|GP2 feature race winner Stoffel Vandoorne
The GP2 and GP3 feature races at Spa were packed with incidents, with tyre strategy a key element to success. The GP2 cars were using the hard and soft tyres, resulting in a significant performance gap between the two compounds, while GP3 used the medium compound only.
There was uncharacteristically warm weather all weekend, with track temperatures in excess of 40 degrees. The GP2 feature race was turned on its head by a lengthy red flag period just eight laps into the 25-lap race, following two laps behind the safety car. This was caused by a big accident for MP Racing’s Daniel de Jong, which necessitated barrier repairs.
With the safety car coming out just as the pit window opened, the drivers who had started on the soft tyre – including polesitter and race winner Stoffel Vandoorne (ART Grand Prix) – took advantage to effectively gain a ‘free’ pit stop, by switching to the hard compound. The race was subsequently red-flagged for 40 minutes, meaning that tyre changes were allowed, but they did not count as the obligatory tyre change.
|GP3 race winner Emil Bernstorff
Those who had originally started on the hard tyre had an advantage in terms of track position at the re-start, but as they made their stops Vandoorne – who had pitted from the lead under the safety car – was able to reclaim the advantage. The top four all used a similar strategy, while the highest-placed finisher to start on the hard tyre was Russian Time’s Mitch Evans, who ended the race fifth after qualifying sixth.
After taking his first win at home, Vandoorne said: “We had a really good pace on the soft tyre at the beginning. Then, we decided to box for hard tyres just as the safety car came out. We had eight or nine cars ahead of us after that I think. From then on I knew it was going to be difficult for them to get back to us, even when they had the softer tyres in the end. I felt pretty relaxed about the degradation. The soft held on pretty well at the beginning of the race so when you put the hard tyre on, normally it’s not a big problem. I was just controlling my pace. I was not pushing too much in order to avoid overheating the tyres. They held on pretty well for me.”
The GP2 sprint race on Sunday morning was less dramatic, with Racing Engineering’s Jordan King starting from reverse pole. His team mate Alexander Rossi overtook him on the opening lap from third on the grid and led home a one-two finish for the squad. Again, there was a safety car period but managing tyre degradation was still absolutely crucial throughout the 18-lap race, with Evans – who eventually finished third – lapping nearly a second faster than the leading duo at the finish.
In GP3, Trident’s Luca Ghiotto continued his run of pole positions but eventually finished sixth after becoming one of many drivers to receive time penalties for infringements under the multiple safety cars. Saturday’s GP3 race was even more incident-packed than it’s GP2 equivalent, with the winner on the track, ART Grand Prix’s Esteban Ocon, eventually losing his victory due to another time penalty and promoting Arden International’s Emil Bernstorff. With three safety cars, there was less than 20 minutes of actual racing during the 45-minute encounter, which had a profound effect on the tyre management strategies.
Bernstorff commented: “We were doing most of the race at 70kph. The actual racing bit was good. I think we were a bit slow at the start. I think we would have liked the race to go to full distance in ‘real’ terms. Even so, I wasn’t worried about tyre degradation on Sunday, as we had the tyres pretty well sussed.”
Sunday’s shorter GP3 race – which actually turned out to be longer from a competitive point of view despite two safety cars – was won by Ghiotto from fourth on the grid. Ghiotto extended his championship lead and managed his tyres perfectly to claim a convincing victory. Once again, conditions remained warm and dry, allowing the Italian to demonstrate his tyre management skills over a demanding circuit.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “We experienced a very unusual Spa weekend in GP2 and GP3, both in terms of the weather and of the incidents that affected the races. The early red flag in the GP2 feature race obviously compromised the strategy for those who had elected to start on the hard tyre, but they still had some possibilities despite having to stop more often, with Evans, Rossi and Sirotkin using the pace of the fresh soft tyre at the end of the race to overhaul their rivals on older hard tyres. The multiple safety cars in GP3 on Saturday meant that the drivers headed into Sunday’s race with comparatively little information about tyre behaviour in competitive conditions, but they used the data that they had to very good effect. Finally, but most importantly, we all wish Daniel de Jong a swift recovery following the back surgery he underwent as a result of his GP2 accident on Saturday.”
The next rounds of the GP2 and GP3 series will take place at Pirelli’s home race in Monza, Italy, from September 4-6.
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