GP2 returned this weekend as the drivers battled it out in a hot and humid Malaysia, with Giovinazzi and Ghiotto both claiming victories.
Friday’s qualifying saw the PREMA Racing boys dominating the time-sheets, with Red Bull junior driver Gasly swiping pole from teammate- and championship title rival- Giovinazzi, with less than one tenth of a second separating the two cars. There wasn’t so much luck for Mitch Evens, however, as the recently confirmed Season 3 Formula E driver crashed into the barriers at Turn 1.
The maiden Feature Race at Sepang International Circuit did not disappoint, but it wasn’t Gasly who came out on top this time- he ended up crossing the line 11th, whilst Giovinazzi took the checkered flag.
Gasly’s race was hindered after he made a poor getaway, leaving Rafaele Marciello to take the lead of the race after surging past Giovinazzi. Marciello’s lead was short lived- the Russian Time driver ran wide at the second corner, allowing Giovinazzi to overtake.
The Italian, who stood on the top step of the podium for the fifth time this season, held off Sirotkin on the final lap after an action-packed race. With the Russian second, Norman Nato came home to take the final top 3 spot.
The closing lap was one the spectators watched with disbelief. Jordan King made his way past Marciello as Rowland was all over Ghiotto for P7. The Briton pushed too hard and as a result lost the rear of his car letting through Evans (who started from P16 on the grid), Gustav Malja and Sergio Canamasas. After a torrid run as of late, Canamasas was pleased to take the final available point.
“It was a fantastic race!” exclaimed Giovinazzi. ” I would like to thank again PREMA Racing for the fantastic car. It really was not an easy race because after the pitstop, I was behind Sirotkin but I knew my pace would be better than his at the end so I started to push more and finally overtook him three laps before the chequered flag.
“The car was really good and I really enjoyed it.
“I made a good start but Marciello did even a better one. I overtook him outside Turn 1 and then I was inside at Turn 2. It was a bit messy but in the end I passed him and I’m happy with that. I had a good pace with both Option and Prime tyres so I have nothing to add. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Giovinazzi’s stunning performance meant that this weekend PREMA Racing secured the Constructors Championship title.
Sunday hosted the Sprint Race, in which Trident rookie- Luca Ghiotto- won. Malaysia is the 2015 GP3 vice champion’s first win in GP2.
From lights-out, reverse poleman Mitch Evans had to instantly defend from Ghiotto who had a dream getaway from P2. The Kiwi eventually yielded at Turn 2, as Ghiotto found a way past him. Behind, Marciello stayed void of the heated battle between teammates Jordan King and Norman Nato. The Frenchman made a move on the Briton on lap 2 and made contact, sending Nato into an inevitable spin and an early retirement.
The safety car was deployed, but Ghiotto stayed calm under pressure to retain the lead and ultimately claim victory in Malaysia. Marciello was 2nd, and after a disappointing Saturday, Gasly was satisfied with 3rd.
“I was expecting to win maybe a bit earlier this year… But the important thing is that the victory finally arrived,” Ghiotto told GP2.” I’m really happy, even more because I think we have been quite quick all weekend.
“Today, we struggled a little bit more compared to other races: in terms of pace, we had more in previous races which could have helped winning. So this win today is more about the fact that we chose the right strategy. I made a good start. I managed to save the tyres. It was quite tough as Marciello was coming faster on the final laps but I’m really, really happy.”
In the Drivers’ standings, Giovinazzi leaves Malaysia as the GP2 Series leader (197 points to 190 for Gasly) whilst Marciello remains third on 158. Sirotkin is sitting 4th on 135 points, with King and Nato equal 5th on 122.
In the Teams’ standings, newly crowned champions, PREMA Racing, continue with their formidable form with a total of 387 points. Racing Engineering still lies in second on 244 points ahead of RUSSIAN TIME on 238.
The fight for the title will reach its climax in Abu Dhabi, with the final points available for the 2016 season.