Giuliano Alesi won a chaotic GP3 sprint race through mixed conditions in Barcelona.
Alesi, a Ferrari Academy Driver, got the perfect start from second on the grid to control the race throughout three safety car periods to claim his first win of the season and the fourth sprint race victory of his GP3 career. ART claimed another double podium with second and third for Anthoine Hubert and the recovering Jake Hughes, who came from 13th on the grid.
The race started in wet conditions with all the drivers starting on the wet Pirelli tyres apart from MP Motorsport’s Will Palmer, who gambled on slick tyres from 18th on the grid. Pole position holder Juan Manuel Correa was slow off the start and was passed by both Alesi and Hubert. Alesi defended well from Hubert through the opening couple of laps whilst the tyres were coming up to temperature before the first safety car of the day came out on lap three for Pedro Piquet’s crash on the exit of turn nine.
Piquet, who had moved up to sixth from ninth on the grid, lost the back of the car through the uphill left-hander and slid into the inside wall, destroying the back of the car and retiring on the spot. The second safety car came out on lap 11 as Arden International’s weekend got worse with Gabriel Aubry beaching himself in the gravel after running wide at the turn seven chicane as team-mate Joey Mawson passed him on the inside.
At this point, Jenzer Motorsport decided to pit Tatiana Calderon and David Beckmann for slicks, Beckmann having already been off at turn five on the opening lap battling with Campos’ Leonardo Pulcini. Beckmann again slid off at turn five whilst trying to get his slick tyres up to temperature. This decision also led to the third and final safety car as Calderon slid off at turn five after the second restart, beaching in the gravel and needing the tractor to recover her car. The reason for so many cars going off at turn five could be the extra standing water on the track from the circuit needing to clear up a hydraulic leak from Saturday’s action.
A last lap shootout for position was set but Alesi controlled all the restarts well and took the win by 2.077 seconds. His father, former Ferrari driver Jean, revelled in mixed conditions during his Formula One career and it would seem the skills set needed have been passed on to his son.
Anthoine Hubert will be happy with a second successive second place, after finishing runner-up in yesterday’s feature race. The Frenchman now takes an early lead in the championship. British driver Jake Hughes rounded off the podium in a weekend of what might have been for the 23-year-old from Birmingham. Hughes, who was fastest in practice for the event and started 13th on the grid after a disappointing feature race on Saturday, passed nine cars on the opening lap to move up to fourth place. Hughes secured his first podium of the season by overtaking Correa’s Jenzer on lap ten on the pit straight.
Juan Manuel Correa fought off the attention of MP Motorsport’s Dorian Boccolacci for the rest of the race to finish in fourth after starting on pole of the reverse grid, whilst Boccolacci did not have the tyre wear issues he had in the dry conditions on Saturday to take a second fifth place from the weekend. MP Motorsport’s strength during their debut in the series was shown by Niko Kari. The Finn, who didn’t complete a lap during the feature race, charged through the field from last on the grid to finish just four tenths behind his team-mate Boccolacci and showing they will be a force to be reckoned with during the 2018 season. The team’s gamble to place Will Palmer on slicks at the start did not work but with the three safety cars bunching the field and with the track drying enough in the final lap, the British driver recovered to 13th by the chequered flag.
Third place from yesterday’s race, Callum Ilott might have wanted more from the race but was powerless to stop the flying Kari coming past and had to settle for seventh, leaving him fourth in the points standings behind race winner and fellow Ferrari Academy driver Alesi. It was the day for the flying Finns as Campos’ Simo Laaksonen made his way up from 15th on the grid to score the final point of the weekend and his first GP3 points on debut.
Yesterday’s winner Nikita Mazepin finished in tenth as he struggled to climb through the order in between the safety car periods. Pole position holder from yesterday’s race Leonardo Pulcini missed out on a point finishing in ninth.
Whilst Trident did win the race, it wasn’t such a good day for the other three drivers in the field. After Piquet’s crash, Ryan Tveter had shown some of the form that was expected of him to move up to eighth after a lackluster feature race but a broken front wing dropped the American to 14th by the finish. Alessio Lorandi had looked good for a top ten position but a puncture before the final safety car left him down in 16th.
The GP3 series now takes a six week break until they return to action at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France, the home round for five out of the 20 drivers on the grid including championship leader ART’s Anthoine Hubert.