After his superb second-half run in GP2 in 2011, Luca Filippi has been sitting on the sidelines for the last 12 months. No wonder that when the phone rang mid-week and the offer was made that he readily agreed to return to Coloni for a home race weekend at Monza. But did he still have what it took, or would the cobwebs show after being out of action for so long?
Filippi had already done an impressive job just to claim third place on the grid in Friday afternoon qualifying despite losing half the session while problems with his car were fixed. Purely finishing the feature race on the podium from here would itself be a huge success; anything more, surely a little too much to hope for?
But opportunity presented itself the moment the lights went out. The start of the race proved a disaster for Giedo van der Garde, starting on the front row alongside polesitter Max Chilton. The Caterham simply refused to get going, causing the cars behind to scatter to avoid piling into the back of him. Van der Garde got enough momentum up to get to the first chicane, but at that point the car had simply had enough and it rolled to a stop right in the middle of the apex, and the Dutchman was out of the race.
That should have left Chilton with a clear run at the front. But he was already committed to a swooping move across the front of the field when the lights went out to thwart what turned out to be a non-existent challenge from van der Garde. Instead, all it did was open up a massive hole for Luca Filippi who had been starting immediately behind Chilton on the grid and could now straight-line it to the first corner.
Filippi had actually taken the lead and outbraked Chilton when they arrived at the chicane, but couldn't quite pull off the turn without hitting the Carlin taking the inside line. Instead, he was forced to cut the chicane - and that meant a drive-thru penalty unless he reacted immediately and handed the position back to Chilton out of the corner, which he duly did albeit through gritted teeth.
Marcus Ericsson was able to hang on to the coattails of the leading duo, but Davide Valsecchi was quickly dropped off the battle and had his hands full just warding off Johnny Cecotto Jr. for fourth place. Valsecchi's team mate Felipe Nasr also had to work hard to ward off Fabio Onidi for seventh, and finally resolved it by treading all over the front wing of the Coloni.
Onidi would get a black-and-orange flag from the race officials ordering him to come in for repairs, but he was able to leave it long enough for the mandatory pit stop window to open up on lap 6 so that he could also get his tyres changed at the same time. Others coming in at the end of lap 7 included Luiz Razia who had leapt up to an impressive sixth place during the mixed-up start; Valsecchi was forced to came in next time around in order to cover the threat from Razia in the battle for the title.
However, Razia wasn't a threat for much longer: on his second lap out of the pits he found himself battling alongside Fabio Leimer, himself fresh out of pit road, on the run down into the Variante della Roggia. Contact was made, Razia was spun around - and the Arden car beached itself teetering on one of the insanely high 'sausage' curbs installed at the chicane. The marshalls signalled for him to cut the engine: he was done for the day, a possibly shattering blow as far as the championship battle with Valsecchi was concerned.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Luca Filippi had also now pitted early from second place, aiming to jump Chilton in the pits by putting in faster laps on the fresher rubber. Chilton was wise to this and was in himself next time around, coming back out just in front of Filippi to maintain track position - only to have Filippi blast past him on the track through Ascari instead on lap 10, an emphatic confirmation of the 2011 GP2 Series runner-up's enduring class. Filippi's move wasn't quite for the lead quite yet, however, as five cars - Cecotto, Nigel Melker, Julian Leal, Stephan Richelmi and Victor Guerin - were still to make their mandatory trips to pit lane.