|There was a huge change in the Hockenheim weather for today’s 27 lap Sprint Race with black clouds and a wet track following a rain storm just 15 minutes before the start with the air and track temperatures down to 23° and 26°. With the track still wet and some rain still falling the problem for all the teams was whether to start on wet or slick tyres and there seemed to be no agreement amongst the teams as some went for one option and some for the other. For Stefano, starting 5th on the grid after his 4th place in yesterday’s Feature Race, the Racing Engineering team opted for slicks while Lello, starting 17th, had wets.
As the lights went off all the cars that were on slicks found it very difficult to get any grip while those with wets were able to make a much better get away. It was Lello who made an absolutely stunning start passing cars on all sides and moving up to 9th into the first corner which soon became 7th as the lap unfolded, however an on-track incident saw the safety car deployed on the opening lap.
The Safety Car period ended as the cars started lap 4 and Lello immediately passed Quaife-Hobbs for 6th and he then overtook both Berthon and Palmer to take 4th and as the lap progressed he took Evans to lie in an amazing 3rd position and he was now right on the gearbox of Sorensen in 2nd. However just as he was passing the MP Motorsport car, Sorensen went wide forcing Lello off track and as the Racing Engineering car returned to the track the young Italian found the car stuck in 6th gear and he had to return to the pits to retire after a brilliant display of wet weather driving.
Stefano made a reasonable start but found himself swamped by the cars on wet tyres and as the Safety Car was deployed he was down to 13th but the first runner on slick tyres which would be a big advantage if the rain stopped and the track began to dry. Stefano initially struggled on the wet track as all the drivers on slicks fought for grip and he dropped back to 19th but as the rain stopped and track conditions began to improve a little, the young Monegasque was able to speed up and on lap 9 he was up to 17th and setting new personal fastest times on successive laps. By lap 11 many of the cars on wets began to stop to change to slicks and on lap 12 Stefano set the fastest lap of the race so far with a 1:43.246s and he was now up to 13th place.
The Safety Car was out on track again as several cars that had just swapped to wets spun off and the Racing Engineering car was now lying 8th as the Safety car period ended. On lap 14 Stefano was 4th and chasing Sorensen hard and he was immediately ahead of the MP Motorsport car and within a few metres he also passed Vandoorne for 2nd and then as leader Negrão pitted Stefano was suddenly in the lead.
Stefano now pushed hard and on lap 17 he was 2.1 seconds ahead of a battling Vandoorne and Nasr. On the following lap Stefano set a new fastest lap of 1:30.317s but Nasr, now in second, was setting very similar times so he could not afford to relax and on the following lap he reduced his time to 1:29.055s but Nasr went even faster and on lap 20 the gap was down to 1.4 seconds. Stefano pushed again and reduced the fastest lap to 1:29.293s and with 5 laps remaining the gap between first and second was 1.2 seconds and it now seemed likely that the race would be a timed one as the clock was approaching the one hour mark. Lap 23 saw the Racing Engineering car go faster still as Stefano lapped in 1:25.941s bur Nasr wasn’t giving up as the cars began the final two laps. With one lap remaining the gap was down to just one second but another fastest lap at 1:25.449s saw Stefano take the chequered flap 1.2 seconds ahead of Nasr.
The Racing Engineering strategy of starting Stefano on slick tyres proved to be exactly right and Stefano took the maximum advantage by driving a faultless race in very difficult conditions that saw many drivers unable to cope with the changing weather. For Lello it was a very disappointing weekend with two mechanical problems outside his control meaning no points when he deserved to be on the podium in both races.
Thomas Couyotopoulo, Sporting Director of Racing Engineering: “It’s great to finally win a race today with Stefano Coletti under these challenging conditions. Rain just before the race complicated the strategy and the choices to make. Stefano did a brilliant job keeping the car on track with slicks when the track was very wet during the opening laps. But we knew before that this would be the key point, to be able to take advantage of the conditions changing to dry. He fought from start to finish and he also achieved the fastest lap time on the last lap of the race keeping Nasr and Vandoorne under control. On the other hand we are extremely frustrated by the electronic issue that put an end to Lello’s race. It was his first time racing in the wet in GP2 and he did a great job during the opening laps moving up into a top spot. It was clearly possible for him to also fight for the win, even though he was on a different strategy.”
Rafaele Marciello: “I had a good start and opening laps in the race. I was up in P3 already in what was my first time in the rain with a GP2 car. It’s quite incredible; I was that quick from the very beginning. I was able to win today, but I was stuck in 6th gear, went off and came into the pits, where I had to retire.”
Stefano Coletti:: “It was at the last moment on the grid that we decided to start on slicks, we knew it was a risky decision, but I’ve done it in the past, so I was quite confident with this choice. But when the race started, I was a bit worried it might have still been too wet. Then the conditions changed in my favour, the track dried up and I was able to overtake all the drivers, who put on slicks and won the race also scoring the points for fastest lap. I am very happy with the results achieved this weekend, the team did a great job and I am sure we will continue like this next weekend in Hungary.”