Nico Hulkenberg is a step closer to the GP2 2009 drivers’ title – and an almost-certain move to Williams F1 – after extending his lead over his nearest rival to 20 points.
His cause has been helped by the recruiting of third-placed Romain Grosjean into F1 by Renault, meaning one of his big challengers is no longer a threat.
Grosjean has been replaced at Barwa Addax by Davide Valsecchi, whose Durango seat has since been occupied by Monaco’s Stefano Coletti, 20. He raced for the first time in the series at Valencia.
Coletti, already a two time winner this year in the F3 Euroseries, said he was delighted to join the team: “I know that in Valencia I will have a very difficult job to do, but the opportunity to make my GP2 debut now is one I could not miss.”
Hulkenberg spent the weekend battling with Vitaly Petrov, Grosjean’s former team-mate at Barwa Addax, for championship position. Here’s how the weekend shaped up:
Practice: Hulkenberg sets scorcher to top timesheet
Fastest in the weekend’s opening stage was ART’s Hulkenberg who just pipped Barwa’s Petrov and his team-mate Pastor Maldonado to the top spot on the timesheet.
The three drivers were separated by just one tenth of a second and Hulkenberg’s best result was a 1:46.871 lap, topping Petrov by just 0.009 at the end of a session characterised by scorching conditions and a very fast track.
Maldonado and Ocean’s Karun Chandhok set the early pace for the first 10 minutes of the session, after which Hulkenberg started to exert himself. In a session that saw few driver errors, all eyes were on the top three as they fought for position..
But with Hulkenberg setting a lap half a second faster than Giorgio Pantano’s equivalent lap last year with just two minutes remaining, and a combined desire to stay out of trouble ahead of this afternoon’s qualifying session, the front runners took a wise decision to keep their powder dry for qualifying instead of duking it out.
Qualifying: Hulkenberg claims dominant pole
Hulkenberg continued where he left off on Friday morning and claimed the pole for race one ahead of title rivals Petrov and Racing Engineering’s Lucas di Grassi. The German’s best lap of 1:45.025, set late in the session, put him four tenths of a second ahead of his rivals and, after Petrov had to pull into the pits with electrical problems, his place as polesitter was assured.
Super Nova’s Luca Filippi and di Grassi set the early running but were rapidly outshone by Petrov and Hulkenberg, who left the rest of the field unable to get close to the laps the two title contenders were putting down.
Filippi went out early on fresh tyres while the others sat in the pits but his plan failed when he had a heavy shunt at turn 20, badly damaging his car and bringing out the red flags. When the track was clear the pack emerged with most drivers, including Hulkenberg, improving their times.
Petrov dived into the pits unexpectedly, was called to the weighbridge and was then unable to restart the car due to an electrical problem, handing his German rival pole position.
Behind the top three were Arden’s Sergio Perez, Piquet’s Roldan Rodriguez, Ocean’s Alvaro Parente, Racing Engineerig’s Dani Clos and Chandhok.
Race one: Petrov restates title challenge
So far, Hulkenberg had things his own way – but in race one Petrov took everything the ART driver could throw at him and still secured his third win in as many years at Valencia after leading from the second corner to the flag. The title rivals crossed the line together ahead of Perez, who recorded his first podium finish in the main series.
Petrov made a storming start from the dirty side of the track and was alongside Hulkenberg into the first corner before pressuring the German into going wide at the next turn to relinquish the lead for what proved to be the remainder of the race.
Perez, forcing his way by Lucas di Grassi following an equally impressive getaway, also got alongside Hulkenberg but had to fall back a few corners later. Parente and Rodriguez looked in vain similarly for a way past the Brazilian.
As the lead pair streaked away from the rest of the field Arden’s Edoardo Mortara, who moved up five places at the start, decided to risk an early pitstop followed by Hulkenberg on lap 11 and Petrov one lap later. Petrov struggled to hang onto his lead on cold tyres but defended his place regardless to win by 0.3 seconds.
Di Grassi lost out on fourth when he stopped a few laps from the end with suspected hydraulic issues, allowing Parente to claim the spot. Mortara crossed the line in sixth while Luca Filippi made up for his qualifying crash by finishing seventh from 14th on the grid, ahead of Pastor Maldonado who spun on the first lap and fought all afternoon for the final point.
Penalty following race one
Maldonado was excluded from the results of race one in Valencia after post-race scrutineering discovered that the floor of his car was too low on its right side.
Maldonado finished the race in eighth place for one point and the reverse pole position for race two. But a retaining bolt had worked loose, putting the car in breach of the Technical Regulations, as the right side of the vehicle did not comply with the proscribed dimensions.
DAMS’ Kamui Kobayashi was promoted to eighth in the results, allowing him to start race two from pole position, while Maldonado was demoted to the rear of the grid.
Race two: Hulkenberg takes fourth season win
Hulkenberg claimed his fourth win of the season with an easy victory in race two after a superb start from seventh put him in prime position to ride out the storms that would follow.
The metaphorical heavy weather started after Filippi made an impressive getaway from the dirty side of the track past polesitter Kamui Kobayashi, who reciprocated by tapping his wheel and spinning the Italian at turn one, blocking the track and bringing out the safety car.
At the restart Kobayashi held on despite a broken front wing. Rodriguez’ attempt to get by ended in the wall, promoting Hulkenberg to second as the safety car made a return. He took the lead ahead of Perez at the restart as Kobayashi was pulled into the pits.
Next Perez’ team-mate Mortara knocked Parente into a spin. Petrov found the right line through the resulting chaos to put himself side by side with DAMS’ Jerome d’Ambrosio, although he had to wait until the final turn to secure fourth place, just as the safety car returned.
Then Mortara was handed a drive through for causing the Parente spin. Hulkenberg set a series of fastest laps to build a strong lead over Perez, who held on for the rest of the race to claim second ahead of Petrov.
D’Ambrosio was fourth, iSport’s Diego Nunes fifth and Chandhok sixth, claiming the final point. In the championship battle Hulkenberg extended his lead over Petrov by 20 points with just a week to go to the next round in Spa-Francorchamps.
Standings (points-scorers only listed):
- Nicolas Hulkenberg, ART: 75 points
- Vitaly Petrov, Barwa Addax: 55 points
- Romain Grosjean, Barwa Addax: 45 points
- Lucas Di Grassi, Racing Engineering: 40 points
- Pastor Maldonado, ART: 31 points
- Luca Filippi, Super Nova: 24 points
- Jerome d’Ambrosio, DAMS: 21 points
- Andreas Zuber, FMS: 20 points
- Javier Villa, Super Nova: 20 points
- Sergio Perez, Arden: 18 points
- Alberto Valerio, Piquet: 16 points
- Alvaro Parente, Ocean: 14 points
- Giedo van der Garde, iSport: 13 points
- Edoardo Mortara, Arden: 13 points
- Roldan Rodriguez, Piquet: 12 points
- Davide Valsecchi, Durango/Barwa Addax: 10 points
- Karun Chandhok, Ocean: 10 points
- Kamui Kobayashi, DAMS: 8 points
- Diego Nunes, iSport: 2 points
- Davide Rigon, Trident: 1 point