong challenge for the lead, getting close enough at times to read the serial number on Zuber's gearbox, but he could not match his adversary's speed through the corners.
"I really, really, really pushed to the absolute maximum," Carroll recalled. "You're more like you're going to go off, and I could just about creep up to the back of him, but I couldn't sustain that because I probably would have gone off. He was quicker in places and I just couldn't keep it up."
But the wild card of the race was the driving of championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Starting from seventh thanks to his second-place finish in the feature race, it all looked to be going wrong at first.
Hamilton allowed yesterday's winner and championship rival, Nelson A. Piquet, to get past him at the start, and then, as he was pressuring Piquet, he clipped a curb and spun off the track, and nine cars streamed past him, dropping him to sixteenth.
"I had an overheating engine in the beginning and I don't know if I lost focus or concentration on that trying to keep it cool," explained the Brit. "It's why I left a gap to Piquet. Then I had the spin. But it's just all hope. You know, you keep that hope inside you. You push until the end."
Indeed, the young Englishman was not about to give up the race, though, or to give up ground to Piquet in the title fight. He set about his task immediately, and fortunately the Istanbul Park circuit is well-suited to hard charging and side-by-side racing. Within five laps he had recovered to tenth, while Piquet was pressuring Timo Glock in a fight for third place. The Brazilian looked faster, but could not find a way past Glock.
And then, on lap 16, Hamilton was suddenly on Piquet's tail, and passed him for fourth place with relative ease in the final corner sequence before the start-finish-straight. It was a start contrast to Saturday, when Piquet took the victory in the feature race with a nearly 18-second margin over Hamilton.
"I think I was a bit too cautious," Piquet admitted. "Timo was aggressive because he wasn't fighting for the championship, and so for me to tackle him it would be easy for us to touch. I didn't want to risk a lot because I knew Lewis was in the back and he wasn't going to come back up. But suddenly that happened!"
The next lap was a spectacular side-by-side duel between Glock and Hamilton, with the German able to hold off Hamilton's challenge corner after corner. Piquet, who had a front-row seat to watch the fight, took advantage at the start of lap 18, nipping Hamilton into the first corner to take back fourth place.
He was not to be able to keep it, though, as Hamilton forced his way past again on the same lap, intent on a rematch with Glock. The two went another three rounds, often side-by-side, until finally on the 21st lap Lewis was able to outbrake the iSport driver at the end of the long straight to claim third.
"It was difficult because I was a lot quicker than him and he put up an awesome fight," Hamilton recounted the battle. "He just wouldn't give up that position. It was very difficult to make a move stick without touching each other and causing an accident. So with being on the very limit to pass him, I had to do it on the last corner which meant he couldn't get the exit on me and that was it."
With only two laps remaining, Hamilton was able to make up ground to Carroll, whose tires were on their last legs after his fight with Zuber, but that was all that he could do: Zuber claimed his first victory with a margin of 2.938 seconds over the Briton, with Carroll another 0.888 seconds behind in third. Glock (5.807 off Zuber's pace) and Piquet (6.749) took fourth and fifth, and were the only other drivers within ten seconds of Zuber.
For Hamilton, the second place was critical for his championship aspirations. Even with Piquet's win on Saturday, he lost only a single point on the penultimate race weekend of the season, and will arrive in Monza for the season finale 10 points clear of Piquet.
Glock is fourth in the championship and out of contention, but only four points adrift of Alexandre Premat, who finished seventh in today's race.