Pastor Maldonado ran away with the opening GP2 race in Turkey, beating pole-sitter Davide Valsecchi away at the start and comfortably leading home the GP2 Asia champion and ART’s British driver Sam Bird.
Maldonado won by almost 18 seconds while easing off, and moves into the lead of the championship with 26 points against the 22 of Sergio Perez who finished fourth today.
Perez ran second for the middle section of the race after leap-frogging Valsecchi during the pitstops, but he lost the place again on lap 26 of 32 and soon found Bird breathing down his neck.
Sustained pressure from the Brit eventually led to the two cars touching, but both were able to continue and Bird found his way past with a handful of laps left. He then set off down the road in pursuit of Valsecchi but ran out of time before catching him, despite closing by almost a second a lap.
He said: “We had a nice battle with Sergio today, and I thought I’d done enough to take the position but he moved across quite quickly and aggressively and took off the front of the nose, but that’s okay: it’s tough racing, it didn’t affect my car, I got the position, so no harm done.
“It was an exciting race, and it’s great to race at the front – I think that’s where we need to be from now on, because it’s fun at the front. I’ve enjoyed my races so far, battling through the field and being fast, but it’s fun to be at the front and to be fast as well, and that’s where I intend to be for the rest of the season.”
Another British driver who had a good day was Max Chilton, who recovered well after losing places at the start to take his best GP2 finish to date in 10th place.
By contrast, iSport’s Oliver Turvey saw his day wrecked by a pair of drive-through penalties. Starting third, he quickly fell behind Perez and Bird before being penalised for excessive movement while defending. His second penalty came for speeding while serving his drive-through, and he eventually finished 15th.
He said: “I had a good start, better than Davide and Maldonado, and I tried to challenge them but Davide got quite a slow getaway and I got boxed in behind him and that compromised me going into turn 1. We lost position to Perez and Bird.
“From there on we had quite quick pace and we were getting quicker, we were catching the guys ahead. We had a good pit stop and we almost caught Van Der Garde but not quite but I knew I was going to have better pace later in the race. But then a couple of laps after the pit stop I got told I had a drive through penalty, didn’t know what for.
“I didn’t think I had done anything wrong but you can’t argue as you have to take them within three laps. So we had to take the drive though and that ruined our race. It was a real shame really because after qualifying so well we had a good chance of being on the podium and I’m quite disappointed because of that.
“I got told after the race the penalty was for moving more than once but in the incident involved I felt I had moved once to defend my position I then moved back to the inside to take the first corner which is a left hand corner, so I moved to take the corner and not to defend my position.”
Bird’s team-mate, the pre-season favourite Jules Bianchi, was an early retirement from the race after trying to pass Charles Pic but instead taking them both out.