James Calado has had more than his fair share of bad luck in his rookie season, which has seen seemingly-certain victories slip through his fingers for a variety of reasons largely out of his control. But not today.
The Lotus GP driver was in no mood for a repeat of any such disappointment this weekend at Hockenheim, having fought back on Saturday from his ten-place grid penalty for causing a collision at Silverstone to start this week's sprint race from pole position. As the lights went out he pulled off a perfect start, then was able to control a subsequent early restart allowing him to gradually pulled away from Caterham's Giedo van der Garde to bring home a seemingly easy, trouble-free sprint race victory on Sunday morning.
"To finally get back to the front, where I belong, and start winning races again is a privilege," said Calado from the podium, giving full credit to the Lotus GP team that has given him an "unbelievable" car with "unreal" speed.
The driver who should have been his main threat for the top step of the podium, Arden's Luiz Razia, counted himself out of the running with a poor start off the line that allowed him to get pushed wide through turn 1 by Giedo van der Garde which broke his momentum and cost him multiple positions.
He compounded the problem with a spin on the very first lap that completely wrote off his race prospects. Razia had found himself running through the Parabolika not only behind Calado and van der Garde, but also behind DAMS' Felipe Nasr, Barwa Addax's Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer who had all streamed past Razia and Nigel Melker at the start.
Going into the hairpin, van der Garde, Nasr and Cecotto were running three wide: Nasr briefly took over second spot and Leimer was able to take advantage of the switchback to slip past Cecotto for fourth. Immediately behind Leimer, Razia tried going right round the outside of the trio - only to put his back wheel onto the rumble strip marking the edge of the track. The tyre lost traction and the back end of the Arden spun around, leaving Razia broadside on to the oncoming traffic. Tom Dillmann had no where to go, and while he was able to stop without running into the side of Razia he paid for it when the back of the Rapax was run into by Max Chilton, whose Carlin rode right up onto the back of Dillmann's car and remained stuck there as the rest of the field picked their way around the incident.
Razia was able to get underway again, but was now down in 21st place; meanwhile the race stewards needed some time to disentangle Dillmann and Chilton's cars. Van der Garde had just managed to nose in front of Nasr to reclaim second spot when the brief safety car period was activated.
Once underway again, Calado quickly pulled out a one second lap over van der Garde, and while the Dutch driver initially held on with some impressive laps of his own gradually his challenge faded, and the Briton would go on to pull out nearly eight seconds over his competition by the end of the 27 lap race, in what would have been a welcome 'dull' morning at the office from his vantage point in the cockpit.
Felipe Nasr was unable to stay with the leading duo, but was in turn not under any strong challenge from Leimer - who in any case had his attention focussed on the rear view mirrors which were full of Cecotto, who was conspicuously fast in the early laps having been able to save his soft option tyres for use on Sunday. However he was unable to convert that superior grip into a lasting pass on the Racing Engineering car and instead left himself open to a strike from Esteban Gutiérrez in the Lotus GP out of the hairpin on lap 11. Cecotto's tyre performance dropped off after this, leaving him sinking backwards into the chasing chasing back which was being increasingly backed up by Ocean Racing car of Nigel Melker.
While Melker had been one of the class acts in the changeable conditions on Saturday afternoon, in the dry and sunny sprint race he was finding it difficult going. Behind him, Josef Kral was clearly faster but Melker defended for all he was worth (including what looked at times to be more than just the one permitted defensive move) and the Barwa Addax was increasingly frustrated in its attempts to find a way past. Behind them, more cars started to close up behind the bottleneck: Stefano Coletti, Jolyon Palmer and Nathanael Berthon were joined in their increasingly packed jostling for by Davide Valsecchi, who had started from 13th place after a poor feature race and had not been able to make much progress in order to allow him to take advantage of his chief title rival Razia's early misfortune.
Valsecchi's day took another hit when he received a slight touch on his rear right wheel from Palmer into the hairpin on lap 17 and spun the car in a fair facsimile of Razia's first lap incident. That dropped the DAMS down multiple positions and ironically saw him rejoin right in front of Razia, ensuring that neither of the championship leaders would score points in today's race. However, Valsecchi's heated charge through the field in the remaining ten laps saw him recover to ninth place by the end - just one spot outside the points - and suggested that without that spin he would have been able to take advantage of other drivers' worn tyres in the final laps to get into the top eight.
After that first lap incident that removed Dillmann and Chilton, and a late-race self-inflicted spin for Ocean Racing's Victor Guerin at the chicane from which the Brazilian was able to rejoin, the only retirement of the day proved to be Venezuela GP Lazarus' Giancarlo Serenelli. He had a strange and scary accident on lap 18 when the car went off at high speed at turn 12, across the gravel and into a hard hit with the tyre wall. A woozy Serenelli had to be supported as he walked away from the wreck, but he seemed to have escaped any serious injury and the incident didn't bring out another safety car in the meantime.
It did however bring out the local waved yellows for an extended period at a key overtaking point on the entry into the stadium section, which forced drivers to lift off and not gain positions on that part of the circuit. That came at a particularly frustrating moment for Kral on his latest attempt to get past the intransigent and increasingly off-pace Melker with seven laps to go, but Kral did the correct thing and lifted off - only to end up shuffled down three positions for his troubles, with the pass by Coletti in particular and possibly also the ensuing one by Palmer looking close to being overtaking under yellows, which the race stewards said that they would review after the race.
Kral would end up a disappointing 15th place in the end after minor contact with Racing Engineering's Nathanael Berthon dropped him down the order as everyone struggled with now-badly worn tyres. Valsecchi was an exception, and the Kral/Berthon crash allowed both him and Marcus Ericsson to make up two places in one corner. However, Ericsson then ran wide down into the stadium complex and nearly crashed into the side of Berthon as he attempted to maintain his position by returning to the track at high speed, which instead saw him sail off into the gravel once again and pick his way back for a lowly 17th place.
Calado was already across the finish line ahead of Giedo van der Garde and Felipe Nasr as Esteban Gutiérrez launched his increasingly trademark last-lap assault on the car ahead - in this case, Fabio Leimer in fourth place. Despite the Lotus looking the faster car, Leimer skilfully parried the Mexican's moves and this time Gutiérrez decided that discretion was the better part of valour and decided not to risk an accident or a penalty like the one he received after the Sulverstone sprint, backing off to follow Leimer to the line.
As the champagne flowed on the podium, the celebrating teams were already starting to pack up: it's only five days before they have to be set up and ready to head out on track at Hungary, in one of the shortest turnarounds of the year. That will give Razia and Valsecchi a chance to get over a disappointing time of it in Germany and carry on their GP2 championship battle with just four weekends remaining in the 2012 season.
Full sprint race results