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Leimer's safety car miscue hands Gutierrez victory

7 July 2012

Fabio Leimer was on course for a dominant win at Silverstone on Saturday, having never been threatened for the lead all afternoon after starting from pole position.

With Silverstone still recovering from the soaking that had thrown F1 qualifying into complete chaos, the GP2 feature race started over two hours later than originally scheduled and even then it was run behind the safety car for seven laps, in an attempt to use the GP2 cars' wet weather tyres to start the process of clearing a drier line around the 3.66-mile circuit.

Despite the safety car, the conditions were still treacherous - as Rapax new boy Daniël de Jong found out to his cost, when the field suddenly compressed while he was unsighted by water spray from the car in front and he ended up running into the back of the Caterham of Rodolfo Gonzalez. That wrecked the front nose and wing of de Jong's car and put him out of the race, while Gonzalez's shaky rear wing was patched up and he sent back out again albeit two laps down.

Conditions were clearly improving and there were even little patches of blue sky appering overhead when the safety car was finally called in and the GP2 cars left to their own devices. DAMS realised that the mandatory stop window had already opened by this time and called in Davide Valsecchi and Felipe Nasr from the back of the field for their change of tyres and Coloni did likewise with Stefano Coletti, while at the front Fabio Leimer had the advantage of clear space and spray-free visibility to start pulling away from his pursuers.

The early laps were mainly an exercise in staying on the track and not aquaplaning off as Jolyon Palmer nearly did on lap 9, but a few brave souls saw opportunity among the hazards. The outside line at Stowe proved particularly productive for some including Giedo van der Garde, while Nigel Melker was in dazzling form and showing a wonderfully deft touch in the slippery conditions as he passed both Max Chilton and Luiz Razia in short order for sixth place n the very first green flag lap. When conditions were dryer near the end of the race, Razia would seek to take his lost position back from from the Ocean Racing car - but Melker was just able to cling on to the chequered flag and deny Razia his revenge.

At the front, though, there was no question as to who owned this race: by the midway point, Leimer had a lead of over 6s over Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Jolyon Palmer, while behind them Gutiérrez has his hands full warding off his team mate James Calado.

Gutiérrez decided to duck into the pits for his own mandatory stop on lap 15, and Calado followed suit next time around and seemed to come out behind his team mate once more. But DAMS' charging Felipe Nasr passed him, and it was clear that Calado was suffering from a gearbox problem. Inexplicably, Calado failed to pit after he completed a crawl around the circuit, only to realise his error as the car became undriveable and he was forced to pull over at pit exit instead. His race was done.

Those cars that hadn't pitted started to have flashbacks to Valencia, when Calado's own runaway win had been thwarted by an ill-timed safety car before he could come in for his mandatory pit stop. Van der Garde and Palmer were quickly in to pit lane just in case - Palmer losing a place to Gutiérrez in the process - but Leimer sailed serenely on, seemingly lulled into a fale sense of security by the couple of minutes it took race control to make their decision. But came it did: the safety car was re-deployed with 15 minutes remaining on the time-capped race, and Leimer's massive lead was history.

"This was a really strange safety car, as there wasn't really a dangerous situation and Calado stopped his car on the inside of turn 1, which is not really a dangerous area," complained Leimer after the race. "During some two laps there were yellow flags and just when I crossed the pit entry they called the safety car.

"If the safety car had been called 10 seconds earlier, there would have been no problem at all, but just like that my race was over as all others had the chance to do their mandatory pit stop," he added. "I had no possibility to react anymore. This was a strange decision as a safety car is usually deployed when it is the best to do so.

He had missed his final chance to duck into pit lane for his mandatory pit stop, while Johnny Cecotto Jr. was able to do exactly that, and return to the track in second place between Gutiérrez and Palmer. If Leimer was looking to pull out another big lead when the race went back to green flag conditions before he had to pit, that plan was also thwarted by the rapid return of the safety car: Stefano Colletti had gone for a gamble on slicks, but he soon found that this was a terrible choice when he promptly spun out at Bridge

There was now less than ten minutes remaining on the clock, and Leimer's hand was forced. He crawled into the pits for his mandatory stop, and when he emerged back on track the runaway race leader found himself in a dismal 18th position, the day ruined by the pit stop strategy fumble. Gutiérrez had inherited the lead ahead of Cecotto and Palmer, with Melker now an impressive fourth place ahead of Razia and Nasr.

"There were not many laps left after this, so, even though I pushed, there was little more I could do," said a deeply disappointed Leimer of the lost race win opportunity.

With conditions improving all the time, there were no more incidents once the track went green with only three minutes left to run, and Gutiérrez duly led the remaining distance to the green flag.

"Strategy played a big role in this race," admitted the young Mexican, who has now won two races in a row. "I'm really happy and grateful for this victory," he added.

Further back, Giedo van der Garde found himself in eighth place at just the right time to pick up the pole position for Sunday's sprint race under reversed grid conditions. Starting alongside him will be championship leader, after that early pit stop call by DAMS had salvaged a race that had begun with a back row start for the Italian following his fuel load infringement in Friday qualifying.

After the race, Daniël de Jong was handed a ten-place grid penalty for Sunday for his collision with Gonzalez, and Fabio Onidi had 30s added to his time after the race for overtaking under safety car conditions, which dropped him down to 22nd place in the results.

Full feature race results available.


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