Jolyon Palmer took the GP2 title using Pirelli tyres in Russia. Jonathan Palmer, his father, used Pirelli tyres during his first full season of Formula One, back in 1984 with the Skoal Bandit RAM team.
Tyre strategy was key to Palmer taking the GP2 title after the feature race on Saturday, while the GP3 title race still remains open.
The P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres were nominated for GP2, with the leading runners electing to start the race on used softs, which offered a considerable performace advantage.
ART Grand Prix’s Stoffel Vandoorne started from pole with DAMS driver Palmer qualifying fourth and needing a win to be sure of claiming the title. The complexion of the race was altered by a safety car on lap eight: two laps after the pit stop window opened on lap six. Palmer, along with around half the rest of the field, used the safety car period to change tyres, but Vandoorne missed the opportunity to come in and remained on the softs until lap 24, leading the race. In order to do so, he picked up his pace considerably, making the most of his tyres to pull out an advantage. His pit stop then allowed Palmer to take the lead and score the necessary points to claim the title. Vandoorne eventually finished fifth, while Palmer’s key title rival, Felipe Nasr, finished 18th after serving two drive-through penalties.
Palmer said: “The safety car restart was crazy with people going off everywhere and I was not the most committed. At that moment, I thought the win was gone but I just had to focus on getting past the other guys… I had no idea Nasr was out of contention at that moment. I was actually thinking he must be having quite a strong race because I saw him pit under the safety car as well. He got the strategy right. But I didn’t really care about the standings. I just wanted to win the race.”
Thanks to the experience gained on Pirelli tyres, Palmer’s next target is Formula One: “I’m driving at the top of my game,” he added. “I know the tyres thanks to GP2. It is the perfect series to feed into Formula One: it is the same tyres, the same tracks, the cars are even now a similar speed.”
All the drivers used the medium tyre for the GP2 sprint race on Sunday apart from Hilmer Motorsport’s Daniel Abt, who used the soft compound for the entire 21-lap race. He made up 10 places, finishing 13th after starting 23rd on the grid following his retirement from Saturday’s race. Marco Sorensen (MP Motorsport) claimed his first GP2 victory from reverse grid pole.
The medium tyre only was nominated for GP3 in Russia. Dean Stoneman claimed pole and won the very first international race ever to be held at the Sochi Autodrom, driving for Koiranen GP. He set the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate lap, underlining both the consistent pace and durability of Pirelli’s medium compound.
Stoneman commented: “I know I’m a very good racer and good at looking after my tyres. I edged the tyres in gently on the first few laps, which gave me an advantage. I settled the pace down and four laps from the end I pushed hard. I could have pushed a lot more but at the end of the day I need to finish the race to score points.”
Sunday’s GP3 race was characterized by two safety car periods and a red flag, but a thrilling final lap meant that the winning margin of Patric Niederhauser (Arden) was just 0.368s over Stoneman. The Englishman’s charge through the field, during which he perfectly managed his tyres, meant that he deprived series leader Alex Lynn of the points that he needed to wrap up the title.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “The medium and soft tyres showed the right compromise between performance and durability at this brand new venue, which represented a step into the unknown for all the drivers and teams, who had to rely on simulated data rather than real information. As it turned out, there was a surprising level of grip on the smooth asphalt. Despite this lack of knowledge they were quickly on the pace, with the GP2 drivers using the soft tyre for the first time on their qualifying laps and soon understanding the performance advantages that it offered. There were some interesting strategies in both races, with Palmer’s decision to change to the medium under the safety car ultimately winning him the GP2 title, while Abt showed the durability of the soft tyre once more on Sunday. In GP3 we saw several impressive drives, proving that even with a single tyre and no pit stops, the races remain entertaining.”
The GP2 and GP3 Series will both conclude in Abu Dhabi from 21-23 November.