22 April 2012
Valsecchi wins sprint after late penalty for Leimer
Fabio Leimer looked set to claim victory in Sunday's Bahrain sprint race, but a late penalty for Leimer and a final charge for Saturday's feature race winner Davide Valsecchi completely changed the outcome.
After Davide Valsecchi's march to a peerless victory in Saturday's feature race, his rivals could take comfort knowing that Sunday was not going to be such an easy ride for him given his eighth place starting position on the reverse grid.
It was also not looking at all good for his DAMS team mate, Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr. Having qualified in third place on the feature grid, he would be starting the sprint race from the back after an early retirement following a clash with Johnny Cecotto Jr., for which he had been blamed and handed a five-place grid penalty. To rub salt into the wound, Nasr's car then stalled at the end of the formation lap triggering a second warm-up lap for the rest of the field while Nasr was removed to the pit lane - behind Tom Dillmann, who had made it to the grid but then also promptly stalled in the Rapax which removed him from third place on the grid.
Finally the lights were out and the race was on: James Calado got a flier off the second row to slot between polesitter Fabio Onidi and Fabio Leimer to claim the lead into the first corner. Calado's move (and a lot of wheelspin for the Coloni) caught Onidi out badly, and he got swallowed up and shuffled backwards into the teeth of a fierce battle between Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecchi. Valsecchi emerged triumphant in the three-way battle and claimed fifth place, with Onidi briefly uncomfortably caught in the middle ahead of Razia in seventh and Marcus Ericsson in eighth. Onidi was soon outclassed by both but settled into a comfortable seventh place for much of the ensuing race, until his tyres hit problems in the closing laps and he abruptly fell to 14th place by the chequered flag.
Up at the front, Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer had held on to second spot, while Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton were fiercely contesting third place. The Lotus GP driver won that one by the time the field crossed the start/finish line at the end of the first lap, allowing him to set up a successful assertive overtake on Leimer for the second spot in the next run down to turn 1.
That put the two Lotus GP cars running line astern at the front, and Gutierrez clearly felt that he deserved the senior position over his rookie team mate. He tried a move at the start of lap 4 down into his favourite overtaking spot at turn 1, which Calado repelled at the expense of massively locking up his left front tyre; Gutierrez then clipped the back of Calado's car on the exit and lost an end plate in the process, which in turn affected his momentum through the next straights and allowed Leimer to get alongside and sweep him off the track to retake second place. All in all, not the most constructive or harmonious of team performances from Lotus GP.
But Calado's pace was now clearly affected by the battle, and at the start of lap 6 Leimer got better drive out of turn 3 and forced his way past for the lead despite having to take to the dirt as Calado tried to hold him off. The move broke Calado's momentum and allowed Gutierrez to also finally get past his team mate, travelling in Leimer's wake. In the course of a couple of corners Calado had been demoted to third place.
With clearly superior pace over Gutierrez, a comfortable two second lead and no pit stops in the sprint race to navigate, there seemed to be nothing standing between Leimer and the Sunday race win as he pulled out a comfortable lead and the laps ticked by. Calado was still just about holding off Chilton for third place despite vibration from his front left flat spot, and Valsecchi seemed more interested in looking after his tyres in sixth place ahead of Razia.
That meant that the real racing action was happening further back, Coloni's Stefano Coletti and Caterham's Giedo van der Garde both shooting up from near the back of the grid into the top ten by the midpoint of the race. But Coletti had pushed his tyres in the process, and as the race hit mid-distance their grip levels fell off a cliff and he went into reverse gear for the rest of the day.
"I knew I had to push hard and that tyres could have suffered towards the end of the race, but starting from the back that was the only option available to us," Coletti admitted later.
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