CLICK: Full results from GP3 race 1 at Spa-Francorchamps
Dean Stoneman picked up victory for Marussia Manor Racing in the Saturday GP3 race at Spa-Francorchamps, but it was under unusually confused circumstances when it turned out that no one quite knew when the racing should end.
The race was initially scheduled for 13 laps, but one lap was deducted from the distance when the initial start was aborted after Marvin Kirchhöfer spun out in on the run up to Eau Rouge after the ART hit a patch of water on a track that was still drying after the downpour it had received during the earlier GP2 event.
Kirchhöfer had already been under investigation by the race officials after the team was late making its call to start the race on slick tyres. The field had been split down the middle on whether slicks or wet tyres were the right way to go, but the delay caused by the aborted start allowed the track to continue drying out and when the race did finally get underway more teams had shifted to dry weather tyres. Championship leader Alex Lynn was among three drivers who had stayed on wet tyres for the formation lap who immediately realised their error and pitted before the start, opting to join the race from pit lane instead.
At least that meant they missed out on a first corner accident at La Source caused by Patric Niederhauser flying down the inside line in the Arden and finding himself unable to stop until he ploughed into the side of the Jimmy Eriksson in the Koiranen GP, putting both men out of the race. Also out of the race early was Marussia Manor's Patrick Kujala who spun into the barriers at Paul Frere on the first lap.
A slow start from pole winner Luca Ghiotto (Trident) allowed Carlin's Emil Bernstorff to take the initial lead, but both men were among those still on wet tyres. Bernstorff pitted at the end of the first lap to change to slicks which handed the lead back to Ghiotto ahead of Jenzer Motorsport's new recruit Kevin Ceccon and Hilmer Motorsport pair Sebastian Balthasar and Nelson Mason.
It wasn't long before it became all too clear that the slick-shod pair of Matheo Tuscher (Jenzer) and Dean Stoneman were the danger men to watch out for as they cut their way through the field with alarming speed. By the time that Ghiotto finally conceded that a change of tyres was long past due, the pair had already climbed into second and third places and duly inherited the lead of the race when Ghiotto pitted at the end of lap 5.
Tuscher now found himself with a two second lead over Stoneman, with ART's Dino Zamparelli up into third place ahead of Nick Yelloly (Status GP), Jann Mardenborough (Arden), Pal Varhaug (Jenzer) and Alex Fontana (ART). Richie Stanaway was in eighth place and on course for on provisional pole for race 2 under reverse grid position, running one place ahead of Alex Lynn.
It looked as though Tuscher was set to claim his first GP3 Series win, but then it all went terribly wrong on lap 8 when he lost control into Eau Rouge. He very nearly gathered it all up again but then spun, managing to keep it off the barriers but instead rolling backwards into the middle of the track where he was lucky not to get collected by Stoneman who flashed past to claim the lead. With Tuscher unable to get going again, a safety car was needed to remove the stricken Jenzer from a perilous position.
It took a bafflingly long time to call in the safety car and get the race back underway, by which time there were only two laps remaining in the race. There was an immediate physical tussle between Fontana, Lynn and Stanaway over 6th place through La Source, with Bernstorff and Riccardo Agostini (Hilmer Motorport) quickly joining in the fracas over the final laps. The fighting was just as intense further back, as Nelson Mason ran into Ghiotto coming into Les Combes which prompted Luis Sa Silva to spin his Carlin right in the path of Balthasar.
But at the end of lap 12, it was Stoneman who crossed the line comfortably clear of Zamparelli and Yelloly. The only thing missing from the picture was the chequered flag, which had conspicuously failed to come out even though all the timing screens confirmed that the race was indeed supposed to be over. The drivers did the correct thing and continued to race until further notice, and finally race control leapt into action and threw a red mid-lap to bring the race to a conclusion.
Although the red flag prevented any dispute about the official race result - the red meaning that the times from the last completed lap would now apply - it did add to the chaos of the moment as half the field went into the pits and others lined up on the start/finish straight and needed to complete yet another lap of the circuit before they could call it a way. That was one lap too far for Luca Ghiotti's right rear tyre carcass, which made a break for the border rather than carry on.
Once the confusion was resolved, there was no doubt about the trio of British drivers standing on the podium as Stoneman was joined by compatriots Zamparelli and Yelloly while Mardenborough just missed out in fourth place. Behind Varhaug, Fontana and Stanaway, Alex Lynn claimed eighth place and pole position for Sunday's race 2 with Bernstorff and Agostini having to settle instead for the final points positions.
The final GP3 race of the weekend is on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST) and all sessions will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1
See full results from GP3 race 1 at Spa-Francorchamps