Mitch Evans began the 2012 GP3 Series season as the overwhelming title favourite and finished up as champion having led the standings for the majority of the year, but only after the most dramatic of title deciders at the Monza season finale.
Evans began the year as he meant to go on with victory in Barcelona, repeating his triumph from 12 months earlier. It only came thanks to a bit of good fortune though, with both Daniel Abt and Antonio Felix da Costa receiving drive-through penalties for jump starts. An impressive Marlon Stockinger came home in second place with Aaro Vainio in third.
In race two, a puncture left Evans trailing in 20th but he still left Spain as the championship leader as Conor Daly scooped his maiden victory in Europe, once Tio Ellinas was given a jump start penalty of his own. Debutant Robert Visoiu took second after starting on the reverse-grid pole while Matias Laine completed the podium.
For the championship’s maiden visit to the streets of Monaco it was Vainio who emerged as the man to beat, taking pole position and the race win to add to his previous success in the Principality in the shape of the 2008 Monaco Junior Kart Cup. Tamas Pal Kiss and Kevin Ceccon joined him on the podium while Evans finished fifth after being passed at the start by MW Arden teammate David Fumanelli, losing his championship lead in the process.
A rather well-documented coming together between Daly and Dmitry Suranovich meant race two was a shortened affair, as Stockinger continued his early promise by winning from the reverse grid pole ahead of Felix da Costa and Abt, who’d spent the entire opening two weekends glued to each other’s bumpers but were already losing ground in the championship race.
Evans claimed pole position in Valencia before winning the race with Vainio close behind, as the duo proved convincingly that they were the class of the field and that the rest would have to buck their ideas up if they wanted to challenge them for the title.
As Patric Niederhauser claimed his first GP3 win from pole in race two ahead of Abt and Laine, Evans and Vainio diced on track with the Kiwi making it home ahead in sixth. Just behind them was Felix da Costa, who rescued a point from a weekend of brake dramas – first being excluded from qualifying for his pads not being thick enough and then colliding with Suranovich in race one after failing to stop in time.
The Portuguese driver therefore headed to Silverstone ninth in the standings with just 27 points to Evans’ 78, but despite that a recommendation from team boss Trevor Carlin saw him drafted into the Red Bull Junior Team for Formula Renault 3.5. That move seemed to revitalise his season, and he promptly won his first back in GP3 after storming past Evans and Vainio at the start. Nobody knew it at the time, but that would be a sign of things to come from Felix da Costa for the remainder of 2012.
A wet-dry second race saw William Buller put in the race of the year to come from the back of the grid to win on slick tyres ahead of Daly and Niederhauser, while Evans and Vainio struggled in the conditions and failed to score. However, at the half way stage of the season Evans led the way on 100 points with Vainio on 89 and Felix da Costa now their nearest rival, some way behind on just 58 points.
Hockenheim was probably the worst weekend in the series’ short history so far, with only a handful of racing laps completed. The first race was halted after an early rainstorm, although home polesitter Abt and Evans were amongst those that had already pitted for wet tyres. Daly led those who got a free change of tyres during the stoppage, although he had victory taken from him after the restart by Niederhauser, who once again showed himself to be a master of tricky conditions.
After recovering to eighth in race one behind Abt, Evans took victory in race two from the reverse grid pole, although he didn’t have to work very hard for it. An opening lap pileup at the hairpin saw Vicky Piria in need of medical attention, as did a bumpy off-track excursion for Fabiano Machado later on, and both resulted in length safety car periods.
While nobody got in many racing laps, Felix da Costa had even fewer as he retired from both races. He subsequently ruled himself out of title contention, but probably didn’t know what was about to come next.
His fortunes certainly changed next time at the Hungaroring, taking a remarkable double victory and becoming the first driver in the history of GP3 to do so. Another puncture for Evans meant he failed to score in the second race after finishing third in the first encounter, but Vainio failed to capitalise on pole position and only left with a fifth and a seventh.
With two second places at Spa-Francorchamps, Felix da Costa had cut the gap to leader Evans down to 21.5 going to Monza. Evans had taken pole in Belgium but only finished third in a race one shortened by a red flag after Robert Cregan crashed at Pouhon, from which he escaped unscathed despite worryingly having one of his tyres enter the cockpit area. The schedule had already been delayed considerably following a heavy crash for fellow Ocean driver Nigel Melker in the GP2 race.
Abt claimed a maiden win after a wonderful opportunistic pass at Les Combes as Evans and Felix da Costa focussed on each other. Evans finished down in 15th in race two, won by Arden teammate Laine, after a mysterious lack of speed, one place behind Vainio who received contact from Ellinas. That meant the Finn fell to third ahead of the final weekend, 24.5 points from Evans with Abt the fourth driver in contention but with a mountain to climb, 35 points off the lead. Or so that’s what everyone thought.
Evans pipped Felix da Costa to pole at Monza and with it five crucial points that seemed to move him even closer to wrapping up the title. But a poor launch resulted in him bouncing across the grass at the first corner of the race to avoid a clash between Ellinas and Laine on the inside. And while Felix da Costa moved into the lead, Evans was forced to retire with broken suspension.
As it stood, Felix da Costa was going to take the lead of the championship but, after losing the lead to Abt and falling to third behind Vainio, the Portuguese driver got stuck in sixth gear, dropping him down the order before he managed to reboot. Abt saw off the challenge of Ellinas to win, while Vainio finished third on the road only to be relegated for ignoring yellow flags through the Parabolica on the last lap.
With him and Felix da Costa failing to score, only Abt could now stop Evans from taking the title. The Kiwi would start from the back of the grid, while Abt would have to go from eighth to first to overturn the 14 point deficit.
By the start of lap six of race two, a fired-up Abt had that lead he needed. Evans was on a charge though, and made a move on Vainio for P8 at the start of lap eight. However, as Niederhauser and Laine came together at the first chicane, Evans was forced to bounce over the sleeping policemen in avoidance. Later on the lap he was off into the gravel with a puncture, and his chances of scoring points were over, with Abt in the lead of the race and on course for an upset.
But just as on Saturday, Ellinas was on the German’s tail and sniffing his first GP3 win. Four laps from the end, the Cypriot got past for the lead, but Abt pounced less than a lap later to take back the lead he needed. It didn’t last though, and a lap later Ellinas was back ahead, and the title back in Evans’ hands. This time Abt couldn’t reply and would have to settle for second place as Evans secured the championship.
TCF’s Top Five Drivers Of 2012:
- Mitch Evans – It was closer than most had anticipated, but Evans did what was expected of him by winning the title and he was the most deserving driver over the course of the season. Pole in half the weekends proved he was the fastest and also gave him 20 crucial bonus points. Should do well in GP2 should he manage to get the budget together.
- Daniel Abt – F3 convert Abt couldn’t actually deliver on his promising winter testing pace initially but got better with every weekend, coming to a crescendo at Monza. After showing promise in his homeland earlier in his career, this season marked him out truly as one to watch. Had he got full points for his Spa win, he’d have been champion by three points.
- Antonio Felix da Costa – Felix da Costa began the year forced to continue in GP3 after only just scraping the budget together, but finished it as Red Bull’s next prospect after stunning wins in Formula Renault 3.5 and the Macau Grand Prix. His GP3 campaign was perhaps summed up by two weekends at the end of July – double retirement in Germany and double victory in Hungary.
- Aaro Vainio – Vainio was the only man to match Evans in the first half of the year, while his Monaco pole and victory saw him emerge as the next Flying Finn heading for F1. But his second half of the year was poor as Abt claimed the initiative within the competitive Lotus team, ending with him twice ignoring yellow flags at Monza.
- Patric Niederhauser – Niederhauser edged Ellinas for the position as top ‘true’ rookie behind former F3 man Abt, and for fifth place in our rankings. Led well from the front in Valencia and revelled in the changing conditions traditionally seen in the F1 circus’ July jaunt across Europe. Needs more outright speed if he’s to win the title in 2013.
Final 2012 GP3 Series Standings:
- Mitch Evans – 151.5 points
- Daniel Abt – 149.5 points
- Antonio Felix da Costa – 132 points
- Aaro Vainio – 123 points
- Matias Laine – 111 points
- Conor Daly – 106 points
- Patric Niederhauser – 101 points
- Tio Ellinas – 97 points
- Kevin Ceccon – 56 points
- Marlon Stockinger – 55 points
- David Fumanelli – 47 points
- Tamas Pal Kiss – 38 points
- Giovanni Venturini – 31 points
- Robert Visoiu – 24 points
- William Buller – 20 points
- Alex Brundle – 19 points
- Lewis Williamson – 11 points
- Alex Fontana – 8.5 points
- Alice Powell – 1 point
- Fabio Gamberini – 1 point
- Fabiano Machado – 0 points
- Robert Cregan – 0 points
- Dmitry Suranovich – 0 points
- Kotaro Sakurai – 0 points
- John Wartique – 0 points
- Vicky Piria – 0 points
- Facu Regalia – 0 points
- Carmen Jorda – 0 points
- Ethan Ringel – 0 points
- Antonio Spavone – 0 points
- Jakub Klasterka – 0 points