McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne has made a perfect start to the 2015 GP2 Series season by claiming an impressive victory in the feature race in Bahrain on Saturday, finishing ahead of Rio Haryanto and American driver Alexander Rossi.
Starting from pole position, Vandoorne opted to complete the first stint of the race on the prime tire, but this decision appeared to backfire when an early safety car period allowed the option runners to pit and take what was effectively a free stop.
Fitted with a fresher set of prime tires, Rossi managed to fight his way past the drivers that had opted not to pit, and enjoyed a 25 second advantage over Vandoorne once the Belgian had made his mandatory stop.
However, as the prime runners began to struggle with tire wear at the end of the race, Vandoorne began to bring himself back into contention for the race win, gaining seconds hand over fist with each lap that went by.
With two laps remaining, the ART driver eased past Rossi for the race win, and was followed through by Campos driver Rio Haryanto on the final lap of the race as the American racer dropped to third place at the checkered flag.
By setting the fastest lap of the race, Vandoorne secured the maximum score of 31 points from the first race of the year, living up to his billing as the favorite for the championship.
Three of his possible title rivals – Pierre Gasly, Raffaele Marciello and Arthur Pic – all saw their races come to an early end following a four-car pile up that sparked the safety car period earlier in the race.
Marciello tried to overtake Arden’s Norman Nato into turn eight, only for the French driver to swipe across and try to cut off the Italian’s advances. In doing so, Nato hit Arthur Pic and spun him into the wall and into the path of the incoming Gasly. The result was retirement for all four drivers, and an early blow to their championship aspirations.
GP2 debutants Jordan King and Robert Visoiu both impressed in Bahrain, making the best of their strategies to finish fourth and fifth respectively. Mitch Evans fought through the field to see the flag in sixth place ahead of Nathanael Berthon, whilst Julian Leal will start on reverse grid pole on Sunday after finishing eighth.
“Well, it was a very entertaining race!” Vandoorne said after his win. “I had some overtaking to do. It’s always good to come on top after all those moves.
“It’s been a really good start to my campaign with pole, win and fastest lap. It could not have gone any better.”
Despite being pleased with third place, Rossi admitted that he was disappointed not to have won after leading for so many laps.
“To get this result is a good thing, but when you lead for the majority of the race, it’s quite difficult to accept finishing only third,” the American said.
“But I think we got the best result we could get with the strategy that we chose. In the end, it’s a good race for the team.”
You can watch all of the highlights from GP2 in Bahrain on Monday at 2am ET on NBCSN.