The P Zero Orange hard and P Zero Yellow soft tyres nominated for GP2 in Barcelona provided plenty of strategy options for the feature race, with approximately half the drivers choosing to start on the soft compound and half on the hard tyre.
The GP3 drivers all used the hard tyre, with the entire range redesigned for the 2015 season: when the cars have a longer race on Saturday than Sunday for the first time.
ART Grand Prix’s Stoffel Vandoorne qualified on pole for the sixth consecutive occasion, but unlike Formula One, no drivers are obliged to start the race using the tyres on which they qualified. Instead they have a completely free choice, although both compounds must be run during the feature race.
Vandoorne chose to start on used softs, like the rest of the top three, while Mitch Evans (Russian Time) and Alexander Rossi (Racing Engineering) were right behind them on new hards – figuring that they would go longer in the first stint and then benefit from faster tyres at the end of the race.
Vandoorne came in as soon as possible from the lead, on lap six. The Belgian then had to pass as many cars as possible to work his way back up the field. When Rossi pitted from the lead on lap 26, the McLaren protégé was able to take the lead again. However, he came under attack from Evans on the faster tyre at the end.
Vandoorne commented: “I think both strategies looked pretty close for the victory today, and it was the same last year as well, very tight. I knew I had to fight for it and make the moves stick. When Alex and Mitch rejoined behind me I knew I had to push quite hard to keep them behind: they got really close and I think Alex got just within DRS range but as he got closer I think his tyres were starting to go off. I think the key was just to get ahead of them and stay ahead of them: if one of them had got in front it would have been hard for the victory.”
|Alex Lynn won his first GP2 race on Sunday
Sunday’s race brought a debut victory for Williams development driver Alex Lynn, the reigning GP3 champion who is now driving for DAMS. All the drivers used the hard tyre to combat the high degradation of the non-stop race, with Lynn making up two places at the start from his grid slot of fourth. He then passed Arden driver Norman Nato, who had started from pole position, in order to take the lead. Lynn – who received a scholarship from Pirelli that helped him move up to GP2 this year ¬– managed his tyres perfectly to win the race after a battle with Vandoorne, who finished second.
The GP3 compounds are generally softer this year, and together with a 40-minute race on Saturday, the emphasis was firmly on tyre management. ART Grand Prix’s Esteban Ocon, supported by Mercedes, took a debut win after getting past poleman Luca Ghiotto (Trident) at the start. He then had to look after his tyres while trying to extend his advantage, before all his good work was undone by a safety car that came in with seven laps to go.
At the end of the race, a number of drivers struggled with tyre degradation, while those who had taken care of the compound earlier had a slightly easier time. However, the five-lap safety car actually made the task of tyre management considerably easier by minimising wear and degradation.
|Esteban Ocon also recorded his first win in GP3
Ocon commented: “I pushed really hard at the beginning to make a gap and after that it was just managing the tyres. In fact perhaps I pushed a bit too hard as at the end it was a bit more difficult. But it was a good race. I managed it and looked after the tyres and it worked well.”
In a carbon copy of Sunday’s GP2 race, ART Grand Prix’s Marvin Kirchofer won Sunday’s GP3 race from fourth on the grid, having moved up to second after the start and then passing the polesitter to win. Behind him, a number of other drivers struggled with tyre degradation at the end of the race.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “The teams and drivers had a number of strategic options open to them in the GP2 feature race. Those who started on the hard tyre could have lost out had there been a safety car, but this has not been a significant factor in Spain in the past, so it was a risk worth taking. Vandoorne’s winning strategy was based on him having to overtake as many cars as possible, so congratulations to him for being able to do this. The longer race and softer compounds meant that managing tyre degradation became a priority in GP3: the drivers who were able to do this most successfully came away with the top results. This fits in line perfectly with the philosophy of preparing them for the next level.”
The next round of the GP2 series will take place at Monaco from 21-23 May, while GP3 races next in Austria from June 19-21.
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