Nikita Mazepin produced a dominant performance to win the opening GP3 race of the season in Barcelona, leading home an ART 1-2-3.
The ART driver, who was making his debut in the GP3 series, got the perfect start to pass the slow starting Campos of pole position holder Leonardo Pulcini and lead every lap to take the first win in the 2018 season by 3.649 seconds and the early championship lead. Mazepin had been the least fancied of the ART Grand Prix drivers after testing but the Russian had shown pace throughout the weekend and controlled the whole race, immediately replying to any challenge shown from the field.
Frenchman Anthoine Hubert finished in second place behind his ART team-mate after jumping up to the position off the start. Hubert had to work for his runners-up position after Callum Ilott, also part of the ART squad, closed early on and passed Hubert around the outside of turn one with DRS on lap 12. Hubert used his experience on the tyres to keep them in good condition and returned the favour to Ilott with three laps to go down the main straight to secure second. British driver Ilott completed the all-ART podium, having also jumped Pulcini at the start, and will have learnt a lot about the tyres in the series on his debut to make him stronger in the rounds to come.
After a disappointing start where he fell to fifth place from pole position, Pulcini turned his pace around to pass Dorian Boccolacci with three laps to go as the Frenchman slid wide in turn three on his fading tyre life. Even with a good start, the strength of ART might have overwhelmed the Italian but it is still a strong start to his title challenge with Campos Racing.
From sixth on the grid, Boccolacci’s race followed a similar pattern to his 2017 form. With strong pace in the opening half of the race, the MP Motorsport driver then formed a queue behind him of Pulcini, David Beckmann and Giuliano Alesi but no-one in the queue quite had the extra pace needed to make a move. The train of cars ran in this order throughout the race until Boccolacci’s mistake but fifth place is a good start to his season. Beckmann challenged Boccolacci throughout the race and demonstrated good pace on his series debut, holding off the experienced Alesi for sixth.
Seventh place will be disappointing for Alesi and the Trident team after targeting the title in 2018 but after starting ninth, the Frenchman will be happy to have a relatively clear race and secure a reverse grid front row for tomorrow’s sprint race. After finishing in eighth place today, Juan Manuel Correa’s Jenzer Motorsport car will start from pole position in the sprint race as the American had to fight back from dropping down 11th early on in the race.
Trident’s Pedro Piquet followed Correa through the field after the pair started together on the grid to score confidence boosting points in his first race in the car, whilst Mexican Diego Menchaca claimed the final points position as he passed ART’s Jake Hughes late on, in a move that allowed Piquet to gain two positions in one move. Hughes had made his way up from 11th on the grid to the all-important eighth place for reverse grid pole but fell back into the clutches of Alessio Lorandi. The Italian driver used his DRS to challenge Hughes on the outside of turn one and as the track bent in Lorandi’s
favour, the Trident driver bounced off the kerb and, with slight contact with the ART, into the gravel. Lorandi managed to recover from this off-track moment to claim 11th, whilst Hughes had to settle for 13th, leaving the Brit with more work to do in the sprint race tomorrow to score any points from Barcelona.
It was a dramatic debut for Simo Laaksonen, who had qualified in a brilliant seventh place. The Campos Racing team had left one of the cooling fans in the sidepod for the formation lap and the Finn had to give up his place on the grid and start from the pit lane after removing the fan. A recovery drive to 15th is the best he could manage but could be one to watch in the sprint race. British driver and MP Motorsport driver Will Palmer finished as the last classified runner in 18th, whilst Tatiana Calderón and Niko Kari were the only retirements from the race. Kari seemed to be missing drive off the grid and pulled straight into retirement at the end of the pit lane. Both drivers will start on the back row of tomorrow’s 17-lap sprint race.