Others present included racers Jean Alesi, Giancarlo Fisichella, steward Derek Warwick and Sebring 12 Hours winner Marino Franchitti, and Silverstone’s Neil England and Richard Phillips.
On track, Saturday saw McLaren’s junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne emulate his performance on his World Series by Renault debut at Monza last year by dominating his first GP2 race from second on the grid. As polesitter Jolyon Palmer lagged with wheelspin, Vandoorne burst his ART car into a lead he only lost during his pit stop, leaving Palmer to an afternoon of fighting back into contention.
The Briton had to battle past DAMS team mate Stephane Richelmi, Racing Engineering’s Stefano Coletti, Caterham’s Rio Haryanto and Russian Time’s Mitch Evans, all of whom chased Vandoorne initially. The Belgian lost the advantage he had built when the safety car was deployed after Kimiya Sato punted Axcil Jefferies off as they headed down to Turn 4, but as Vandoorne opened his lead again Richelmi, Coletti, Haryanto and Carlin’s Felipe Nasr all pitted to switch from Pirelli’s soft tyres to the hards.
Evans and Palmer stopped a lap later, with a great stop enabling the latter to leap from sixth to second. But Carlin’s Julian Leal was also on form and began to challenge Palmer strongly.
Up front, Rapax’s Simon Trummer worked into the lead by staying out almost until the end after stalling his car on the start of the grid formation lap and starting from the pits. Vandoorne finally regained his lead when the out-of-sequence Trummer stopped with two laps to go, and won comfortably by 1.551s from Leal, who had worked his way past Palmer with two laps left as the DAMS driver’s tyres faded.
Indeed, Palmer was only just able to take the final podium position after Coletti staged a massive recovery to finish right in his wheel tracks. Arthur Pic was fifth for Campos Racing as Vandoorne’s ART team mate Takuya Izawa charged through on soft rubber to snatch sixth after a tight battle with Trummer and Nasr.
Evans and Haryanto tumbled down the field as their tyres gave up, finishing 14th and 16th. Elsewhere, Arden’s Rene Binder held off Rapax’s Adrian Quaife-Hobbs for ninth as Conor Daly took 12th for Venezuela GP Lazarus, and MP Motorsport’s Jon Lancaster was 17th ahead of the favoured Raffaele Marciello, who got duffed up at the start in his Racing Engineering machine. The other notable who was out of luck was Caterham’s Alex Rossi, who finished 22nd.
Sunday’s sprint race saw Palmer wrest the points lead from Vandoorne, as he narrowly beat Trummer to victory. The Briton surged from sixth to second at the start, and one lap later passed Trummer to capture a lead he would not surrender despite heavy pressure from the Rapax driver. Carlin’s Leal claimed the final step of the podium and moved into second in the points standings above Vandoorne, who made a poor start and then suffered front wing damage as he tried to pass MP Motorsport’s Daniel de Jong. The feature race winner trailed home 22nd. Polesitter Nasr also suffered a poor getaway, but recovered to finish fourth following a thrilling dice with Rapax’s Quaife-Hobbs.