CLICK: Full GP3 race 1 results from Autodromo Nazionale Monza
After a disappointing run of mid-season performances that have seen him fall away from Alex Lynn in the GP3 championship battle with only seven points won from the last seven races combined, Koiranen GP's Jimmy Eriksson finally recaptured some of that early form this weekend at Monza. He held off pressure early and late in the race from ART's Dino Zamparelli to take his first podium finish in the series since he took his maiden race win at Silverstone at the start of July.
Eriksson was nicely set-up for the race by having earlier won pole position for the first 17-lap race, and when the lights went out for the start of the race Eriksson got a solid start and held off Zamparelli into the first chicane. Zamparelli wasn't giving up easily, however, and continued to exert pressure on the race leader through the Curva Grande before finally being forced to settle for second place.
Behind them everyone had made it through the first corners, although Marussia Manor Racing's Dean Stoneman had steamed into the back of ART's Marvin Kirchhöfer and pile-drived them both through Rettifilo, and several cars including championship leader Alex Lynn and Status GP's Nick Yelloly had lost multiple positions after being forced to overshoot the chicane in the melee.
Yelloly's team mate Richie Stanaway then had a scary moment through Roggia which saw him only just able to save the car from a high speed crash after putting two wheels onto the grass. He returned to the track but ended up making contact with Pal Varhaug as the Jenzer Motorsport car sought to take advantage of Stanaway's loss of momentum, the tap sending Varhaug spinning out into retirement in the gravel at Lesmo.
Varhaug was soon joined on the sidelines by Sebastian Balthasar (Hilmer Motorsports) who had wrecked his suspension after rear-ending the Koiranen GP car of Santiago Urrutia and getting launched into the air by the kerbing at the first chicane on lap 3, after the two came up on the aftermath of an earlier messy collision between Alex Fontana (ART) and Luca Ghiotto (Trident).
Despite the proliferation of incidents, the track marshalls kept the race going under waved yellows and avoided calling out the safety car, which meant that Eriksson was able to pull out a one second lead over Zamparelli. In the meantime, Arden's Robert Visoiu had made up four places to move into third place with a pass on Kirchhöfer through the first chicane on lap 4. Behind them, Emil Bernstorff (Carlin) was up to fifth place ahead of Stoneman and his Marussia Manor team mate Patrick Kujala, with Lynn having stabilised in eighth place ahead of Matheo Tuscher (Jenzer). Yelloly meanwhile had ended up dropping from third on the grid to now running in tenth place, one of the biggest falls in the opening lap.
The waved yellow flags out for the early race incidents were bound to catch someone out, and it was Visoiu who drew the short straw and was duly handed a drive-through penalty for his move on Kirchhöfer. That dropped him from third place all the way to 19th, as a side effect promoting Richie Stanaway back into the points positions after his earlier off-roading experiences. Making it worse for the New Zealander with regards to the GP3 title stakes was the news that championship leader Lynn had now managed to picked up an extra position with a slingshot move on Kujala at the Curva Grande for sixth place with four laps to go.
Time was running out for Stanaway to pick his way forward by the additional two places he needed to take pole for Sunday morning's race 2, which was now in the hands of Tuscher. Stanaway was at least able to pick up an extra place with a last lap move on his team mate Yelloly, but Tuscher himself remained stubbornly just out of reach meaning that Stanaway's work on Sunday will be all that much harder.
Eriksson meanwhile had managed to pull out a two second lead over Zamparelli by the middle of the race, only for the ART man to make a concerted effort to cut that gap down again over the closing stages. He duly managed to do so, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process and managing to get within six tenths of the leader before he finally ran out of time and the chequered flag came out to confirm Eriksson's lights-to-flag victory.
Joining the pair on the podium was Zamparelli's ART team mate Marvin Kirchhöfer, with Bernstorff just missing out in fourth ahead of Stoneman who had held on under heavy pressure from Lynn, who had to be satisfied instead with sixth place. Finishing in seventh was Patrick Kujala, who will therefore join Tuscher on the front row of the grid for Sunday's race 2 which gets underway at 9.25am (8.25am BST), followed by the 21-lap GP2 sprint race 2 at 10.35am (9.35am BST). Both races will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1.
In the championship standings, Lynn now has a 38 point lead over Stanaway, with Eriksson popping back up to third place ahead of Bernstorff, a further nine points back heading into Sunday's race.
See full GP3 race 1 results from Autodromo Nazionale Monza