Only ten drivers took the checkered flag at the end of the inaugural GP2 race at the Baku Street Circuit. The Feature Race of the championship’s third round could’ve easily been called a battle royale, where drivers were eliminated as early as the first lap. Up to five drivers were taken out at the Turn One incidents at the start, including Pierre Gasly of Prema Racing, Alex Lynn and Nicholas Latifi of DAMS, and Sergio Canamasas and Marvin Kirchoffer of Carlin. Norman Nato’s Racing Engineering car was spun around but managed to continue albeit at the back of the field.
Polesitter Antonio Giovinazzi of Prema had a poor getaway at the start and quickly dropped down the order at the early part of the race. The rookie, straight out of European Formula Three, won the war of attrition and took his maiden victory in GP2, methodically regaining positions and taking with him the impressive pace he had in Qualifying.
Giovinazzi endured battles with MP Motorsport’s Oliver Rowland for half the race and Russian Time’s Raffaele Marciello during the late stages. Nobuharu Matsushita of ART and Marciello also had a back-and-forth duel for the lead early in the race where they swapped positions almost every lap. Overtaking was in abundance with and without DRS as drivers took advatage of the long main straight for slipstreaming.
Perhaps one other opponent that Giovinazzi had to contend with was the flurry of safety car periods, as more drivers became involved in incidents. Following Nato’s tangle with teammate Jordan King, a lengthy safety car period put the race under a time limit instead of the scheduled 29 laps. Giovinazzi had overtaken Marciello for the race lead and built a huge gap that was only erased by the safety car deployment.
Only two laps were run after the restart as Marciello applied massive pressure to Giovinazzi going into Turn One. Rowland and ART’s Sergey Sirotkin also came close to challenging for the lead through the first sector’s tight series of corners but Giovinazzi weathered the storm, surviving the onslaught before building a comfortable lead to take the checkered flag in first place.
But the action continued right behind the winner as Sirotkin managed a last second overtake on Marciello for second place, using the slipstream to win a drag race to the line.
With a number of drivers at the head of the championship standings failing to score points, Giovinazzi and Sirotkin have bounced back up in the hunt with a hefty haul of points after they both had poor results early in the season.
Overall, the Feature Race was entertaining with impressive performances by the top finishers but also with some head-scratching driving from the other racers. Aside from that, safety car procedures were quite confusing, a good example being the restart at the end of Lap 7 where the safety car was called in very late and caught some drivers off guard down the main straight. I also didn’t understand why the safety car stayed out for so long even after Nato’s car had well been cleared.
Nonetheless, I’m already excited for the Sprint Race on Sunday, as Baku is proving to be a phenomenal track for some dramatic racing.