Nico Hulkenberg has become the first driver in the five-year history of GP2 to secure a championship victory before the last weekend of the season.
The Williams F1 tester, whose entry into the top-flight formula is now more or less assured, came away from this weekend’s event at Monza 22 points clear of his nearest rival Vitaly Petrov. There are now just 20 points available during the season finale at The Algarve.
Petrov kept his hopes alive with a second place in the feature race but couldn’t stay ahead of Hulkenberg to keep the championship open past the sprint. However his Barwa Addax team could still secure the constructors’ title from Hulkenberg’s ART.
Here’s how the weekend played out:
Practice: Rodriguez dominates the session
Piquet’s Roldan Rodriguez claimed the top spot on the timesheets ahead of Racing Engineering’s Lucas di Grassi and Super Nova’s Javier Villa after leading the running for almost the entire session.
The Spaniard set his fastest lap of 1:30.607 six minutes into a largely trouble-free session, leaving the rest of the field unable to catch him.
Ocean’s Alvaro Parente and ART’s Pastor Maldonado both hit the tyre wall at the Parabolica, while Piquet’s Alberto Valerio escaped serious damage after glancing off the barrier there.
Behind the top three HÃ¼lkenberg, Petrov, iSport’s Diego Nunes, his team-mate Giedo van der Garde, Maldonado, Arden’s Edoardo Mortara and Super Nova’s Luca Filippi were all within a second of the top time.
Qualifying: Petrov fuels championship hopes
Petrov kept his championship hopes going with a strong drive in difficult conditions to claim pole for race one ahead of van der Garde and points leader HÃ¼lkenberg.
The Russian produced a lap time of 1:30.007, four-tenths of a secnd faster than the rest of the field, to pick up two points on offer and close the gap to HÃ¼lkenberg to 25 points.
Petrov set his time at the start of the session and remained at the top of the timesheets by virtue of also setting the second- and third-fastest laps on his second set of tyres and then getting out of his car before the session ended.
Fourth was Arden’s Sergio Perez ahead of di Grassi, who took a 10-place grid place penalty from race two at Spa, Maldonado, Rodriguez and Nunes. 15 drivers were within a second of pole.
Race one: Van der Garde triumphs in wet feature
Van der Garde claimed his first feature race win after a race-long fight in wet conditions, stealing the victory in the closing stages from Petrov and di Grassi.
The race was delayed by heavy rain, but eventually got underway behind the safety car, which stayed out for five laps. As it pulled in Petrov and van der Garde led the field but Perez quickly succumbed to a spin.
Parente was a major beneficiary from the start, climbing from 17th on the grid to 8th behind di Grassi at the end of the first racing lap, with DAMS’ JÃ©rÃ´me d’Ambrosio also climbing from 21st to 12th – but many other drivers were caught out by the slippery conditions.
HÃ¼lkenberg briefly challenged the leading pair, who were rapidly building an unassailable gap, but ran wide at the Parabolica and surrendered his advantage. A slippery track meant a number of drivers picking up drive-through penalties for cutting chicanes.
Meanwhile di Grassi, Parente and d’Ambrosio continued to gain places as their rivals struggled just to stay on the track. With three laps to go van der Garde came in for what seemed like an unfortunately-timed pitstop. But, when Petrov came out of the pits one lap later, the Dutchman saw his chance and pounced.
Taking the lead, he held on for another lap until the safety car returned to the track and cut the racing short. Di Grassi closed up behind the safety car, holding on against fierce pressure from Parente, until the Portuguese driver picked up a drive-through penalty.
D’Ambrosio crossed the line fourth with Mortara fifth, also taking the point for the fastest lap, and Hulkenberg sixth. Parente and Villa filled out the points. Petrov’s second place was enough for him to cut his championship deficit to Hulkenberg to 20 points.
Alvaro Parente was given a penalty for speeding in the pitlane during race one. The Portuguese driver, who was fighting for position with Lucas di Grassi for third place before picking up a drive through penalty for cutting the chicane three times, ultimately finished the race in seventh position. He also had 25 seconds added to his time for the speeding infringement.
As a result Parente dropped to 11th place in the final standings, with Javier Villa promoted to seventh place and Coloni’s Luiz Razia finishing in eighth for the final points position and the reverse pole position for race two.
Race two: Razia wins the sprint – and Hulkenberg the championship
Razia took an easy victory in the sprint race ahead of di Grassi at the same time as Hulkenberg secured the season championship with a third-place finish.
The German needed to claim one point more than Petrov to be sure of the title, and he soaked up extensive pressure until Petrov ran wide late in the race, making HÃ¼lkenberg the first driver to win the title before the final round.
Razia enjoyed his first pole position after being promoted to eighth place and his first ever point due to Parente’s penalty. He led the field away and di Grassi also had a storming start to slot in behind him at the first chicane.
Petrov was unable to dispense with HÃ¼lkenberg, who sliced in front of his rival for third, with JÃ©rÃ´me d’Ambrosio and Edoardo Mortara running line astern behind the pair.
An incident at the Lesmos between Racing Engineering’s Dani Clos and Nunes left the latter’s car upside down and the safety car out for two laps. When it came in the leading four drivers left the rest of the field behind.
Razia reached the chequered flag with a 2.5-second lead over di Grassi, and the champion HÃ¼lkenberg two seconds further back. D’Ambrosio held on ahead of Petrov for fourth and fifth with van der Garde picked up the final point after inheriting a place from the damaged Mortara.
Standings (points-scorers only listed):
- Nicolas HÃ¼lkenberg, ART: 90 points
- Vitaly Petrov, Barwa Addax: 68 points
- Lucas Di Grassi, Racing Engineering: 57 points
- Romain Grosjean, Barwa Addax: 45 points
- Pastor Maldonado, ART: 36 points
- Giedo van der Garde, iSport: 33 points
- JÃ©rÃ´me d’Ambrosio, DAMS: 29 points
- Alvaro Parente, Ocean: 27 points
- Luca Filippi, Super Nova: 24 points
- Sergio PÃ©rez, Arden: 22 points
- Javier Villa, Super Nova: 22 points
- Roldan Rodriguez, Piquet: 21 points
- Andreas Zuber, FMS: 20 points
- Edoardo Mortara, Arden: 19 points
- Alberto Valerio, Piquet: 16 points
- Kamui Kobayashi, DAMS: 10 points
- Davide Valsecchi, Durango/Barwa Addax: 10 points
- Karun Chandhok, Ocean: 10 points
- Luis Razia, Scuderia Coloni: 6 points
- Diego Nunes, iSport: 6 points
- Davide Rigon, Trident: 3 points