For the first time in 2014, the highly anticipated on-track battle between Ferrari Driver Academy driver Raffaele Marciello and McLaren Junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne occurred as the two battled hard for the Feature race lead and win at Spa-Francorchamps.
Both drivers this year have had their moments, both good and bad, but now both have found their feet in GP2 and are beginning to prove to everyone why their respective Formula 1 teams rate them so highly.
ART Grand Prix driver Vandoorne took the early advantage by grabbing his maiden GP2 Series pole position around his home track, beating current championship leader Jolyon Palmer by just 0.018s.
“To secure my first pole position at my home track was mega,” insisted Vandoorne. “We fought hard to get it and I’m proud of the team and of my driving because Jolyon Palmer did a very good lap and we had to make a few adjustments to the car for my second flyer. It worked!”
Racing Engineering driver Marciello qualified on the second row of the grid in fourth just behind Mitch Evans, and was less than four tenths of a second off of Vandoorne’s pole time.
“Qualifying went quite well today,” said Marciello. “Starting from the second row gives me a good chance to finish on the podium, maybe even take the win. Of course, it’s not like taking the points for pole, but GP2 races are always a bit of a gamble and at Spa even more so. For me it’s a good position to start and to have a good race tomorrow.”
Despite the race being run in changeable conditions, including a brief red flag period for a rainstorm, Vandoorne led for pretty much the whole race, only to loose out to Marciello with two laps to run. They were by far the class of the field, running up to two seconds a lap faster than anyone else at times; third placed Johnny Cecotto Jr finished thirty-five seconds behind. The Belgian was disappointed to finish runner-up after leading for so long, but felt second was still a good result.
“Obviously I’m much less happy to follow this year’s trend: no pole man has won so far, apart from Palmer in Monaco but that’s a different track,” said Vandoorne. “The disappointment was because I led most of the race and we did such a fantastic job in difficult and changing conditions. Together with Marciello, we were on another planet and honestly there’s no reason to have any hard feelings. He was just a bit quicker after his pit stop and 2nd place was still a very good result.”
After passing Cecotto for second on lap nine, Marciello kept up the chase on Vandoorne, and made his move just after they both made their mandatory pit stops. The Italian’s tyres were in a better state and Marciello made that advantage count to win by just over two seconds.
“It was a really long race,” said Marciello. “My start was good, but I was between two cars, so I had to go long. I immediately recovered two positions during the first lap, but then we had a red flag. When we restarted the car was really good to drive, but it was hard to stay close to Cecotto because the visibility was zero.
“After a while I was able to pass Cecotto, but Vandoorne was quite a long way ahead, however, I was able to recover a bit every lap. When Vandoorne pitted, I still had some tyres left, so I pushed really hard and recovered even more while Vandoorne was in the pits and then my pit stop was really good and fast. After the pit stop I was really, really quick compared to the others and was surprised when Vandoorne struggled quite a lot. I was able to pass him and open up a gap.
“Thanks to my team as after the pit stop my car was really good. Before I pitted, the car was good and I was up there with Vandoorne, but after the pit stop our performance was simply better, which allowed me to pass him quite easily.”
As much as they were in a race of their own on Saturday, the Sprint race on Sunday was not as dominant for either driver. Vandoorne lost some places from eighth on the grid at the start, but recovered to finished sixth.
“I had a difficult start on Sunday and the feeling was not the best with the car, sometimes I was quick, sometimes I was not,” said Vandoorne. “In these circumstances, to get 4 more points in the bag was rather positive. Above all, ART Grand Prix and I are getting more and more comfortable and I know we can fight for pole and wins whatever the track and the weather are. That’s very encouraging for the rest of the season, which is still a long one.”
Marciello’s race was compromised early after a collision with Russian Time’s Artem Markelov at Les Combes on the opening lap that caused the Italian to spin to the rear of the field, but he managed to climb back to fourteenth, setting the fastest lap in the process.
“Today’s race was a bit disappointing,” reflected Marciello. “I didn’t have a very good start, but was very fast through Eau Rouge passing two or three cars on the straight after that. But when I arrived at Les Combes, I was on the inside of Markelov, who closed the door on my bit too much and I spun. After that I had a good recovery from last position to P14. We were able to do better today, but it’s difficult to control it when others are slower.”