A 1-3 finish in the Hungaroring feature race, combined with a rare non-score for points leader Giorgio Pantano, has given Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna renewed hope of claiming the GP2 Series crown.
Senna has been a threat to Pantano from the start of the season, despite falling away in the title race as the Italian racked up three straight feature race wins, but Saturday's result allowed him to halve the 15-point pre-race deficit after rising from eighth to take full advantage of Pantano's misfortune.
Senna's race got off to the best possible start as he vaulted four places before the race was two corners old, crucially getting ahead of tardy polewinner Romain Grosjean where Pantano was edged back by the Frenchman. The Racing Engineering driver's next attempt to pass Grosjean and close the gap to Senna and the three cars ahead of him then ended in a spin after being clipped by the ART machine as it returned to the track after a moment at turn four.
“We made a great start and moved up," Pantano reflected, "I passed Grosjean as he made a mistake, but he hit me in the back, this caused me to spin and I found myself at the end of the field. I kept pushing, but no more was possible."
Senna, meanwhile, consolidated his position despite struggling for grip and then, benefiting from a better set of tyres, moved up to third when Vitaly Petrov retired in the pits.
“I'm really pleased with that," Senna enthused afterwards, "Eighth on the grid was my lowest starting position for a Saturday race this season – and it was probably the worst place for it to happen because this is such a tight track and overtaking is so difficult - but I got good traction off the line and was able to pick up the slipstream from at least three cars on the run down to turn one.
"I opted for the outside line and swept past Mike Conway, Giorgio Pantano and my team-mate in one move. After that, I struggled a little bit on the first set of tyres, but the team called me in at exactly the right time and the car felt much better balanced on the second set. After that, I just focused on looking after the car and keeping the tyres in good shape. It was one of those days when I simply had to get as much as I could from the race and really don't think I could have done any more.”
"Everybody was already telling me before that 'you'll have to wait for the next race' but, to be fair, I know that anything can happen - this is a difficult circuit, this is a difficult race. I just had to collect the points. I knew that Romain and Giorgio weren't in the points, so this weekend is a very important weekend for the championship. I'm closer to Giorgio.
While Senna has been an ever present towards the head of the points, however, di Grassi's rise to the role of challenger is more remarkable given that he had passed up on GP2 to become a Renault F1 development driver, and only returned to the series to replace Ben Hanley at Campos Racing from Magny-Cours. An immediate string of podiums pushed him up the points table, and victory in Hungary cemented a place in the top three for the first time this year.