Thrills, spills and tyre strategy at inaugural Baku GP2 race
|Giovinazzi mastered the Baku circuit and Pirelli tyres|
GP2, for which the P Zero White medium and P Zero Red supersoft tyres were nominated in Azerbaijan, was the very first formula ever to take to the track in Baku, for free practice on Friday afternoon. With a slippery and unknown track, the drivers had plenty to discover – and this led to some action-packed races, characterised by safety cars. GP2 feature Antonio Giovinazzi took his first GP2 Series victory from pole, despite a poor start that meant he had to make his way to the front again. The unforgiving nature of the Baku circuit, plus a high incidence of safety cars, meant that strategy was greatly influenced by the unpredictable circumstances of the race, rewarding teams that were able to think on their feet. Most of the frontrunners chose to start on the supersoft tyre, which was considerably quicker off the line, but at the expense of durability. However, the second safety car period coincided with the pit stop window opening after six laps, giving drivers a ‘free’ pit stop to move onto the mediums. The pit stop crews also made a difference, allowing some cars to jump their rivals in the pits. From then on, it was all about controlling the medium tyre to keep it in its operating window all the way to the end. Some drivers however tried an alternative strategy: Arden’s Nabil Jeffri started on the medium tyre and climbed to third by the restart, but then stayed out too long and suffered from excessive degradation. In the end, the race went to the time limit of one hour after another safety car. Giovinazzi managed his tyres perfectly to make up for his slow start and claim his first race win with Prema. GP2 sprint For the 20-lap sprint race in the heat of Sunday afternoon, all the drivers used the medium tyre, with MP Motorsport’s Daniel De Jong starting from reverse grid pole. However, it was Giovinazzi who completed a remarkable weekend with a second victory, having got underway from eighth on the grid. There were multiple safety cars once more, with some drivers losing out on the re-starts. However, the Italian was not one of them, having looked after his P Zero White mediums, and keeping enough life in them to make the most of every re-start. He took the lead from his team mate Pierre Gasly on the final lap, who ran wide while defending. Giovinazzi has now moved up third in the championship, with tyre management a key part of his success. Quotes: Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “Baku proved to be a very big challenge for everyone, but especially the GP2 drivers, who were the first out on track. In the feature race, the drivers had to balance the lack of grip from the surface with the need to maintain the medium tyre in its ideal operating window for the majority of a complicated race, interrupted frequently by safety cars. This knowledge of the medium proved to be useful for the sprint race on Sunday, where the drivers used this compound from start to finish. Once again it was a massively unpredictable race, which depended on drivers looking after their tyres and making the most of changing circumstances.” The next round of the GP2 series will take place alongside GP3, in Austria from July 1-3.
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