Stoffel Vandoorne delighted the local fans by claiming an emotional feature race win today at Spa Francorchamps, leading from pole position despite a red flag for the dramatic crash by Daniel de Jong throwing everyone’s strategies into the air, with Arthur Pic and Artem Markelov joining the McLaren tester on the podium as a result.
The Belgian did almost everything right, although he was a little slow off the line when the lights went out: Sergey Sirotkin stormed into the lead from P3 but ran too deep at La Source, handing the lead back to the local man, whose teammate Nobu Matsushita and returnee Oliver Rowland came together right behind him, with the Briton having to limp back to the pits with a shredded tyre.
All of which gave Alexander Rossi, who made a stunning start from P8, a clean run through to second place out of the first turn, with Sirotkin sliding in behind the American and ahead of Mitch Evans, Williams tester Alex Lynn, Jordan King and Pic on the way to Eau Rouge: next time through King and Lynn had a huge battle, running side by side through the fabled corner before King came out on top at Les Combes.
On lap 5 de Jong had the pace, but not the space, to get past Pierre Gasly: the pair touched and the Dutchman had a huge impact at Blanchimont, but happily was able to get out of the car with the help of the marshals, who red flagged the race so that repairs could be made to the barriers. Those on soft tyres, including Vandoorne, Pic, Haryanto and Markelov, looked to have a free tyre change under the initial safety car, prompting those now at the front (Rossi, Evans, Sirotkin, King and Lynn) to switch to softs and work out a new strategy while everyone was stopped in the pitlane.
It was clear that the softs wouldn’t last to the end of the race, but not what the front runners were planning other than to try to get away from Vandoorne when the race went live. Half an hour later and so it proved, with the front men swapping fastest laps as they tried to get away, with the Belgian driver biding his time and waiting for the race to come back to him.
Six or so laps later, and the answer was provided: with Vandoorne slicing his way forward from P9 at the restart with Rio Haryanto on his rear wing, the soft shod drivers were all calling the pits to update their engineers on the tyre degradation. Rossi was the first man in, on lap 16 for more softs, with the others coming in on successive laps and following suit, handing the local man the lead on lap 21, just as Haryanto was called in for a stop go penalty caused by his team still working on his car at the restart, undoing his earlier good work of getting past teammate Pic and handing the place back to the Frenchman.
As the race rolled down the new leaders were nursing their old tyres as the ‘new’ soft-shod drivers were fighting their way back up to the front, but as the flag dropped it was Vandoorne who pumped the air with delight at finally taking his home race, almost 10 seconds ahead of Pic (from P14 on the grid) and Markelov (a stunning first podium from P22 at the start), who just held off Julian Leal for 3rd. Evans and Rossi’s late race dash spilled over into contact at the Bus Stop, with the Kiwi driver taking P5 from his rival in the incident, while Nathanael Berthon hung on for 7th ahead of a storming King, who claimed tomorrow’s pole position ahead of Sirotkin and Marlon Stockinger, who picked up his first point in GP2.
Vandoorne stretched his lead in the drivers’ championship, now leading Rossi by 223 points to 113, with Haryanto just behind him on 109 points from Sirotkin on 105, Lynn on 85 and Gasly on 61 points ahead of tomorrow morning’s sprint race.
Feature Race results
1 Stoffel Vandoorne ART Grand Prix
2 Arthur Pic Campos Racing
3 Artem Markelov RUSSIAN TIME
4 Julian Leal Carlin
5 Mitch Evans RUSSIAN TIME
6 Alexander Rossi Racing Engineering
7 Nathanaël Berthon Daiko Team Lazarus
8 Jordan King Racing Engineering
9 Sergey Sirotkin Rapax
10 Marlon Stockinger Status Grand Prix
11 Gustav Malja Trident
12 Alex Lynn DAMS
13 Sergio Canamasas Daiko Team Lazarus
14 Pierre Gasly DAMS
15 Rio Haryanto Campos Racing
16 Richie Stanaway Status Grand Prix
17 Raffaele Marciello Trident
18 Sean Gelael Carlin
19 Robert Visoiu Rapax
20 André Negrao Arden International
Oliver Rowland MP Motorsport
Nick Yelloly Hilmer Motorsport
Nobuharu Matsushita ART Grand Prix
Daniel De Jong MP Motorsport
Norman Nato Arden International