Esteban Gutierrez won the feature race in Valencia after a chaotic race which saw three safety car appearances.
Gutierrez’s team mate James Calado led comfortably from pole position in the opening laps but his lead was destroyed when the safety car came out. Worse, he was the only driver on the track who still had to make his mandatory pit stop, so his race was ruined from that point.
The safety car was deployed after a frightening crash for Rodolfo Gonzalez, who hit Tom Dillmann’s rear wing which had parted company with the car at turn seven. Dillmann had been circulating with the obviously bent rear wing since the first lap of the race, yet had not been shown the black-and-orange flag. The stewards negligence in failing to do so must be questioned, particularly given that Calado was shown the flag when his front wing was broken in Monaco.
Calado’s efforts to restore his lead after the safety car returned to the pits always looked like a tall order on tyres that were much more worn than his rivals’. It was further hampered by a second safety car deployment after Jolyon Palmer tipped Fabrizio Crestani into a roll at turn ten – the Venezuela GP Lazarus driver was fortunately unhurt.
Calado made a break at the second restart as Gutierrez launched an attack on Fabio Leimer which allowed Luiz Razia past the pair of them. Gutierrez rallied, taking second place from Razia.
Moments later the safety car was out yet again – this time because the other Venezuela GP Lazarus car had touched the wall. Despite being only a short distance from a gap in the wall, apparently this also could not be safely removed using local yellows.
On this occasion Calado got a break: the safety car came out in the middle of the field and Lotus GP seized the opportunity to bring him in while losing fewer places than he might have. He returned to the track behind championship leader Davide Valsecchi, who had laboured in the midfield after making a poor start.
After the final restart Gutierrez kept his nerve to win after a scruffy race in which he had also tangled with Giedo van der Garde. Marcus Ericsson took second off Razia, who nonetheless cut into Valsecchi’s points lead.
Cecotto finished eighth on the road but had already been issued with a penalty. That originally promoted Valsecchi in his place – a significant development, as it gave the DAMS driver pole position for the sprint race.
But once the stewards got to work the finishing order was revised again. Valsecchi was handed a time penalty for overtaking the safety car during its second deployment, handing eighth and sprint race pole to Calado – some recompense for his fine and ill-rewarded performance.
Palmer was rightly penalised for causing the collision with Crestani when he dived past the slowing Felipe Nasr. And Addax drivers Cecotto and Josef Kral were excluded for being fitted with each others’ tyres.
Finally, a word also needs to be said about the length of the first safety car period, when the field appeared to remain neutralised for a further two laps after the track was cleared to allow Victor Guerin to regain the lead lap. F1 has restored this rule for 2012 and for me this was further proof that it simply isn’t suitable for circuits which are as long and slow as those in F1, unlike the ovals of America where the practice originated.
Sunday’s sprint race will see Calado back on pole ahead of Max Chilton. Valsecchi has a mountain to climb from 18th.