Belgian denies Pic in race long duel
Stoffel Vandoorne led from lights to flag, pitstop period excepted, for a strong victory in yesterday afternoon's feature race in Monza, but the McLaren test driver didn't have it all his own way: he rebuffed race-long pressure from Arthur Pic for his third win of the season, with Mitch Evans filling out the podium.
The Belgian made a solid start from pole when the lights went out, but moved immediately to his right to defend from fellow front row starter Pic, who had an equally strong getaway ahead of Evans and Richelmi, who had picked up a few positions when Simon Trummer stalled and Raffaele Marciello almost copied him, while Julian Leal, Daniel Abt, Felipe Nasr and André Negrao following the Monegasque driver through the first chicane.
Next time through the corner didn't go quite to plan, however: Nasr sliced his way past Abt, but behind them Kimiya Sato collected Daniel de Jong going into the chicane, while Takuya Izawa and Rene Binder came together, forcing Marciello wide into the gravel and retirement. Meanwhile, Series leader Jolyon Palmer was playing the long game: after starting from the rear of the grid due to yesterday's penalty, he picked off his rivals when the opportunity arose and was already in P15 by lap 4.
With most of the leaders starting on the option tyres, they opted for conservative drives to extend the lives: Leal lost out in the pits to Abt and Negrao, with the German setting a string of fastest laps to put himself behind Richelmi on track as they waited for the prime starters to come in. Unfortunately for Abt he was jumped by Negrao at the 2nd chicane, throwing him back into the Carlin scrap as Leal and Nasr squabbled over position, with the Hilmer man forced off at the Lesmos complex into retirement.
Temporary race leader Marco Sorensen and the hard charging Palmer finally pitted on lap 20, emerging either side of Leal and Coletti, with the latter overtaking the Colombian in an incredible move at the Parabolica to put his qualy demons to rest in fine style. Unfortunately for both of them Palmer was on a mission, and would not be denied as he disposed of both men as the laps counted down.
Back at the front Vandoorne breezed across the line to claim victory from Pic, but the Frenchman was just 0.6 seconds behind as the flag dropped for his best result of the season: behind them Evans rounded out a solid but quiet drive for another podium finish, 4 seconds behind Vandoorne but almost six ahead of Richelmi in 4th. Negrao denied Nasr for P5 with a tremendous drive, with Sorensen finishing just ahead of Palmer, who claimed 8th and tomorrow's all-important pole position (along with the bonus points for fastest lap), ahead of Coletti and Johnny Cecotto, who picked up P10 when Leal was handed a drive through for the incident with Abt.
Palmer's superb recovery drive saw him preserve his drivers' championship lead by 216 points to Nasr's 186, while Vandoorne closed in to 164 points, ahead of Cecotto on 128 and Evans on 125 points, with more to come in this morning's sprint race.