Max Chilton was delighted to finally claim his first win in the GP2 Series, taking victory in the Hungarian feature race after starting from pole position but being made to work for it mid-race by other cars on different tyre strategies, and at the end by a determined Davide Valsecchi.
Despite early forecasts of possible thunderstorms affecting Saturday afternoon, it proved to be a sunny and very hot start to the Hungary feature race with Carlin's Max Chilton leading Davide Valsecchi (DAMS) off the front row of the grid after Lotus GP's James Calado had been demoted to fourth place alongside iSport's Jolyon Palmer because of a practice session penalty.
Chilton got a perfect start and quickly pulled away from a sluggish Valsecchi, leading by over a second at the end of the first lap; Valsecchi had his hands full holding onto second place ahead of Arden's Luiz Razia, who had passed Palmer after surviving a turn 1 scare when his right rear wheel was hit by Esteban Gutiérrez who was busy overtaking his team mate Calado on the inside line.
Palmer had got caught up in the first corner traffic and dropped all the way back to eighth over the opening laps, but at least he was faring better than his team mate Marcus Ericsson who had failed to launch off the starting grid, or Rodolfo Gonzalez and Rio Haryanto who had collided and spun in turn 1. All three cars were eventually able to rejoin the race albeit well off the pace, with Gonzales given a drive-thru for causing the latter incident.
That was more than could be said for Johnny Cecotto Jr., whose Barwa Addax locked up and ran straight off the track into the tyre barriers at the end of turn 1 on lap 4 with what appeared like a possible stuck throttle. That brought out local waved yellows down the start/finish straight as track workers recovered Cecotto and effected repairs to the tyre wall.
Meanwhile Chilton continued to stretch out his lead over the field, with Valsecchi able to stay narrowly ahead of Razia who now had his rear view mirrors full of the Lotus of James Calado. On the softer option tyres, the British driver had quickly recovered fourth place from his team mate in turn 1 on lap 3; Gutiérrez's car was possibly also the worse for its impact with the rear of the Arden at the start, and he was made to work hard to hold on to fifth ahead of Caterham's Giedo van der Garde.
The pit window opened for the mandatory pit stops from lap 6 but none of the leaders were in a hurry to come in quite so early in a 37 lap race, although Josef Kral had clearly already had enough of the supersoft tyres and came in for a set of primes on lap 8 while running in 13th place, hoping to use the new rubber combined with clear track space to recover the lost ground.
Otherwise the race had soon settled into a "follow my leader" affair typical of Hungaroring outings, the tight and twisty circuit making it almost as difficult to pass here as it is at Monaco. Arden's Simon Trummer and Ocean Racing's Nigel Melker clashed harmlessly on lap 10 while battling over 14th place which nearly allowed Trident's Stephane Richelmi to get past them both, but in the end the nature of the track defeated even this potential moment of overtaking.
A flurry of midfielders came in for their pit stops on lap 11 led by Felipe Nasr, Jolyon Palmer and Fabio Leimer, but Nasr lost a lot of time when his rear wheels were still spinning as the mechanics tried to effect the tyre change. Next lap around it was the turn of the first of the leaders to come in, with Razia, Calado and van der Garde all pitting at the same time and then exiting in the same order in which they had come in.
Chilton and Valsecchi had to react and duly came in on lap 13, with Chilton opting for a rear-only change of medium tyres to stay in front of Valsecchi who was having to change from a full set of options to a new set of primes. That put Chilton temporarily down to seventh place, with Venezuela GP Lazarus' Sergio Canamasas getting under everyone's feet after getting himself out of position on the track because of receiving a drive-thru penalty for not respecting track limits early in the race.
Not having stopped yet, Gutiérrez was left 4s ahead of Stefano Coletti and Julian Leal a further 9s astray at the front of the field, with Trummer, Melker and Richelmi also opting to stay out ahead of Chilton. All six had started on primes and were stretching them as far as possible, which had allowed Gutiérrez to pull out a lead of almost 20 seconds over Chilton and Valsecchi at the midpoint of the race.
On lap 21, Chilton reached the tail end of the leading pack and passed Richelmi for sixth place, which seemed to ring the alarm bells for the stay-out leaders: Gutiérrez, Coletti and Melker were in next time around, and Gutiérrez exited alongside Nathanael Berthon running in 11th place down into turn 1. Despite locking up his tyres into the corner, Gutiérrez simply couldn't hold the position from the Racing Engineering car. Further back, Coletti exited in 18th place and Melker down in 22nd; however, they would at least have the benefit of far fresher rubber in the closing laps of the race, when many cars would find their own tyres dropping off the proverbial cliff.
That boosted Chilton up to third behind Trummer and Leal, and as Chilton then tried to find his way past the Trident car he was backed up into Valsecchi, Razia and Calado, causing a fierce bettle for position to break out on lap 25. Valsecchi was just able to hold out against a concerted push from Razia who tried a bold move around the outside of Valsecchi through turn 1, and Razia finally had to concede the move and found his own hands full with Calado now hustling from behind.
Leal decided discretion was the better part of valour and hit pit lane next time around, restoring the status quo between the remaining front runners by removing the opportunity that the distraction that the slower car presented. Trummer continued to stay out over 5s ahead of Chilton before the Arden pitted on lap 29.
Tyres and tempers were starting to lose their grip as the race got down to the final ten laps. There was a coming together on lap 29 for the Ocean Racing team mates Melker and Victor Guerin which had left Guerin temporarily stopped on the grass verge; while he was there, Canamasas got spun at the same corner by the Rapax of Ricardo Teixeria. Stewards investigated the incident after the race and handed Teixeira a 30-second time penalty in lieu of an in-race drive-thru.
Despite having come in much later than the leaders and switched to the grippier supersofts, Gutiérrez locked up and ran wide out of the last corner on lap 30 which allowed a hard-charging Nasr to fly past for ninth position, the Brazilian's sights clearly set on the provisional pole for the Sunday sprint race. He got it shortly afterwards when Josef Kral suddenly lost drive in seventh place and surrendered positions to both Nathanael Berthon and Nasr before heading into the pits, but then Nasr crashed out in a turn 1 run-off eerily similar to Cecotto's earlier accident into the tyre barrier at high speed.
All of that meant that Gutiérrez was now in the provisional pole position, sandwiched between the two Racing Engineering cars of Berthon in seventh and Leimer in ninth. Up ahead, the top six had remained unchanged since the pit stops had shaken out - Chilton, Valsecchi, Razia, Calado, van der Garde and Palmer - but now Valsecchi turned up the heat on the race leader and harried Chilton for all he was worth, hoping to pressure the Carlin driver into an error on the final two laps that the Italian could capitalise on.
But Chilton was resolute and kept his composure, even as they came up fast on the slow-moving backmarker Giancarlo Serenelli in the Venezuela GP Lazarus in the final corners. Another lap and things might have been different, but as it was the Briton had it covered and claimed the chequered flag at the Hungaroring by six tenths over the DAMS driver, having driven what was to all intents and purposes the perfect, error-free race from pole position.
Full feature race results