Germany are edging ever closer to the A1 Grand Prix crown after Nico Hulkenberg secured the nation their sixth victory of the season at Eastern Creek, another peerless drive that continues to cement the teenager's status as an exciting prospect for the future.

An occasionally bruising encounter that proved to be in sharp contrast to the rather more cautious sprint event, the top two final positions of Hulkenberg and New Zealand's Jonny Reid may have come as little surprise to some, but a stunning first podium in A1 GP for China and Ho-Pin Tung undoubtedly proved the most endearing story of the day.

With the Australian circuit living up to its reputation as being tricky, if not impossible, to overtake on, the start and the ensuing pit stops just a few laps later provided the best chance for the drivers to make their move.

Indeed, the getaway was a typically frantic affair, not least at the front when Reid plunged the Power Boost button at the lights, propelling his car past Hulkenberg through turn one and managing to resist the German's attentions around the outside of the second bend to retain the lead.

Further back, Robbie Kerr and Alan van der Merwe tangled at the rear of the field to undertake a bit of grass cutting over Eastern Creek's barren terrain, although worse was to come just a few corners later when James Hinchcliffe and Christian Murchison collided, the former being dramatically flipped over several times.

Despite the severity of the smash, occurring when Murchison in his Singapore car misjudged a move down the inside of turn four and locked wheels with his rival, Hinchcliffe was extricated quickly, waving to the crowd before being whisked to the medical centre for precautionary checks.

The Safety Car was scrambled as a result, revealing a somewhat jumbled order that had been defined by several significant moves through the field, particularly for Jeroen Bleekemolen, who vaulted up to third from fifth on the grid to tour behind New Zealand and Germany, and Tomas Enge, who had his Czech Republic car into fourth place having started ninth.

France held fifth ahead of Switzerland, Malaysia, China and Ireland, while Ananda Mikola made the most of the melee to haul his Indonesian car into tenth by the end of the first lap.

The Safety Car remained on circuit for six laps but even before it was called back into the pit lane, two more cars were found propping up the retirement list when South Africa's van der Merwe was caught out by Nur Ali in the Pakistan car braking sharply around turn nine, the former slamming hard into the back of his rival. Despite the relative low-speed smash, a heavily damaged - and somewhat bemused - van der Merwe was out on the spot, with Ali touring only one more lap with a damaged rear wing before bringing his day to an end in the pit lane.

With the race underway again on lap seven, it did not take long for the first wave of pit stops to occur, with Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Malaysia not even completing a single circulation of the track before diving into the pit lane at the first time of asking.

In an attempt to counter Germany's move, New Zealand duly responded by pitting the very next lap. However, despite managing a competitive turnaround, which crucially included adding a set of new tyres to the car, Reid remarkably found himself staring at the back of Hulkenberg's car as it swept past round turn one, much to his frustration.

With most of the top ten having pitted, it was instead China who were circulating at the head of the field, Tung clearly in no hurry to adopt his rivals' strategy of getting the pit stop out of the way, so as to make the most of a clear track as he bid to eke out a gap.

As it happens, Germany and New Zealand were lapping comfortably faster than anyone else on the circuit, Hulkenberg adding the occasional tenth to his advantage over Reid with every lap as the two drivers pushed hard to force an error from one another.

It was not until lap sixteen though that Hulkenberg assumed the lead once again with Tung finally pitting and re-emerging in a strong fifth place directly behind Netherlands and Czech Republic, Bleekemolen and Enge sustaining their good starts to be running a strong pace.

Crucially though, Tung was on fresher tyres than his rivals and it was immediately clear the reigning German Formula Three Champion was beginning to find his range, quickly hounding Enge for fourth place and wasting little time in making a move stick on lap twenty.

Not content though, Tung was on the tail of Bleekemolen within a lap and in a move of pure bravery passed the Dutchman on the outside of the fast - and dirty - turn one, prompting fevered reaction from his Chinese pit crew at the sight of their driver moving into a provisional podium position.

Beginning to trade laps with the two leaders, now some 15 seconds up the road, Tung rapidly stretched out an advantage over Bleekemolen, who in turn was pulling away from Enge, the Czech car apparently suffering from a minor misfire, while Alex Yoong held onto a lonely sixth place for Malaysia.

While Tung was doing a good job of bringing the crowd to its feet, the battle for seventh place was also proving a captivating affair, with Ireland initially leading Switzerland, France, USA and Great Britain in close company, the latter coming back from a lowly starting position and an off on the first lap.

Loic Duval had been running fifth for France early on but a poor pit stop was to drop him to ninth by lap ten, a position that became eleventh when he was passed by USA's Philip Giebler and then by Kerr, who proved rather more forceful than his forerunner in his attempts to get through.

With France dispatched of, Giebler set about putting the pressure of Sebastien Buemi for eighth place, who in turn was crawling all over the back of Richard Lyons, the Ireland pit crew doing a marvellous job to get their driver back out in seventh place following his stop.

Nonetheless, Lyons was always looking slower than the chasing pack, the inevitable eventually occurring when he was tipped into a spin at turn two by a somewhat ambitious Buemi, an incident that forced Lyons into yet another disappointing retirement and prompting some rather choice words about his Swiss rival immediately after the event...

The demise of Ireland though did not release Buemi, who now had to deal with the attentions of a racy looking Giebler for the remainder of the race, the duo's fight becoming a triple tussle when Duval experienced a second wind, re-passing Kerr and catching up to the battle ahead. However, despite the occasional sharp intake of breath from their teams as both Giebler and Duval flirted with the idea of making a move stick through turn two, seventh, eight and ninth respectively they would remain to the chequered flag.

Kerr on the other hand was seeing his early pace begin to tail off before the end of the race, slipping away from the battle ahead to spend the closing laps fighting over the final point on offer with Brazil's Tuka Rocha, an encounter he ultimately succeeded in to take away just a single point from another trying weekend.

Hulkenberg was the day's big winner though, scoring his fourth consecutive victory to further extend his lead in the standings to 25 points over New Zealand, whose two second places lift them ahead of France into second place. France hold third (52), comfortably ahead of Great Britain (37), Switzerland (36), Netherlands (35), Malaysia (35) and Mexico (34)

It was Tung and China though that proved the day's most heartening result, his podium a representation of how far the nation has come since it began A1 GP as a considerable minnow with designs on establishing themselves as a front runner. It may have taken slightly longer than hopes, but today appeared to be China's coming of age...



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