McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne wins on GP2 debut in Bahrain Feature Race
Julian Leal and Jolyon Palmer complete the podium
By William Esler
Last Updated: 05/04/14 1:42pm
The ART Grand Prix driver started on the front row and leapt into the lead after polesitter Jolyon Pamer got bogged down on the grid. The Belgian then drove a mature and controlled race to take a comfortable victory.
"I think it was incredible today," Vandoorne said on the podium after the race. "Yesterday we qualified really well and I think we could have been on pole, but P2 was a great place to start from. I had a really good start, managed my tyres and that is how I won the race.
"Thanks to the safety car we could run a little bit longer on the soft tyres. I had no real degradation with them, but to be sure I pitted early to be sure of keeping the lead. Every lap my engineer told me the gap to Jolyon and I just tried to manage it."
Having qualified on pole, Palmer's start was a disaster as he slipped to sixth and behind him Daniel Abt also had issues dropping from third to tenth in the Hilmer Motorsports car. That was still better than Simon Trummer, however, who stalled on the formation lap and had to start from the pitlane.
After a frantic opening to the new season the safety car was called for on lap three when Axcil Jefferies was punted into the barriers on the run to turn four by Kimiya Sato. The Japanese driver ran into the back of the Trident car as he attempted a cutback move and was subsequently handed a ten second stop/go penalty by the stewards.
With the safety car in at the end of lap six, many of the runners jumped straight into the pits for their mandatory stops. Great work from the Caterham mechanics saw them stop both Rio Haryanto and Alexander Rossi on the same lap, but the speedy pit work was not enough to get either into the points at the chequered flag.
DAMS called Palmer in on lap seven and some quick laps around his stop saw him work his way up to a net second place by lap ten, just 2.2 seconds behind Vandoorne. The British driver would ultimately finish third after Leal eased past him into turn one with three laps to go as the 23-year-old struggled for grip in the closing stages.
"The start was a big mess really - just a bit of finger problems from my point of view," Palmer said.
"We have been trying new procedures and it just didn't really work at all and it is difficult when you go from first down to sixth or seventh to compose yourself and come back. We ran a good strategy, the team did a good pitstop and we jumped up to second, but at the end it was really, really tough with the rear tyres."
The midpoint of the race provided a brief respite before the drivers who had started on the harder tyre started to come to the fore after making their mandatory stops. Arthur Pic - younger brother of former F1 racer Charles - was flying in the Campos Racing car in the final ten laps, easily picking off the cars ahead of him on new soft tyres, eventually finishing fifth. Honda young driver Takuya Izawa would finish behind him in the second ART car as he also surged through the pack in the closing stages having run the reverse strategy.
All these stops meant that Trummer found himself in the lead having started from the pitlane and having somehow made his tyres last 29 laps, he pitted with two laps to go. He rejoined in ninth and passed Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Felipe Nasr on the final lap to take seventh and thus will start Sunday's Sprint Race from second on the grid.
No-one had an answer to the pace of Vandoorne, however, and the rookie made a real statement in front of the watching McLaren management.
GP2 Bahrain - Feature Race
1) Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) - ART Grand Prix - 59:57.411
2) Julian Leal (COL) - Carlin - +1.551
3) Jolyon Palmer (GBR) - DAMS - +5.880
4) Stefano Coletti (MON) - Racing Engineering - +6.317
5) Arthur Pic (FRA) - Campos Racing - +15.100
6) Takuya Izawa (JAP) - ART Grand Prix - +21.729
7) Simon Trummer (SUI) - Rapax - +21.979
8) Felipe Nasr (BRA) - Carlin - +24.425
9) Rene Binder (AUT) - Arden International - +24.861
10) Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (GBR) - Rapax - +26.194
13) Daniel Abt (GER) - Hilmer Motorsport - +36.231
17) Jon Lancaster (GBR) - MP Motorsport - +42.412