With this year’s GP3 Series title battle heating up with reckless abandon, it seemed fitting that the sweltering conditions at Silverstone added a little more fire into the mix, ending the series of three race weekends on the bounce to bring the category towards the midpoint of the season. Heading into his home round having claimed the lead of the standings in Austria, Callum Ilott’s goal was to head into the break before Budapest with a more comprehensive lead over countryman Anthoine Hubert.
The Free Practice session on the Friday morning offered very little indication over which way things would go, and a late lap from Trident’s Giuliano Alesi foisted the French driver to the top of the timesheets as the ART Grand Prix cars all factored in the bottom half of the field. Come qualifying, Hubert had shaken off the disappointment of a nightmarish weekend in Austria to clinch his first GP3 pole position, heading teammate Nikita Mazepin by a tenth with a 1:46.033 lap.
“It was a very special day for me today,” said Hubert effusively after the session. “It’s my grandfather’s birthday, my brother found out this morning that he has obtained his Baccaleuréat, France just won 2-0 in the World Cup, and then I got pole position! So it’s been a perfect day. I was thinking about this since this morning, and I knew it was going to be tough to achieve – but I’m so happy that I did.
“In practice, I was something like P17 so I was honestly not so confident before quali. We worked really well with the team and I think straight away we were quick. I was P1 after the first run. My lap was not crazy, but I put everything together and that’s how I got pole. Thank you to the team for their hard work. I hope it will be a win tomorrow.”
Getting away from the line on the formation lap, Hubert suffered a slight scare having edged away from his grid slot slowly, but was able to reassume his position at the front of the grid. He kept the lead as the lights went out, keeping Mazepin at bay in the early stages before the action was nullified by a virtual safety car – brought out for a turn 1 fracas between Juan Manuel Correa and Julien Falchero.
A second VSC was brought out in quick succession shortly after the first had ended, this time for Gabriel Aubry’s stricken Arden car after he launched an unsuccessful assault on Tatiana Calderon. At the eventual restart, Hubert led the field away and quickly built a gap over Mazepin – setting a new fastest lap and continuing to dictate the pace over the subsequent tours of the circuit. Although Mazepin tried to bring Hubert into DRS range, the Frenchman opened the taps and sprinted away, coming across the line to claim his second victory of 2018 – and his first on-track – as Mazepin and Ilott completed an all-ART podium.
“It’s been one and a half years that I’ve been waiting for this moment to get my first win,” Hubert said, relieved. “Last year it was really close, and I thought it would come soon after that – but in the end it took quite a long time so that’s really good. It’s especially good because I had a bad weekend in Austria so it was good to bounce back like that. To be with my two teammates on the podium is good for the team, they really work hard and it’s not by chance that ART are in front. So I’m really happy for them, and in the end it feels really good to beat the English boys on their home soil!
“The rhythm was really bad in the beginning – when you start to push you’re under pressure, and then with the VSC there’s lots of things to manage – looking in your mirrors, looking at the delta, then you have to push again before three corners later we have another virtual safety car. So, the beginning was very long and annoying, and we only got to push for 14 laps. Even if it looked easy and under control, it wasn’t – it’s definitely a challenging track for the tyre management, physically as well, and Nikita was pushing me to the limit so I’m happy that I didn’t do any big mistakes and that I controlled it quite well.”
Entering Race 2 back in the lead of the championship, the ART squad had to take a back seat as it was the turn of Trident to sweep the podium placings. Giuliano Alesi, having fallen down the order in Race 1, had ended his descent to collect eighth and the reverse-grid pole with it. Although getting away well, Alesi had to watch teammate Pedro Piquet surpass his efforts off the line and climb to first place.
Piquet – as his illustrious surname would suggest – looked at home in the lead of the race, and kept Alesi at arm’s length throughout the race with consummate ease. Although the French driver threatened, closing up to his Brazilian teammate to within DRS range with the intent to use the pair of activations he’d saved, Piquet wisely opened the gap once more to counter the threat of an overtake. By the close of the race, the gap between the two stood at 1.4s, with stablemate Ryan Tveter completing Trident’s three-pronged attack on the podium.
“We came to this race with a good chance to win,” said Piquet. “Starting from the front row, I focused a lot on the warm-up and on the start. It was really close at the start with Giuliano but I was just a little bit faster. When you’re in the front row, you can brake late, and after that, it was about understanding how the track was and how the tyres were handling. At the beginning it was a bit difficult, but in the end the pace got better. The VSC period in the end was not helpful because I lost a bit of time. But after that, one lap to go, we just brought it home.
“With DRS you cannot make a mistake. If I make one, Giuliano closes in and then he can use the DRS to pass me. You need to drive every lap on the limit when you are in front. I think it was a really good race, the laptimes were really constant. It’s been three very intense three race weekends in a row. It’s time for a good break now.”
Reclaiming the lead in the standings, Anthoine Hubert hits the 100-point mark, with six points in hand over teammate Callum Ilott. There’s everything to play for next time out in Budapest – and with the tight, technical circuit for the drivers to battle on, there’s a lot to gain…and a lot to lose.