27 May 2011
Davide Valsecchi gives AirAsia maiden win
The experienced Davide Valsecchi was a safe pair of hands to deliver AirAsia their maiden GP2 win in their first season in the series. But it was a bad day for iSport - again.
Despite a clash between their two drivers during Thursday qualifying, Friday dawned bright for iSport with their man Sam Bird on pole position. Bird had been gifted pole position by the five-place grid penalty handed to the fastest man in qualifying, Giedo van der Garde, for causing an accident during qualifying.
But Bird then went and squandered the opportunity it presented him for a strong result by stalling on the grid: although he did finally rejoin the race, it was in dead last position. Not that this would be the last bit of bad news to come for iSport ...
Instead, it was Davide Valsecchi leading the field away when the lights went out, under heavy pressure from Alvaro Parente, who in turn made slight contact off the grid with local boy Stefan Coletti as they sought to avoid the motionless Bird. There was also an impressive flying start from van der Garde off the grid into fourth as he sought to make up for that Thursday penalty, while at the back of the grid Romain Grosjean was also cutting his way past the backmarkers as he struggled to recover from an utterly disastrous qualifying session.
After a closely fought half dozen opening laps, the top three - Valsecchi, Parente and Coletti - started to stretch out and put some safety distance between each other. Valsecchi was careful not to over-drive the Air Asia in the opening stages because of the unknown nature of the supersoft tyres on which the cars were running for the first and only time at Monaco; the possible high rate of tyre wear made everyone wary.
It didn't stop some of the drivers seeking tactical advantage by coming in for early mandatory pit stops as soon as lap 7, when Charles Pic, Dani Clos, Jolyon Palmer, Kevin Mirocha and Michael Herck all piled into to Monaco's cramped pit lane are. That helped Romain Grosjean's campaign, clearing the road ahead and allowing him to target Oliver Turvey for what would be 12th position.
Up ahead, the weakest link of the leaders was now exposed as being Coletti, who not only started to lose touch with the leading duo but was also holding up the cars behind him, causing everyone to run very close together and to start getting some unfortunate ideas.
Sure enough, Jules Bianchi's impatience trying to get past Giedo van der Garde for fourth ended up with the Frenchman running into the back of the Barwa Addax, forcing Bianchi to pit for a new front wing immediately afterwards. The damage to the nose caused problems for the ART pit crew and Bianchi was left shaking his head in exasperation as he sat for an eternity in his pit box; and then to rub salt in the wound, word came down that he had been handed a drive-thru penalty for causing the collision, showing once again that the stewards were taking a very dim view of anything they deemed to be "amateur hour" driving.
In fact it was redundant: the damage from the collision was found to be too severe and Bianchi never made it past the pit lane exit. Which is just as well for Bianchi, otherwise he would almost certainly have had a second drive-thru penalty to contend with, having been under investigation for a jump-start along with Oliver Turvey and Fairuz Fauzy - who did indeed receive drive-thrus, although for some reason Turvey never came in to pit lane to serve his, which would prove costly after the race.
Van der Garde didn't entirely escape damage from the earlier collision with Bianchi either, which result in him being shown the black and orange flag requiring him to come in for repairs. Fortunately this fitted within the pit stop strategy and he came in around the same time as Coletti and Parente, but the car was more seriously injured than initially realised and he would retire on lap 26.
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