Alexander Rossi took GP2 victory in Abu Dhabi as Fabio Leimer secured the title
Sam Bird stalls on grid ending his championship hopes
By William Esler. Last Updated: 02/11/13 4:14pm
Leimer beats Bird to GP2 crown
Fabio Leimer secured the GP2 Drivers' Championship title in a dramatic race at Abu Dhabi as Alexander Rossi secured his maiden win in the series.
The 24-year-old Swiss driver finished fourth at the Yas Marina Circuit and now has an insurmountable lead over Sam Bird, who stalled from second on the grid, with one race remaining.
The initial start was aborted when Nathanael Berthon, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Gianmarco Raimondo all stalled on the grid leading to an extra formation lap. As the lights went out the second time around their was heartbreak for Bird who saw his championship hopes all but evaporate as he stalled and was left helpless on the grid.
At the front Jolyon Palmer had stormed from third on the grid to lead at the first corner from Rossi and Fabio Leimer, but there was to be more drama further back when Jon Lancaster challenged Tom Dillmann into turn six. The Hilmer driver hit the kerb on the inside of the chicane and was catapulted into the air, landing on the head of the Frenchman who had to push the car off his helmet.
That incident led to the safety car being deployed and gave Bird, who had been pushed into the pits and restarted, the chance to catch up to the back of the train. RUSSIAN TIME took advantage of the time in the pitlane to change him from mediums to the supersoft tyre in an effort to pass the backmarkers quickly.
However, his progress was slow when the race restarted on lap four and Bird was in at the end of lap eight to move onto the medium tyre once more.
At the front both Palmer and Rossi opted for long first stints, with the American the first to pit after 18 laps. Caterham changed just the rears on his car as he stayed on the more durable medium Pirelli tyre.
Two laps later Palmer pitted and went onto the supersoft compound - meaning he keeps a fresh set of mediums for Sunday's Sprint Race. The stop from Carlin was good, but with Rossi setting the fastest lap of the race following his stop, Palmer fell behind the American.
The safety car was called for again with seven laps to go when Mitch Evans tried to pass Sergio Canamasas at the final corner. The Kiwi dived to the inside of the Caterham driver only for the Spaniard to turn in and the resulting contact forced the Arden man to park his car next to the pitwall.
That left a final sprint to flag as the race clock ticked towards the one hour limit. Marcus Ericsson dived past Leimer for third, meaning that Bird who was running tenth, only needed ninth to keep the title fight alive. His Pirelli's were finished, however, and lack of traction meant he couldn't challenge Daniel Abt ahead of him, leaving Leimer and Racing Engineering to celebrate the Drivers' Championship.
Fabio Leimer is congratulated by Sam Bird (GP2 Series Media)
"I still can't believe it, it's just amazing, because GP2 is the strongest category apart from Formula 1, and there are not many people who can say they've won this championship! I'm really, really happy, and I'm focussed on tomorrow because there is still another race and I want to finish on the podium," the newly crowned Champion said.
"But it's amazing because, after qualy, I was a little bit disappointed because we had a problem on the car and weren't so quick, and Sam Bird was P2 and nearly got the 4 points. But today we had a really good start and I saw immediately that Sam stalled, and I feel really sorry for him - he's a really nice guy, one of the best guys on the track, really open, really hard but fair. I think he also deserved to win the championship, but in the end it can only go to one driver, and luckily it was me, but he is a really great guy and would have deserved it too."
Champions are not allowed to return to the GP2 Series and Leimer is hoping he can secure a reserve driver role - at the very least - in F1 in 2014.
"We will see, but I hope I can go to Formula 1: it will be hard, for sure, because there are not many seats free, but I hope I can go to Formula 1, and for me it is important to win this championship to help me. Now we have to work and push to go up there: of course it would be fantastic to be a race driver or even a third driver, but we will have to work hard and then we'll see.
GP2 Abu Dhabi - Feature Race
1) Alexander Rossi (USA) - Caterham Racing - 1:00:16.414
2) Jolyon Palmer (GBR) - Carlin - +2.130
3) Marcus Ericsson (SWE) - DAMS - +3.075
4) Fabio Leimer (SUI) - Racing Engineering - +4.687
5) Dani Clos (ESP) - MP Motorsport - +5.218
6) James Calado (GBR) - ART Grand Prix - +6.370
7) Felipe Nasr (BRA) - Carlin - +8.873
) Johnny Cecotto (VEN) - Arden International - +12.142
9) Daniel Abt (GER) - ART Grand Prix - +13.102
10) Sam Bird (GBR) - RUSSIAN TIME - +13.568
11) Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (GBR) - Hilmer Motorsport - +14.852
19) Stefano Coletti (MON) - Rapax - +1 lap
Jon Lancaster (GBR) - Hilmer Motorsport - Not classified
1) Fabio Leimer - 191 - Champion
2) Sam Bird - 173
3) Felipe Nasr - 154
4) James Calado - 142
5) Stefano Coletti - 135
6) Jolyon Palmer - 119
7) Marcus Ericsson - 117
8) Stephane Richelmi - 103
9) Alexander Rossi - 92
10) Tom Dillmann - 92