The ART Grand Prix team saw the chance of points disappear after a failed attempt at an alternative pit stop strategy for Stoffel Vandoorne during the Friday Feature race in Monaco. For team-mate Takuya Izawa, it was his first visit to the street circuit, and after initially struggling, he was running competitive in the Saturday Sprint race but ultimately his weekend ended with a double DNF.
Belgian Vandoorne had qualified sixth on the grid and was running in the top five when a safety car was introduced into the race to clear up the Russian Time machine of Artem Markelov. He was one of only two drivers not to make their mandatory pit stop, and hoped to build a lead up after the safety car returned to the pits to challenge for points. Unfortunately this was not possible, and Vandoorne ended 14th at the flag, and mere seconds behind the eighth place finisher Stephane Richelmi and the reverse grid Sprint race pole.
It was not easy on Saturday for the Sprint race either, with a long train of cars being covered by seconds at the flag, with Vandoorne unable to overtake on the tight and twisty track. He started 14th, and finished 13th, only making up a spot after the retirement of Felipe Nasr ahead of him on the opening lap.
“Driving in Monaco is always a special event in the career of any driver, but it is also a very difficult one to negotiate,” said Vandoorne. “On this street circuit even the slightest mistake is heavily penalized. The first step was to secure a good grid position in qualifying so sixth was okay. The second step was to get a good start, which I did by moving up a place. The third was to have good race strategy and this is where our weekend was ruined.
“It could have worked out great, because without the new neutralization I would have been able to open up the gap I needed to fight for the podium, as I felt great and the car did too. But, this is racing and you have to accept and learn from races like Monaco and come back stronger in Austria.”
For Izawa, every race track so far has been new to the Japanese driver, and Monaco was no exception. He took his time to learn the track, and despite qualifying in 25th for the Feature race, did not seem overawed by the track, and when the Sprint race began, he was on the tail of ART GP team-mate Vandoorne before being forced to retire with a mechanical issue.
“It was a very exciting weekend but a complicated one,” said Izawa. “I discovered this legendary circuit for the first time and I can confirm that the driving pleasure is great, but it is very difficult to succeed on, making sure you don’t make any mistakes throughout the entire race.
“I have yet to move up in qualifying, but I felt good during the race, especially on Saturday when I could run close behind Stoffel. In Austria, we will find a more conventional circuit where my focus will be to be better placed on the grid.”
Team Principle Frederic Vasseur knows the speed of his two drivers isn’t in doubt, but knows the team need to make sure everything runs smoothly so Vandoorne and Izawa can move forward and score more points, something they haven’t done since the Feature race in Bahrain.
“In Monaco, a small grain of sand can stop the machine and this is what Stoffel and ART Grand Prix lived with, a strategy that could pay off in theory but was ultimately at odds with the facts of race,” said Vasseur. “Stoffel had the same pace as the best and he could aim for a podium very easily but he finished in 14th place, just 2 or 3 seconds of a points finish and a pole position for the second race.
“The potential of the team, the speed of its drivers and their adaptation to GP2 are not in question, but we will need to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together in Austria to achieve dynamic success.”