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The GP2 drivers got a real shock when they came out onto the 2.842-mile, 17-turn Hockenheim circuit on Sunday morning for the 27-lap sprint race.
Gone were the searing conditions of Friday and Saturday, and instead the morning was cool, grey - and wet. The storm clouds that had threatened to sweep over the circuit at the end of the GP3 races had finally arrived just before the GP2 cars set off the grid, and while the heavy rain didn't last long it certainly gave the track a good soaking. The question now was how long the rain would continue, and how quickly the track would now dry off again. And in the meantime, who would have the courage (and skill) to gamble on slick tyres? Julian Leal certainly had the courage, but spinning on the formation lap implied that the Carlin driver might not yet have quite the ability to match.
Those who gambled on wet tyres including polesitter Nathanael Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus) got decent drive off the line heading into turn 1, but those on slicks were initially literally spinning their wheels in pools of water before finally getting underway. An exception to the rule was Stefano Coletti, who got an excellent start despite having been among those gambling on the slicks, keeping him firmly in contention after starting from fifth place on the grid.
Once the race was underway the big early concern was the water spray which made for very limited visibility. A first turn accident was inevitable, with the rear of Stephane Richelmi's car left ablaze after contact severed fuel lines as half a dozen cars slithered into the run-off area.
The fire and oil spill from the DAMS forced a safety car in order for the safety team to clean up the mess. Berthon led the field behind the safety car while Russian Time's Mitch Evans had worked his way up to second after starting from eighth place as a result of winning the Saturday feature race; Marcus Sorensen (MP Motorsport) had quickly worked his way up from ninth place on the grid to third ahead of ART's Stoffel Vandoorne and DAMS' Jolyon Palmer.
The laps behind the safety car started to develop the first intimations of a drier line, but those on the wet tyres weren't persuaded to switch strategies and pit for slicks just yet. However when the race went back to green, Berthon found himself mugged for the lead by Evans going into turn 1. He also came out worst in a three-wide battle through the turn 6 hairpin for second place to Vandoorne and Sorensen, and then lost another place to Racing Engineering's Raffaele Marciello.
Evans' time in the lead was shortlived and he ran wide, allowing Vandoorne to go to the front ahead of Sorensen and Marciello with the Kiwi managing to rejoin the race in fourth place ahead of Palmer and Tom Dillmann (Caterham) who had now both passed Berthon. Marciello pressed Sorensen for second place only to end up being forced wide into the gravel, which left him stuck in gear and limping back to the pit lane to retire.
Vandoorne had quickly built up a two second lead over Sorensen, who in turn had six seconds in hand over Evans, Dillmann, Palmer and Rapax's Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. Evans was clearly struggling in the conditions and lost third place to Dillmann on lap 8 and then rapidly haemorrhaged further positions through the stadium complex to drop out of the top six.
Also out of the top six was championship leader Palmer who opted to pit at the end of lap 10 in order to change to slick tyres as the conditions increasingly dried up. The cost of the move was clear as Palmer emerged down in 17th position, 50 seconds off the leader, but nonetheless his lead was followed by Dillmann, Evans and Arthur Pic (Campos Racing) next time by. Dillmann gambled with a change to the short-lived soft option tyres while the others tended to the harder primes, but a spin by Pic on the cold tyres as he came out of pit lane suggested that Dillmann had it right.
Vandoorne had also pitted for slick tyres when the safety car was mobilised for the second time of the day for the safety teams to retrieve a beached Takuya Izawa. That closed up the field once more and helped those who had just pitted get back on equal terms with those that had started on slicks such as Racing Engineering's Stefano Coletti who picked up the lead after the restart.
Vandoorne picked up second after his fortuitous pit stop timing but he was looking distinctly unhappy with the handling of the ART and under increasing pressure for position from Felipe Nasr, which finally paid off for the Carlin man on lap 18. Sorensen had pitted at the same time as Vandoorne and managed to hold on to fourth place ahead of Jon Lancaster (Hilmer Motorsport), Palmer, Alexander Rossi (Campos Racing) and Quaife-Hobbs in eighth just ahead of Dillmann.
Coletti had built up a big lead at the front, but now that Nasr had passed Vandoorne and been released into open air in second place he was fast chasing down the Monegasque, with clear intent to snatch the lead away from him in the remaining ten minutes of the now-time-capped race. Nasr had the benefit of fresher tyres, but Coletti seemed more than up for the fight and was able to stabilise his lead at just over a second heading into the final laps.
Even though the track was broadly dry by the closing laps there were still plenty of incidents throughout the field. A late lock-up by Rossi means that the American handed back a hard-won sixth position he's previously won from Palmer, while Johnny Cecotto Jr. was forced to retire the Trident five laps from the finish after suffering multiple spins. A turn 1 collision between his team mate Sergio Canamasas and Arden's Rene Binder was flagged for post-race review by the stewards.
The 45-minute time cap reduced the race distance by one lap, and that suited Coletti just fine as he crossed the line to claim victory, his first GP2 race win since Monaco 2013 a just reward for pulling off his gamble of starting the race on slicks despite the horrendous conditions. He even had enough left to post the fastest time of the race on the final lap, meaning that Nasr had no chance to overhaul him. The Brazilian settled instead for second place, with Vandoorne joining the pair on the podium.
Sorensen had an impressive run to fourth place ahead of more experienced GP2 drivers Lancaster, Palmer, Rossi and Quiafe-Hobbs. Dillmann's option gamble never really paid off and the Frenchman finished just outside the points positions on his first race weekend with Caterham.
In the championship standings, Palmer's lead at the front now stands at 41 points over Nasr, with Cecotto a further 27 points in arrears in third place. Palmer's efforts help DAMS to a 16 point lead over Carlin in the team standings, with Racing Engineering up into third ahead of Trident.
The teams and drivers won't have time to sit back and savour the achievements of Hockenheim, however, as they will be back in action in five days time when practice at the Hungaroring gets underway for the seventh weekend of the 2014 GP2 Series championship.See full GP2 sprint race 2 results from HockenheimSee full GP2 championship standings