24 July 2011
Grosjean masters the elements to win sprint
At the front, Gutierriez managed to get second place from Grosjean through turn 1 only for Grosjean to fight back and take the position back; at the end of that lap, however, they both came in to pit lane together and the Lotus ART pit crew out-performed their Dams rivals and put Gutierriez out first, forcing Grosjean to hold momentarily to avoid an unsafe release into the side of the young Mexican driver's car.
Jules Bianchi had opted to stay out to this point, deciding that track position was worth the delay; but the writing was on the wall compared with the times of those on slicks - especially Luca Filippi who was now the fastest man on track - and he came in on lap 13, handing the lead to Davide Valsecchi who like his AirAsia team mate Luiz Razia and Dams' Pal Varhaug was yet to stop.
Valsecchi had a 15s lead when Bianchi came in; two laps later and that lead was gone, Bianchi was all over the back of him and finally the two AirAsia cars gave up all hope that conditions might worsen and headed for pit road, allowing Bianchi to reclaim the lead once more. Only Varhaug would stick doggedly to the wet tyres to the bitter end, and his reward was to go a lap down by the chequered flag; Razia's delay in pitting meant he would finish in 14th, while Valsecchi ended up colliding with Jolyon Palmer on his exit from pit lane which put both cars out on lap 18; Valsecchi was judged to have been guilty of causing the collision and was subsequently handed a ten grid position penalty for next weekend's Budapest feature race.
While things were looking good again for one Lotus ART driver, suddenly they were looking rather less so for his team mate. Esteban Gutierrez was struggling and lost positions to both Grosjean and Filippi; finally the reason was clear, as Gutierrez found himself overtaken by his rear right wheel into turn 11 as he detached itself and made a break for freedom. Gutierrez was able to control the slither down the hill on the wet grass, but had to retire from what had looked a promising race for him.
With the race now time-limited and the clock ticking down to under ten minutes to go, the top three - Bianchi, Grosjean and Filippi - were locked together with little more than a second covering all of them for lap after lap. Bianchi seemed to be slightly holding them up, with fourth-placed man Christian Vietoris now putting in the fastest laps of anyone, but he was 18s back and didn't have the time to become a real factor in the race outcome despite his speed
Sure enough, Grosjean was able to make a move on Bianchi into turn 1; but Bianchi fought back and Grosjean stumbled over Filippi who was trying his own move on them both and the status quo was restored, but it was clear that the race win was wide open and there for anyone to win - or to lose.
The crucial moment came as the trio ran down to the final chicane for what would be the penultimate time: Bianchi's poor handling showed and he slid through the chicane, giving the momentum to Grosjean who got the better drive down into the final corner onto the start/finish straight. Grosjean made no mistake and nailed it, but Bianchi was still close enough to mount a fightback going into the prime overtaking opportunity of turn 1.
Fortunately for Grosjean, Filippi had designs on second and tried a frankly optimistic move down the inside of the corner. Bianchi wasn't expecting it and sliced across him with minor contact, not enough to do any serious damage but enough to cause both cars to falter for a vital second or so. If there had been longer than a lap to go then they would have been able to bounce back, but as it turned out there wasn't time before Grosjean took the chequered flags at the end of lap 23.
Grosjean's victory capped a strong weekend for the GP2 series championship leader, which was made even better when one of his closest rivals Charles Pic was black flagged and excluded from the race results for failing to serve a drive-thru penalty in time, incurred when he cut the pit lane blend line when he came out of the pits on slick tyres. Rodolfo Gonzalez also received a drive-thru after he made contact with Johnny Cecotto on lap 7 which put the Ocean Racing technology car out of the race.
As a result of Pic's misdemeanour and van der Garde's early exit from the race, Grosjean now leads the championship by 18pts with only three weekends to go. His domination is by no means water-tight or of Vettel-esque proportions, but 2011 is starting to look very good indeed for the former Renault F1 driver, who will be hoping to maintain the momentum going into next weekend's round in Hungary.
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