Championship leader Luca Ghiotto successfully secured his second GP3 victory at the Hungaroring on Saturday afternoon, in a race that was by no means easy for the Trident driver but which saw him impressively able to contain the threat posed by Esteban Ocon from the moment that the lights went out until the chequered flag dropped 40 minutes later.
CLICK: Full GP3 Saturday afternoon race 1 results from the Hungaroring.
Ghiotto had managed to edge out Arden's Emil Bernstorff for pole position in qualifying earlier in the day, leaving the second row as an all-ART affair comprised of team mates Esteban Ocon and Marvin Kirchhöfer and row three a similarly homogenous affair consisting of two of the Koiranen GP cars driven by Jimmy Erikkson and Matt Parry. Rounding out the top eight on the grid waiting for the lights to go out for the 22-lap race 1 were Campos Racing's Álex Palou and Antonio Fuoco in the highest-starting Carlin.
Ghiotto managed to get away cleanly and moved over to block any plans that Bernstorff might have had in mind about striking in the run down to turn 1. That gave Ocon the opportunity to strike and take second place from Bernstorff through the opening sequence of corners. The feisty Frenchman looked set to mount a challenge for the lead on lap 2, but he would have to wait as the safety car had been scrambled after an incident in the final corner between Campos Racing's Zaid Ashkanani and Carlin's Jann Mardenborough which saw the Kuwaiti driver run into the back of the Briton and mount the back of the #2, shearing off its rear wing in the process.
Once Mardenborough's car and detachable wing had been retrieved, the race restarted on lap 6 with Ghiotto able to ensure he retained the lead from Ocon and Bernstorff. However Kirchhöfer was immediately on the attack and quickly managed to force his way past for third place, leaving Bernstorff with his hands full holding off Parry, Eriksson and Arden's Kevin Ceccon who had managed to squeeze ahead of Fuoco for seventh. Missing from the line-up was Palou who had been forced to make an early unscheduled pit stop for repairs after jostling on the opening lap.
After this early flurry of excitement the race settled down into a steady procession for a spell as the drivers prioritised tyre conservation for the middle stint of the race. Ghiotto was able to set a fastest lap of the race up to that point to extend his lead over Ocon to over a second, but behind him the rest of the top six remained closely packed together. Ceccon in seventh appeared to lose touch with the leading pack, only to come back with his a fastest lap of his own at the midway point of the race to cut the deficit to Eriksson back to just over a second.
With six laps remaining, Ocon was given the all-clear on tyre use by the ART pit wall to put his foot down and apply pressure on the race leader - only to find Ghiotto ready and able to respond in kind and dance his way out of danger. In a similar vein, Bernstorff was determined to try and make up the positions he had lost in the opening stages of the race and applied mounting pressure all over the back of Kirchhöfer for the final podium place, only to find the German similarly able to stay tantalisingly out of reach when it really mattered. All the time, Parry was lurking behind them in fifth place, just hoping that the pair would manage to take each other out of contention and leave him with the spoils instead.
Further down the running order there were signs that tyre wear was becoming an increasingly important factor, with Mathéo Tuscher submitting his Jenzer Motorsport team mate Ralph Boschung to a bruising side-by-side pass for 11th position on lap 18. That killed Boschung's momentum and made him easy prey for Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris to get around a couple of corners later. Tuscher meanwhile set his sights on hunting down Carlin's Mitchell Gilbert for the final points-paying position, and he just succeeded in pulling off the move in the final moments of the race.
In the end the leaders had been simply too good at managing their tyre conservation, especially after being helped by five laps of the race having been run behind the safety car. Ghiotto's lead at the line had climbed to a robust three and a half seconds over Ocon who himself had almost the same comfort margin over Kirchhöfer in third. The German was distinctly less at ease as he made it to the line just a couple of tenths ahead of Bernstorff, Parry, Eriksson and Ceccon who all arrived at the chequered flag in a congealed lump some three seconds ahead of Fuoco. The Italian teenager had been able to hold on to eighth place from the third Jenzer car driven by Pål Varhaug, which meant he would start the Sunday race 2 from pole position under reverse grid rules when it gets underway first thing on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
Ghiotto's victory along with pole and the fastest lap of the race means that he takes maximum points from the day. That helps shore up his lead over Kirchhöfer in the GP3 drivers championship, which had taken a bit of a battering last time out at Silverstone. Having come into this weekend with just five points in hand, the Trident man has now pulled out a 21 point advantage over Kirchhöfer in a single day, while Ocon in turn narrows the gap to the German to ten points in third.
See full GP3 Saturday afternoon race 1 results from the Hungaroring.