9 July 2011
Bianchi finally clinches maiden GP2 victory
Jules Bianchi had been determined to bounce back from a difficult and unproductive start to the season - and he duly did so in the best possible way, with a maiden series win.
Jules Bianchi converted pole position into a commanding lead by the middle of the GP2 feature race at Silverstone, but then things got really fraught as Bianchi suddenly found himself being passed by Christian Vietoris.
The race had got underway ten minutes later than scheduled and behind the safety car, after Silverstone was hit by a sharp shower as the cars circulated their way around to the grid area. Another heavy shower drenched the track and left it covered in patches of deep standing water.
That resulted in race control opting to start the race behind the safety cars and allow three laps of running under yellow to allow the wet tyres to shift some of that standing water by throwing it up into the air in blinding plumes of water spray. With the rain now having stopped, the conditions quickly improved until finally the safety car pulled in and racing got underway, Bianchi smoothly pulling ahead of Alvara Parente at the front of the field to finally successfully lead his first lap in GP2 in a year.
The iSport drivers were quick to go on the attack, Sam Bird passing Esteban Gutierrez for seventh through Becketts after having initially lost the position at the start of the race, and Marcus Ericsson also pulling a nice pass on Max Chilton for fifth place. Another driver quick to go in search of positions was Romain Grosjean, who had qualified in third but then started 13th on the grid after serving a ten-place grid penalty for causing an avoidable accident at the start of the Valencia sprint race a fortnight ago. The championship leader was quickly up three places and then moved smartly passed Johnny Cecotto for ninth position.
The weather had been transformed, with the rain long gone and Silverstone now starting to be bathed in sunshine. While the track was still very greasy in the crossover period, it meant lap times were coming down with every circulation. Jules Bianchi was enjoying the clear air and better visibility in the front as he pulled out over a 3s lead from Parente, with Christian Vietoris, Dani Clos and Marcus Ericsson filling out the top five.
But as the wet tyres increasingly started to overheat and go off, the balance of performance started to shift among the drivers as well. By lap 8, Vietoris was all over the back of Parente - ironically the man who subbed for him at Racing Engineering when he himself was recovering from a crash in the Turkey sprint race - for second place and in a lovely smooth move through the final corners of the lap, Vietoris did indeed manage to make good the pass out of Stowe.
Notably, it was the iSport cars that seemed to be suffering badly during this stage of the race: having been strong in the opening laps, now they were losing the positions they had earlier gained. Esteban Gutierrez was all over the back of Sam Bird for several laps, slithering around as he pressed every half-opportunity to get past. Bird was initially successful at holding him back, but it was clear that the Lotus ART had the raw speed and it was only a matter of time before the young Argentine finally pulled off the move; Bird would also lose eighth place to Grosjean a few minutes later confirming the iSport's problems.
Bird's team mate Ericsson was faring little better, becoming a clear road block as he put in the slowest laps of anyone out on track, with a procession of cars lining up behind him getting frustrated consisting of Max Chilton, Gutierriez, Bird, Grosjean, Ceotto and Jolyon Palmer all running within a tenth or two of one another because of the compression.
Gutierrez continued to demonstrate his speed at this stage of the race by passing first Chilton and then Ericsson on consecutive laps, and after Ericsson was also passed by Chilton and Grosjean he finally admitted defeat and headed for pit lane early on lap 12 for his mandatory tyre change, hoping that he had weathered the conditions long enough to make a switch to four slick tyres feasible and not race-suicide. In at the same time for the same gamble were Stefano Coletti (from 14th) and Luca Filippi (from 17th), although Filippi's stop was marred by an issue on the left front tyre which cost vital time. Ericsson's team mate Sam Bird came in next time around with Giedo van der Garde and would have been well advised to follow Ericsson's lead even sooner than he did, for the iSports' handling was shocking by the end of this first stint and the Briton even ran off the track at Copse before finally coming in.
Tagged as: Silverstone , Romain Grosjean , feature , Jules Bianchi , Christian Vietoris , Dani Clos , Michael Herck , Giedo van der Garde , Max Chilton , Sam Bird , Marcus Ericsson
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