As last time out shows so clearly in the world of single-seater racing, nothing truly stands still, as Lewis Williamson would again race for Status GP for the second race in succession, with 19-year-old Swiss driver Alex Fontana, who currently races in the FIA F2 World Championship, gets his first taste of the GP3 series, as he takes his place for the first time with Jenzer Motorsport, where the third car has been previously occupied by both Facu Regalia and Jakub Klasterka. The young hopeful said that he has been in constant contact with the team since the beginning of the season, but he has been unable to make it to any of the previous races, due to scheduling clashes. He is, however, relishing the chance to compete in this extremely talented field of drivers:
“I’m therefore delighted that the team turned to me on this occasion. For a young driver, racing in the shadow of the Formula 1 circus, is a unique and incredibly stimulating experience. We know that an extremely difficult task awaits us. Some of the world’s best drivers from my age group race in GP3 and I’ve never even seen the Hungaroring track. I’m hoping I’ll be able to adapt quickly giving that we’ll only have one free practice session. Apart from that I’ll simply be trying to do my best and race without any mental pressure. I know that I’ll be able to count on the support of a very professional team.”
Andreas Jenzer himself, commented on the initial impression that Alex gave, when he drove with the team in Spa for a one-off appearance, and was relatively optimistic on the young Swiss driver’s chances for Hungary:
“We had Alex with us last year for the race at Spa where he immediately took the car into the points zone. So we already know him and we have the advantage that he knows the team and the way we work. We don’t expect miracles, but we’re sure that he’ll make his contribution to the team, a contribution that I hope will prove to be important in terms of the future too.”
With the teams now making the final push before the last third of the season, as a 5-week break for all concerned will ensure of a good break for everybody that forms the hard-working organization that is GP3, before racing resumes at Spa-Francorchamps. It was to be a varied weekend yet again, so to speak, but the weather was not making things as difficult as last time.
It was still about bragging rights for pride, as well as preparation being key around the Hermann Tilke-designed track, as it was a dogfight between the usual suspects, which included Antonio Felix Da Costa, Aaro Vainio, Daniel Abt, Mitch Evans and Conor Daly, swapping times at the top of the table. Temperatures were hot and humid as things got underway in Budapest, with temperatures ranging in the 30s. Robert Cregan and Carmen Jorda for Ocean Racing Technology made it out onto the track first, on a circuit that is known for more technical and twisty sections, putting stresses on the tyres, machinery and drivers, due to the lateral forces that is a well-documented part of the track’s layout. Ten minutes in, and it was Kevin Ceccon who led the field, ahead of Alice Powell, before Mitch Evans signaled his arrival, by going fastest, with Mattais Laine and Daniel Abt in hot pursuit of the New Zealander.
But then Felix Da Costa went and upped the pace, with Vainio going P2, before bating the Portuguese driver by just under half a second, whilst Status GP’s Marlon Stockinger was one of those who knocked Evans back down to earth, putting him into 5th, with Vainio yet again showing the pace of the Lotus ART GP car, going faster still, ending the session on top, ahead of Felix Da Costa, Daly and Stockinger. Carlin’s William Buller ended up ahead of Mitch Evans, who stayed in 6th, with Abt, Tio Ellinas, Tamas Pal Kiss and Robert Visoiu rounding out the top ten, with the Romanian driver from Jenzer Motorsport bringing out the yellow flags at the last few minutes of the session, having spun off at the final corner, meaning some of the drivers, who had set purple sector times at that point, had to slow down, as per regulations.
Yet again, the sun was blazing down on the Hungaroring, with track temperatures reaching a scorching 34 degrees, as there was not even a cloud in the sky, with Buller on top, until Evans took the advantage, and with it, the top spot, before Vainio went fastest, with Felix Da Costa and David Fumanelli rounding out the top three. Stockinger then came out of nowhere to set the fastest lap of the morning, putting the Status GP driver on provisional pole position, whilst the driver changed tyres for the second half of the session.
Evans started proceedings for the shootout for pole, with MW Arden’s golden boy, Evans, reclaiming his rightful place at the top, before Vainio went faster still, with the Finn beating the previous lap record that was held by last year’s GP3 champion and current Williams F1 test driver, Valterri Bottas, by well over half a second, recording a lap record of 1:36.052. This was as well as the Lotus driver setting purple sectors for all three parts of the racetrack, but not on the same lap.
Felix Da Costa qualified second ahead of Evans with Fumanelli’s last-minute effort securing 5th on the grid, behind Stockinger. Rounding out the top ten were Abt, Daly, Ceccon, Laine and race winner from Hockenheim, Patric Niederhauser. But Fumanelli would start in 8th, after both he and Robert Cregan were penalized, and given a 3-place grid drop, due to impeding other drivers during the session.
The track temperature was raising yet again for the first race for the weekend, with a temperature of 41 degrees, as the cars lined up and made the dash to the first corner, with pole sitter Vainio having a dreadful start, dropping to fourth, as Felix De Costa, Evans and Abt made fantastic starts. Evans challenged Carlin’s Portuguese race ace for the lead, but Felix De Costa kept the New Zealander at bay, on what was a very busy first lap. Conor Daly and Kevin Ceccon moved up two places each at the start, with Niederhauser stalling on the grid, finishing 16th as the chequered flag dropped. Abt found his way past Evans, who currently leads the series, for P2 at turn 5, with the MW Arden driver being occupied, who was trying to get past Felix Da Costa.
Marussia Manor Racing’s Suranovich had a DNF, having pitted twice during the race, with William Buller making an unscheduled early stop, due to repairs, which dropped him down the field. As the race progressed, Felix De Costa increased his lead to four seconds, and kept a comfortable lead, as well as controlling the race itself to its conclusion. Evans was closing fast on Daniel Abt, and was no further than half a second behind, but the could not find a way past the Lotus GP driver around the tight, twisty circuit.
Ceccon stole P4 from Vainio early on, and the Finnish driver was unable to retaliate against the Ocean Racing driver, with Stockinger finding himself having a battle with teammate Williamson for 10th place, having started 4th, but the man from the Philippines secured 9th, with both drivers securing points finishes for Status GP. Felix Da Costa had a Saturday afternoon cruise to secure Carlin Racing’s third win of the season, as well as Abt equalling his result from Hockenheim, but as this was a race 1 podium for the German driver, he secured more points to help in his title charge, with Evans picking up third place. Ceccon, followed by Vainio, Daly, Laine, Fumanelli, Stockinger and Williamson, led the remainder of the top ten. Fabiano Machado was the only competitor to not make the starting grid for Race 1, having been withdrawn by Marussia.
This now means that Mitch Evans increased his lead to 19 points over the Lotus GP duo of Vainio and Abt in the Drivers’ Standings, with Lotus GP leading MW Arden in the Team Standings, with Reverse Pole Position going to Fumanelli for Race 2, with Sunday looking to be another barnstormer before the summer break.
On Sunday, it would be a day to remember, and one of a new achievement standard being set in the GP3 series, particularly for one Antonio Felix Da Costa. The Carlin driver started in 8th, with Niederhauser awarded Pole Position for where he finished in Race 1. But before racing got underway that morning, thunderstorms and heavy rain showers greeted all, with the weather subsiding a quarter of an hour before the lights went out for the final time for 5 weeks. Niederhauser, Alex Brundle and a couple of drivers, took it upon themselves to gamble, and selected slick tyres, before an eventful first lap. Laine got past Fumanelli after a tense, fierce, but clean battle into Turn 1, with their stable mate Mitch Evans spinning out at the same turn, finding himself going from 6th to 21st in one roll of the dice. Fumanelli was out early, after heavy contact with the barrier, with Lotus GP’s Daly moving into 2nd. Vainio got past Ceccon at the start, as the rivers were finding the limits of conditions at the Hungaroring, amidst the plumes of spray being thrown up into the air by the extreme wet Pirelli tyres.
Ellias and Evans decided to pit early for slicks, with the New Zealander hopeful of a possible opportunity to extend his lead in the GP3 series, looking to secure the title. Pal Kiss and Buller had made a serious amount of headway, as the Hungarian had ended up in P4, having started in P14. Buller was looking to repeat the feat he achieved at Silverstone, starting 23rd, and had worked his way back up to P9 by the early stages. Laine was leading with a 1 second margin, with Daly all over his gearbox, who was trying his hardest to find a way past the MW Arden driver. Vainio and Pal Kiss then joined in the melee, as the Finn was looking to make a dent on Evans’ lead in the title race, as the MW Arden driver was looking at a non-points finish after his spin early on.
Evans found himself pitting once again, and then spinning shortly after exiting, having had slicks fitted, which was when the race to get ahead via pitstops was order of the day. Pal Kiss and Felix Da Costa made their stops first from P4 and P5, with the track drying out enough for the slicks to start working. Niederhauser and Evans were clearly showing that the slicks were the better choice, as the duo were carving their way through the field, whilst Vainio took advantage of the close battle between Daly and Laine, and stole P2 from the squabbling pair.
With five laps left, Felix Da Costa was the highest driver on slicks, but his pace was unrivalled, with the Portuguese ace lapping 10 seconds over the leaders, who were finding their used wets dropping in performance, with the Carlin driver carving his way back to the front, and took the lead with just three laps left, making everyone else looking as if they were standing still.
The track continued to dry out, with action aplenty still happening until the finish, with Pal Kiss and Niederhauser flying round the track on slicks, with the latter taking P2 on the last lap, with Alex Brundle securing his highest GP3 result in P4, with his decision to stat on slicks paying off for the Norfolk driver. But there was even more drama regarding Tamal Pal Kiss after the race, as the Atech CRS drivåer was given a 20 second time penalty, meaning that he loses the 10 points he scored, as well as promoting Brundle to his first ever top 3 finish. This was due to Pal Kiss crossing the white line having exited the pits after his pitstop, and would have been awarded as a drive-through, if the race had still been running.
So with Spa a few weeks away, Mitch Evans loses only 2 points in his lead at the top of the title race, with Vainio and Abt still in the hunt. With just three rounds left, culminating in the grand finale at Monza, it is still a foregone conclusion if Evans is going to have it all his own way, but will Vainio and Abt be able to keep applying the pressure?
We’ll find out in five weeks’ time, as the “News Reel” will report on the events at Spa, and seeing how the title race unfolds…