The opening round of the 2018 GP3 Series took place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last weekend.
Leonardo Pulcini took the honours of claiming the first pole position of the season but was not able to convert it into victory with rookie Nikita Mazepin taking the first victory of the season.
Mazepin eased to the win on Saturday starting second on the grid to lead home an all ART Grand Prix top three ahead of Anthoine Hubert and Callum Ilott.
On Sunday, Giuliano Alesi ended victorious having started from reverse grid pole position. The Frenchman already had three victories to his name all of which also came from reverse grid pole.
Alesi was joined on the podium by Hubert and the fourth ART of Jake Hughes.
However, it is Frenchman Hubert who leads the championship standings.
Pole-cini Stuns in Qualifying
Seven hundred and twenty seven. That is how many days had passed since someone other than an ART driver had qualified on pole position in the GP3 Series.
Or, more simply, sixteen rounds.
That day it was Hughes for DAMS who clinched the pole, two years later a difficult qualifying session meant the Briton would have to line up in eleventh for the opening round of the year.
Campos Racing‘s Pulcini shocked the entire GP3 paddock to steal pole position from Mazepin right at the death.
ART’s Russian driver had comfortably led much of the session, fighting Hubert for the top spot. Just as it was looking certain to be an all ART top three Pulcini spoiled their party.
ART Remain on Top
With seven Teams’ Championships in eight years, there will always be high expectations of ART in the series.
For ART second, third and fourth on the grid on Saturday could be considered a disappointment given their dominance in qualifying but the race ended in typical ART fashion.
Mazepin, Hubert and Ilott capitalised on Pulcini having a slow start off of the grid to leap into the lead. Mazepin got the jump on his team-mates to extend his lead out front as Hubert and Ilott squabbled over second place with the former ultimately coming out on top.
Sadly for Hughes it was a difficult Saturday when contact with Alessio Lorandi left the Briton with damage before then running out of tyre grip to come home in thirteenth.
It was a much better day for Hughes on Sunday, who having to start where he finished the previous day in thirteenth managed to claim a podium finish with third place.
Hubert finished second for the second time to make it two ARTs on the podium on Sunday.
Unsurprisingly ART head the Teams’ Championship once again with 84 points, with Trident on 25 their nearest rival.
Alesi’s Sunday Stronghold
Giuliano Alesi, claimed three race victories in 2017 all of which came in the Sunday Sprint Races.
Sunday was no different.
The Frenchman finished Saturday’s race in eighth to put himself in the best position at the start on Sunday.
Alesi survived three safety car restarts and damp conditions to cruise to victory over Hubert.
The only podium to his name that was not a victory also came on a Sunday.
So what is it about the Sprint Races, Alesi is able to capitalise on so effectively?
Whether this trend carries on in 2018 is to be seen but if he manages to take a victory or two on a Saturday he will put himself in contention of being considered a serious championship threat.
Hubert Heads the Standings
Now in his second season in the GP3 Series, Anthoine Hubert finds himself in the position of being the most experienced driver in the ART team.
That experience seems to be paying off for the Frenchman with two second places in Barcelona.
Hubert has 32 points to his name at the top of the standings ahead of Mazepin who has 25.
Although it is important to remember Hubert is yet to get two major monkeys off his back.
He is yet to qualify on pole, and is yet to win a race.
To be leading the championship having never won a race in it is an impressive achievement but Hubert will need to take victories soon if he is to have any hopes of being champion.
Although it is worth noting 2015 champion, and countryman, Esteban Ocon took just one victory the entire season but won the championship thanks to nine second places in a row.
Many assume that Hubert as with Pierre Gasly in the GP2 Series, now FIA Formula 2, just one win will open the floodgates.
For now Hubert can enjoy the fact he heads to his home race on top of the standings.
The next round of the 2018 GP3 Series takes place at the Circuit Paul Ricard on 22-24 June.