Nancy Knapp Schilke, GP2 Correspondent
Max Chilton ran away with today’s GP2 Series Feature Race in Budapest on the Hungaroring circuit; taking his maiden series career win from the pole. The two rivals fighting for the championship points lead ended second and third as they were no match for the Carlin Englishman. Davide Valsecchi finished second for the DAMS team followed by Arden International’s Luiz Razia.
“I'm absolutely over the moon: for it to come like that, in the feature race with the pitstop, it was ideal. I had the best start I think I've ever had,” said Chilton. “The car was absolutely brilliant - I never really had any problems. I didn't want to pull a bigger gap and ruin my tyres and be stuck at the end, so I just kind of kept that half a second or second gap as long as I could. Davide made that a bit tight at the end [laughs], but I pulled away when needed, and it was a dream comes true at the end.”
Chilton did not hesitate when the lights went out as he powered into turn one, holding off Valsecchi who was right on his tail. Following behind were Razia and Jolyon Palmer, and they were side-by-side fighting for the position heading into the first turn. The iSport International driver lost the battle, and Razia was free to apply pressure to Valsecchi. In the meantime, Chilton was able to open a gap.
Razia ended up having to watch his own mirrors as he had a close call when Lotus driver Esteban Gutiérrez suddenly was behind him and a tap occurred, but the Brazilian held it together and continued to chase his Italian rival. The slight touch between Gutiérrez and Razia allowed James Calado to close in on his Mexican teammate, and take fourth out of his hands on the next lap.
The rest of the field was now closing in on Gutiérrez but he was not giving them any room and was holding up the pack so Palmer, Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer, and Felipe Nasr for the DAMS team elected to dive into pit lane early for new tyres. Following those three on lap 12 were Razia, Calado, and Caterham Racing’s Giedo van der Garde. That then forced the hand of the leader Chilton and second place Valsecchi. It also gave Gutiérrez the lead.
The Mexican elected to start on the Pirelli prime tyres, along with a few others; while most of the field was on the supersofts. The order had changed with Stefano Coletti, Julian Leal, Simon Trummer, Nigel Melker and Stéphane Richelmi now following Gutiérrez, but they needed to take the mandatory stop for tyres. The pressure was on as the two early leaders were right behind the group that had yet to pit.
When Gutiérrez decided to pit on lap 22, Coletti followed suit, Leal and Trummer were under pressure, but they were in their own fight and eventually Arden’s Trummer made the pass on the Trident Racing driver. Leal continued to feel the pressure of Chilton, Valsecchi and Razia, and Leal ended letting the three fight for the victory by entering the pits.
The time spent behind Leal caused the eventual winner some heat stopping moments. Chilton explained, “There was one time coming down the front straight, I had a good run on him [Leal] and a good tow but I think they were running less downforce, and he started to pull away again into braking zone, and I was in the marbles: I had to brake earlier and he shut the door, so that made it into turn 2 very close. I had Davide around the outside, Razia was attacking Valsecchi, and it was all a bit up in arms for a good lap! It all settled down when he finally peeled in.”
In the press conference, Valsecchi could not resist saying “You almost crashed with him when he pitted in...” to which Chilton said: Yeah! He left it really late to pit: he went left and then shot right, and I was very happy when he did that [laughs] but it would have been nice if he did it 2 or 3 laps before!”
Once the Briton finally had the lead back in his hands, he knew he had to maintain a pace and hold off any moves by Valsecchi. The Italian was not going to settle for second without a good fight. Chilton hung on to score his first win in GP2. Valsecchi lost by a slight margin of 0.628 seconds. Razia was not far behind for the final podium step. Calado placed fourth followed by van der Garde. Palmer was sixth.
“It was not so easy to have the space to overtake, and it was really risky! I risked a bit at the moment when I had the fight with Razia: he had to find a way to overtake me when we were in the battle, but in the end I saved the position so all was clear. I had the speed to win, to stay with the leader, so I was happy: it was not easy to overtake because Chilton was so fast today, the fastest for sure in the first stint, and in the end I finished close to him but it was not enough Chilton and Carlin were too good today, and I congratulate them,” Valsecchi said.
Razia commented: “I was not conservative and was attacking all the time: I had Calado behind me so I had to keep attacking, because attack is the best form of defence. One time I could go to overtake Davide and I did, but unfortunately at corner 2 I was squeezed, but the only chance I had I did it. I'm very pleased with that, and the whole race I think was very close: the 3 cars had an equal pace; we finished the race with 1.2 seconds between the 3 drivers, so it was very close. It was very fair from Davide not push me off the track, and it's good to have drivers who fight in a fair way: it's really pleasant.”
The race ended on a note of despair for Barwa Addax Team’s Josef Kral, who was on his way to a seventh place finish when one of those mechanical gremlins struck, and his race was over. Berthon moved up to seventh, and was under pressure from Nasr. The battle for the two front rows on the inverted grid for Sunday’s Sprint Race was interesting; especially when the rookie Nasr who had eighth ran into the turn one wall. He would have had the pole. That left Leimer, Gutiérrez, and Coletti for the coveted eighth place finish. On the final lap, the Mexican found his way past Leimer to nail down the pole for tomorrow’s race. Leimer finished ninth followed by Coletti, who took the final point position placement.
The grid could change depending on any penalties that the GP2 officials might yet announced.
The points spread for the title fight between Razia and Valsecchi is only five! Razia holds the points lead and when asked about Sunday morning’s Sprint Race, he said, “We can expect a good start [laughs], try to take some places and see how it goes: it's going to be difficult for Max on the super softs [laughs], but for me and Davide we'll see: we have the new primes, save the tyres, and then push.”