Barcelona 2008: Good things Kamui to those....
27 April 2008
Kamui Kobayashi continued to build on his success in the GP2 Asia Series by winning the second race of the opening round of the 'summer' competition in Barcelona - although he had to rely on a moment or two of hot-headedness from Asia champion Romain Grosjean.
The Japanese driver, starting from pole after finishing eighth in Saturday's feature, managed to fend off fellow front row starter Sebastien Buemi - albeit in robust fashion that saw the Swiss put two wheels on the grass - to claim the lead into turn one. Such was Buemi's loss of momentum that Grosjean snuck through from fourth to take up the pursuit of the leader, while Giorgio Pantano, Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna occupied the early points positions.
Further back, there was a moment of chaos as Alberto Valerio and Diego Nunes stalled on the grid, forcing those on the last few rows to take avoiding action, while Karun Chandhok caused a further reshuffle by spinning the second iSport car on lap one.
While Grosjean closed on Kobayashi entering lap two, just outside the points the two Piquet Sports cars were beginning a race-long war that would see them make contact on several occasions, although the first move, by Pastor Maldonado on Andi Zuber, was clean. The Austrian was off-line, however, and also lost a position to Luca Filippi, although that was swiftly regained when the luckless Italian pitted two laps later.
By that time, Grosjean had moved into first place, a position he became comfortable with during the Asian campaign. Once free of Kobayashi, the French-Swiss driver pulled away easily, opening out a three-second advantage by the end of lap six.
In his wake, Buemi did not appear to have the pace to bridge the gap, and was coming under increasing pressure from Pantano, despite the Racing Engineering Dallara puffing smoke whenever its Mecachrome engine was asked to provide a little more effort. The 'problem' did not seem to be holding the veteran back, however, with the following Petrov and Senna unable to take advantage of the battle ahead of them.
By lap ten, Grosjean was almost six seconds to the good, meaning that all the action was taking place back in the field, notably among those chasing points, but also between the two Piquet Sports drivers and over twelfth place as Brits Ben Hanley and Mike Conway harried the tyre-troubled Adrian Valles. The pressure on Pantano was alleviated when Petrov cruised to a halt on the main straight, joining Roldan Rodriguez on the sidelines.
The Russian's retirement meant that the Maldonado/Zuber scrap suddenly took on extra momentum, with a point now at stake, and the Austrian appeared to growing frustrated at having to follow his team-mate. The first contact came on lap 18, and resulted in minor cosmetic damage, but picked up in intensity two laps later as Zuber forced his way through at turn nine.
The final clash occurred with five laps to run, as the field was bunched up behind a safety car to clear the spun car of debutant Giacomo Ricci. This time, Maldonado forced his way back inside Zuber at turn one, forcing the Austrian to cut the corner and losing positions himself into the bargain. Whether enough was enough for the Piquet team is unclear, but both were summoned to pit-lane at the end of the lap....
That intra-team clash, however, was a sideshow to the main event - one which would have a major impact on the outcome of the race.
Having seen his six-second lead wiped out by the safety car, Grosjean was naturally keen to re-establish his advantage, but showed his inexperience by making a mistake at the chicane even before the pace car had pulled off. Having recovered from a trip across the kerbs, the Frenchman lacked sufficient momentum to pull away from Kobayashi as the field flashed across the start-finish line, giving the DAMS driver a run into turn one.
Desperate not to be overhauled, Grosjean moved from right to left, forcing Kobayashi across the outside kerbs and onto the grass verge, before taking his usual line into turn one. Neither driver lost a position, but the stewards reacted immediately, slapping Grosjean with a drive-thru penalty and effectively handing Kobayashi the win.
It took three laps for Grosjean to accept his punishment, which dropped him to a lowly 13th, while Kobayashi proceeded untroubled to the flag, claiming his third GP2 win of 2008. Behind him, Buemi continued to rebuff Pantano to claim yet another second place, while the Italian completed the podium for a Spanish team.
Senna had assumed fifth on Petrov's demise, and translated that into fourth - and a share of the points lead with feature race winner Alvaro Parente - with Grosjean's penalty, coming home ahead of Davide Valsecchi and the second Racing Engineering car of Javi Villa, both of whom had benefited from the Piquet Sport 'problem' to score points.
Parente should have been able to add to his Saturday haul, but a bad start dropped him behind the likes of Maldonado, Filippi, Valsecchi and Villa on lap one and he proved unable to overcome that handicap.