In the Toro Rosso pit, Max Verstappen’s mother Sophie, the former Belgian karting star, and sister Victoria, joined dad Jos. Ex-King Carlos of Spain also visited.
On track, Saturday saw Stoffel Vandoorne get his GP2 campaign with ART GP off to the best possible start with a dramatic victory after overtaking erstwhile leader Alex Rossi with a lap to go.
Vandoorne had started from pole alongside team mate Nobuharu Matsushita, but as the F3 star made a terrible start the McLaren junior swept into the lead from DAMS rookie Alex Lynn. Arden’s Norman Nato jumped to third and was soon battling with Trident’s Raffaele Marciello. On the fifth lap the intensity of their battle enabled Campos Racing’s Arthur Pic to jump them both, but soon afterwards Nato was so busy trying to deal with a clean lunge down the inside from Marciello that he ran into the back of Pic. As Nato then collected Marciello (and was later penalised), Pic was spun round and then t-boned by innocent DAMS racer Pierre Gasly. As the three French cars cleared away and Marciello limped to the pits to retire, the safety car was deployed until the end of the ninth lap.
By this stage Rossi and rookie Jordan King had risen to third and fourth for Racing Engineering. They brought both of them in to switch from soft Pirelli’s to mediums, as did DAMS with Lynn, but Rossi got the jump on the Briton who then damaged his front wing as he ran into the back of him in Turn 1 as they rejoined.
Lynn kept Rossi honest for a while, as Mitch Evans, another pit stopper, chased them for Russian Time.
Vandoorne stayed out until the 22nd lap, then jumped in to switch from mediums to softs, and a delay with the right rear wheel gave him a tough job to complete. But he hunted down Rossi and had the rubber left to pass him on the 30th lap. Rossi was unable to resist Campos’s Rio Haryanto either, who had followed the same strategy as Vandoorne but pitted from the lead a lap later.
They completed the top three as King staged a brilliant recovery from 17th after losing time stacked behind Rossi during his pit stop to take fourth from late-stopping Robert Visoiu of Rapax, who finished fifth despite a time penalty. Evans, like Rossi, dropped back as his tyres wore out, and finished sixth ahead of Lazarus’ Nathaniel Berthon and Carlin’s Julian Leal.
Matsushita staged a great recovery from his dreadful start and finished sixth on the road, before a five-second penalty for erratic driving dropped him to 10th. After impressing on his debut, Lynn fell away badly with understeer, and was the last classified runner in 19th.