Stefano Coletti has revealed that he only took his race-winning decision to switch to slicks on the grid of Sunday's GP2 Series sprint race at the very last minute.
One year on from the event that saw his final points of a frustrating 2014 campaign, the Monegasque droves brilliantly to win the second Hockenheim race in very difficult conditions, after a major change in the weekend's weather saw a rainstorm soak the track just 15 minutes before the start.
With the track already wet and rain still falling, the problem for all the teams was whether to start on wet or slick tyres - and there seemed to be no agreement amongst them as opinion remained split. Coletti, starting fifth on the grid after his fightback to fourth place in Saturday's feature race, appeared to be leaving his decision late, before bolting on slicks, while Racing Engineering team-mate Raffaele Marciello, starting 17th, went for wets.
"It was at the last moment on the grid that we decided to start on slicks,” Coletti confirmed, “We knew it was a risky decision, but I've done it in the past, so I was quite confident with this choice.”
As the lights went off, the cars on slicks found it very difficult to get any grip, while those with wets were able to make a much better getaway. While Marciello made an absolutely stunning start, passing cars on all sides and moving up to ninth by the first corner and seventh shortly afterwards, an on-track incident saw the safety car deployed, bunching the pack until the start of lap four.
Marciello continued his early progress, passing the similarly wet-shod Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, Nathanael Berthon and Jolyon Palmer to take fourth, before then overtaking race one winner Mitch Evans to claim third position, Coletti found himself swamped by the cars on wet tyres and, as the safety car was deployed, was down to 13th, albeit the first runner on slick tyres, which would prove to be a big advantage if the rain stopped and the track began to dry.
Marciello's progress ended just as he was passing the MP Motorsport car of Marco Sorensen, as the Dane went wide and forced the Racing Engineering car off track. Returning to the track, the young Italian found himself car stuck in sixth gear and had to return to the pits to retire.
Coletti, meanwhile, dropped back to 19th as he fought for grip but, as the rain stopped and track conditions began to improve a little, he was able to pick up speed and quickly began setting new personal fastest times. By lap eleven, many of the cars on wets began to stop to change to slicks and, on lap twelve, Coletti was up to 13th.
The safety car reappeared as several cars spun off in the still tricky conditions, promoting the remaining Racing Engineering car to eighth, and Coletti was able to make swift progress up the leaderboard, before passing Sorensen and Stoeffel Vandoorne to claim second. That became the lead of the race when erstwhile pacesetter Andre Negrão pitted, and Coletti wasted little time in building a cushion to the rest of the pack.
With Felipe Nasr up to second, and setting very similar times, he could not afford to relax but, as the pair swapped fastest laps, the gap remained at a second entering the final lap, and Coletti was able to hold on to claim his, and the Racing Engineering team's, first win of the season.
“When the race started, I was a bit worried it might have still been too wet,” the Monegasque admitted, “Then the conditions changed in my favour, the track dried up and I was able to overtake all the drivers who put on slicks and won the race, as well as scoring the points for fastest lap.
“I am very happy with the results achieved this weekend, the team did a great job and I am sure we will continue like this next weekend in Hungary.”
Having overcome a relatively slow start to the year and started to pick up podium finishes in recent rounds, Coletti's success was a tonic for the Racing Engineering squad.
"It's great to finally win a race today under these challenging conditions,” sporting director Thomas Couyotopoulo conceded, “Rain just before the race complicated the strategy and the choices to make, but Stefano did a brilliant job of keeping the car on track with slicks when the track was very wet during the opening laps.
“We knew before that this would be the key point, to be able to take advantage of the conditions changing to dry. He fought from start to finish and he also achieved the fastest lap time on the last lap of the race keeping Nasr and Vandoorne under control.”