Britain's Jolyon Palmer scored his second win in the GP2 Series on Saturday, after an extended battle with Marcus Ericsson was finally resolved in the Carlin drivers favour - but not before a spellbinding ten-lap epic duel between the two experienced racers.
It hadn't exactly looked like it had been going Palmer's way on qualifying 24 hours previously, which had left him starting the Hungary feature race from seventh place on the grid with a lot of ground to make up. Nerves were hardly helped by an aborted start triggered by Daniël de Jong and Dani Clos stalling on the grid - and Trident's Ricardo Teixeira managing to stall even before making it to the grid.
But finally at the second time of asking the Saturday feature race finally got underway in the searing heat of the Hungaroring, beginning with with a terrible start for pole man Tom Dillmann whose Russian Time car simply filed to engage once the lights went out.
That gave an opening for Palmer's Carlin team mate Felipe Nasr to fly off the second row of the grid and into the lead by the first corner ahead of Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer. Palmer managed to slip around the outside to take third position, while the DAMS pair of Marcus Ericsson and Stéphane Richelmi both managed squeeze out the stuttering Dillmann who suddenly found himself left in sixth place and in a fierce battle with his own team mate Sam Bird - at least until Bird was bumped down to eighth by a smooth move from Alexander Rossi in the Caterham.
Further back the tight and twisty circuit there were several minor incidents, including Stefano Coletti making contact with Barwa Addax's Jake Rosenzweig which forced the Rapax car into pit lane for repairs. Also caught out was Jon Lancaster who was sent for a spin on the opening lap and who consequently dropped to 23rd place by the time he was able to recover.
Up front, Nasr had opened up a two second gap over Leimer but it was Ericsson who was flying and setting the fastest laps at this stage, quickly passing Palmer for third place and setting his sights on running down Leimer only to find his DAMS suddenly suffering from significant understeer. That forced Ericsson to join the growing number of drivers making very early pit stops: he came in for a change to the medium compound tyres at the end of lap 7. A slow stop saw him fall back to 15th place ahead of the other drivers on a similar early-stop strategy, including Calado, Rossi, Bird, Dillmann and Nathanael Berthon.
Nasr and Leimer held out until the end of lap 8 before coming in, and when they came out Nasr emerged just ahead of Ericsson - who took advantage of having tyres already at operating temperature to run around the outside of the Carlin with such a phenomenal speed differential that he nearly flew off the track, but the Swede held it together and completed the move. That gave him the effective lead among those to have made their stops, albeit in seventh place on the timing screens until such time as those ahead of them came cycled through the pit lane for their own mandatory stops.
Having started on medium compound tyres, Palmer was now in the lead with an impressive ten second margin over Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Mitch Evans. Palmer stayed out until lap 17 before pitting, but hadn't been able to stretch out enough of a margin in the meantime to stay ahead of Ericsson when he emerged neck-and-neck with the DAMS after his stop. Palmer tried to get the position back next time by with a banzai pass, but unlike Ericsson's earlier effort on Nasr this one didn't stick - Palmer overcooked it slightly and took to the run-off, allowing Ericsson the opportunity to calmly reclaim control.
Another attempt at the turn 1 hairpin on lap 23 saw Palmer lock up and run wide again just when he seemed to have clinched the deal, allowing Ericsson to retrieve the situation a second time, despite alerting his DAMS pit crew to problems with his gearbox. Ericsson remained impressively calm over the course of what proved to be a thrilling ten-lap dogfight, until ultimately the fresher tyres on the Carlin made a crucial difference and on lap 28 the imbalance finally proved too great for Ericsson to hold off Palmer any longer - although it still took Palmer a thrilling three-corner wheel-to-wheel white-knuckle ride to finally secure the position.
Palmer still wasn't able to claim the actual race lead until the end of lap 30 when Simon Trummer became the final driver to pit from the front and rejoin in seventh place. By this point Palmer's lead over Ericsson had eased out to more than eight seconds and the Swede was now under intense pressure from Palmer's team mate Felipe Nasr for the second spot, a Carlin looking one-two very much on the cards. Just as he had with Palmer, Ericsson pulled out all the stops to stay ahead and as the laps ticked away Nasr was consistently frustrated, until finally he was forced to settle for third place on the podium after all.
Behind this absorbing battle, Leimer was strangely passive and unable to make an impression as he calmly worked his way into a fourth place finish, while Stephane Richelmi finished in fifth ahead of late stoppers Trummer and Evans. Narrowly holding off James Calado for eighth place- and crucially the sprint race pole under reverse grid conditions - was Nathanael Berthon, and rounding out the top ten at the chequered flag was Sam Bird, who struggled on worn tyres in the final laps after having been forced into one of the earliest pit stops.
Significantly in the championship stakes, the first lap clash with Rosenzweig meant points leader Stefano Coletti finished outside the top ten despite setting the fastest lap later in the run. Rosenzweig meanwhile ended his day in the barriers after running off four laps shy of the finish.
Also in the wars was Johnny Cecotto Jr., who shattered his front wing in a late midfield move on Tom Dillmann. He was also handed a drive-thru penalty which put him back out on track right in the middle of the late stages of the Ericsson/Nasr battle, and despite being a lap down the Venezuelan insisted on forcing his way past the pair as onlookers feared he could spark another incident at any moment. Fortunately Ericsson decided discretion was the better part of valour and let the Arden get past before things got out of hand.
Jon Lancaster's race effectively ended in some ignominy when a dive-bomb move down the inside of Caterham's Sergio Canamasas resulted in front wing damage to both cars. The incident was marked for post-race scrutiny by the stewards - who also decided that Ericsson should be investigated for forcing Nasr outside track limits during their pitched battle. That means that once again the race results are under threat of being re-written overnight.See full feature race results