23 May 2011
Pic and Leimer claim wins in Barcelona
Further back, other cars had been sluggish to react to the lights as well, but not the Barwa Addax duo of Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. Van der Garde flew off the fourth row of the grid, threaded his way down the middle and almost slotted right between Bianchi and Clos to take second before the gap abruptly closed. Clos then pulled ahead of Bianchi into turn 1 and van der Garde attempted to follow the Racing Engineering car through and past the ART - but Bianchi wasn't having it.
He jinked left once to warn van der Garde off, and the two banged wheels. Fortunately the contact was side-on and no harm was done; van der Garde lost a little momentum and fell back, but Bianchi wasn't happy and tried a second time to barge van der Garde wide, but this time the contact wasn't side-on and as a result it jerked Bianchi round to the left and into nose-on contact with the outside wall. Van der Garde was collected as well as the two bounced across the grass and into the gravel.
The accident kicked up a storm of debris from their collision that ended up catching out the poor innocent bystander Charles Pic, whose front wing was wrecked by some flying bodywork. That put Pic into the pits for a new wing after being shown a black-and-orange flag, leaving him marooned at the back of the field for the remainder of the sprint race.
An extended safety car period followed: after the serious injuries sustained by Davide Rigon in Turkey from a seemingly innocuous crash, the medics were taking no chances and erring on the side of caution when it came to extricating Bianchi from his car. It was rather disconcerting seeing him strapped to a stretcher and being given oxygen, but he gave the thumbs up and the news later in the day was that he had simply suffered slight bruising to the rib cage and would be fine to drive in next weekend's round in Monaco.
At the restart, Leimer was comfortably in the lead ahead of Dani Clos, Marcus Ericsson, Sam Bird, Davide Valsecchi and Stefano Coletti (who had got the best start of anyone save for van der Garde), while Josef Kral headed a densely-packed midfield block. From there, Leimer was able to check out somewhat and control the race from there to finish over 10s ahead with no major dramas.
The race settled down into an extended period of rather processional activity. Withut the F1 toys, the field were defeated by the Catalunya track's perverse resistance to overtaking moves: as graphically illustrated by a lengthy battle between Valsecchi and Coletti over fifth place, it would allow Coletti to get alongside and even put a nose in front, but then insist in switching direction to give positon back to the original car in front.
There were a couple of incidents, such as Carlin's Max Chilton making a move on Trident's Rodolfo Gonzalez for 12th around the outside of turn 1 only to get swept off the track and lose a position instead as he recovered from the lose of momentum and now-dirty tyres; and Coloni's Michael Herck got punted out of 18th position by none other than ART's Esteban Gutierrez, with whom he came to blows in the feature race the previous day. This time, Gutierrez escaped any sanction for his involvement in Herck's spin and retirement.
Having endured the early pressure from Coletti, Valsecchi came good in the closing laps and not only became more secure in fifth but also get the upper hand over Sam Bird in front who was suffering badly from tyre wear on an iSport car that had never had the best of handling in the first place. Finally Valsecchi was able to hold a better line and take the position, bumping Bird from the podium for the first time this season.
Behind them, Stefano Coletti was paying the price for his fruitless early assaults on Valsecchi and now had no grip left, the car squirming around as Josef Kral bore down on him. Kral attempted to go around the outside of Coletti through the first turn with two laps to do, but should have factored in that squeezing Coletti at the apex was likely to be a very bad idea: with no grip, Coletti had no chance of holding the line and drifted wide right into the side of the Arden, putting them both out of the race.
Another driver who came alive in the final laps was Romain Grosjean, who had started from the back of the grid after his exclusion from the feature race. He was a distant 19th place with seven laps to go, but suddenly the tyre wear of those in front kicked in and Grosjean - who had patiently preserved the rubber on his own Dams - was able to fire up the turbo booster to make mincemeat of the midfielders with sweeping moves, including overtaking three cars in the space of two corners on lap 22 in a lovely single sequence.
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