Marina Bay, September 21-22: the comeback as an art form, but could this be the last time for GP2 in Singapore?
The destiny of the ninth GP2 Series title will be settled a matter of days after this issue hits the shops. Swiss Fabio Leimer and Englishman Sam Bird are separated by just seven points ahead of the Abu Dhabi showdown, while Felipe Nasr and Stefano Coletti are mathematically distant but notionally in contention.
The campaign’s penultimate double-header produced two splendidly gritty drives in what might be the series’ Singaporean swansong. Nothing had been confirmed at the time of writing, but sources suggest that championship rounds in Malaysia and Singapore might be dropped next year as part of a cost-cutting drive that has already led current chassis to be retained for a fourth season (rather than the customary three).
The opening race featured a spirited battle between Carlin team-mates Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr… although the interest seemed to dwindle around the mid-race tyre stops. Palmer made a slow start from pole, but recovered to pass Leimer and then set about Nasr. He was about 3.5sec adrift when the Brazilian made his tyre stop on the ninth lap of 28… and Nasr’s maiden GP2 win appeared a formality when Palmer stayed out until lap 12, by which stage he was lapping three seconds more slowly than his freshly rubbered sidekick. They were more than 13sec apart as the race’s second phase began (at which point I’ll confess to nipping away to find a coffee), but then Palmer began to close. And the more he did so, the more ragged Nasr became. By lap 18 Palmer was 2sec per lap faster, Nasr’s tyres were finished and the Englishman went on to win by a margin almost as great as his mid-race deficit. He might not be the most fashionable young driver on the market, but he’s a match for anybody when it comes to rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in.
Bird won Sunday’s race from pole: reverse grids sometimes fly in the face of meritocracy, but this was the result of a driver fighting back from adversity – persistent offender Johnny Cecotto had blocked Bird in qualifying, earning himself a penalty and condemning his rival to a midfield start – and then capitalising on the opportunity he’d earned.
It was Bird’s fifth win of the season – and the 11th in 20 races for UK drivers (Palmer and Jon Lancaster have taken two apiece, James Calado and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs one).
Whichever way the dice roll in Abu Dhabi, it has been a fruitful campaign for the Brits who lurk within touching distance of the F1 paddock’s electronic turnstile.