Kiwi on top again with great drive and alternate tyre strategy
Mitch Evans has claimed his second feature race victory in successive races with a spectacular drive in furnace-like conditions, putting in an amazing stint on soft tyres and holding on from intense pressure in the closing stages to win from McLaren tester Stoffel Vandoorne and Series leader Jolyon Palmer.
Track temperatures of 57 degrees at the start threw tyre strategies into disarray, with the top ten opting for the conservative strategy of starting on primes, but with Evans starting in P15 he could afford to roll the dice and start on softs. When the lights went out Vandoorne had a brilliant start from second, easily dispatching poleman Palmer before turn one, and with Tom Dillmann stalling from P4 the rest of the field was held up, with Stefano Coletti and Felipe Nasr following the leaders through, ahead of Arthur Pic and Johnny Cecotto.
No one expected the softs to last long in the extreme temperatures, and so it appeared as the back half of the grid came in soon after the pits opened, but Evans, Pic and Raffaele Marciello slicing their way through the field: the latter two stopped on lap 11 but both stalled in the pits, undoing their good work and opening a window of opportunity for the New Zealander to jump through when he stopped two laps later, an impressive stint in brutal conditions.
Evans came out behind Stéphane Richelmi, the first of the stoppers, and the gap forward to Vandoorne was 32 seconds: Evans made short work of his rival at hairpin a couple of laps later to make himself the target for the eventual prime round of stops, and pulled a string of qualifying laps to overtake the last of the non-stoppers and put himself in the best position possible.Palmer and Coletti stopped on lap 23, Vandoorne and Nasr two laps later, and the ART driver emerged to see Evans ahead of him on track: while no one expected him to hold position, the question was how long would the softs last against old primes with 13 laps to go? But Palmer had other ideas and started pushing Vandoorne hard for position, giving Evans a bit of breathing space as the pair took the best out of their tyres fighting each other rather than him.
But the almost constant overtaking behind the podium places showed what could have been if they’d worked together to take the leader, rather than each other: Evans held on to win by 0.4 seconds from Vandoorne with Palmer dropping 2 seconds on the last lap, while Coletti and Nasr put in some of the best racing we’ve seen in 200 GP2 races to come from nowhere to finish P4/5 ahead of Simon Trummer, who also got the tyres call right to mug Johnny Cecotto and Nathanael Berthon, with Marco Sorensen sneaking ahead of a flagging Stephane Richelmi at the end of the race.
Despite the drama Palmer extended his lead in the drivers’ title fight over Nasr by 164 points to 115, ahead of Cecotto on 100 points, Evans on 92, Coletti on 79 and Vandoorne on 76 ahead of tomorrow’s (hopefully cooler) sprint race in Hockenheim.