13 October 2014
GP2: Nasr, Vandoorne take second place fight to Abu Dhabi
Felipe Nasr and Stoffel Vandoorne will take a close battle over the 2014 GP2 vice-champion honours all the way to the season finale at Abu Dhabi.
The battle over this year's GP2 Series championship might have been decided this weekend at Sochi with Jolyon Palmer becoming the first British winner of the title since Lewis Hamilton in 2006, but the competition over who will claim the runner-up spot is still wide open with one full weekend of racing still to go.
Carlin's Felipe Nasr came into this weekend's penultimate round in Russia with a handy 26-point lead over ART's Stoffel Vandoorne, but a disastrous Saturday in Sochi saw the Brazilian finish out of the points which not only meant that he had to concede the title to Palmer, but that Vandoorne managed to pull within ten points after taking fifth place.
The pressure was on for Nasr, and he responded to the challenge in perfect fashion with a charge from 12th position on the grid to finish in third place at the end of the Sunday sprint race. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, the man one step ahead of him on the podium for the post-race celebrations was Vandoorne, which means that the Belgian took another two points out of Nasr's lead in the standings.
"To get third place from 17th on the grid during the Sprint race is an achievement," insisted Nasr. "But of course it doesn't go anywhere near making up for the massive disappointment of [missing out on the title.]
"We made some changes to the car [before the sprint race] and the pace was better today which was encouraging," he added. "I'm just looking forward to Abu Dhabi now and ending the season on a high."
The Williams F1 test and reserve driver goes into the final round now with just eight points in hand over Vandoorne, who himself has a similar third driver deal with the McLaren F1 team. And it's Vandoorne who seems to have the momentum behind him coming out of Sochi after a brilliant performance on Saturday despite some bad luck costing him the race win.
"We had incredible pace this weekend and that's a great feeling," he said. "I think the feature race was the best of my career."
Without doubt Vandoorne was the fastest man on track that day, but the timing of a safety car meant that he received the call over the team radio to pit too late. Rather than risk incurring a penalty by cutting across blend line marking the entry onto pit lane, he was forced to stay out while the rest of the leaders all took the opportunity to dive the pits for their mandatory change of tyres.
Vandoorne had to stay out and try and build up enough of a lead at the front to give himself time for a green flag pit stop later in the race. Even though he managed to pull out more than 16 seconds over the rest of the field by the time he came in with four laps remaining, it was still only enough to get him back out in fifth place.
"To be hit with such bad luck was just incredible," sighed Vandoorne. "I felt sorry for the team because I wanted to hand them this win, especially after what happened in Japan," he added, referring the terrible crash for Jules Bianchi who had been a longtime part of the ART organisation before his move to F1.
Fifth place might have been less than Vandoorne deserved, but the reverse grid rules put him in a good position to fight for the sprint race win the following day. He was immediately up into the top three and picked up another position when Trident's Sergio Canamasas retired with mechanical issues mid-race. However, despite once again being much faster and able to apply heavy pressure to race leader Marco Sorensen, Vandoorne couldn't find a way around the Dane and eventually had to settle for second place at the line.
"It was a lot of fun and to be back on the podium was really good," said Vandoorne, who has picked up three wins this year at Bahrain, Hungary and Italy along with another six podium positions, including this week's in Russia.
The result means that Vandoorne has now closed dramatically in the standings behind Felipe Nasr, and just eight points separates him from claiming the runner-up position (or vice-championship) in his first season in GP2. To pull that off would surely put him on the radar for F1 team bosses looking for fresh talent for 2015, so it's most definitely a prize worth going all-out to win.
"We've been on a good flow ever since the summer break with pole positions and wins and it's always good to see that hard work bears fruit," said Vandoorne. "Let's just hope that we will have the same pace but without the bad luck in Abu Dhabi."
The matter of the runner-up spot will be decided in just under six weeks time when the Yas Marina track opens for GP2 practice and qualifying on Friday, November 21.
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