A1 Team Switzerland took their first win of the season, ending France’s eight race run and putting them on pole for this afternoon’s Feature race. Driver Neel Jani was joined on the podium by Italy and the Czech Republic who benefited from an unusual mistake by the French team which saw Nicolas Lapierre slip down to finish in seventh.
Winning his first A1 Grand Prix race Neel Jani said: ‘It was a great result, but the big race is to come, it’s not over yet. I managed to get a really good start.’ Asked if he thought he could continue the tradition of winning the Feature as well as the Sprint race, Jani commented: ‘Of course I hope we can win, I’ll try my best and see what the outcome is’.
It was another action-packed start for an A1 Grand Prix race with pole-sitter A1 Team Switzerland leading into the first corner. Following was A1 Team Ireland, A1 Team Brazil and A1 Team Great Britain with France in a very unfamiliar fifth having gone wide and lost ground. Not everyone made the first corner cleanly with the first casualty being A1 Team Germany who had to pit at the end of lap one for a new nose cone.
The battle of the opening lap was between Brazil and Great Britain and by the end of the lap it was Britain’s Robbie Kerr who was in third. On lap two the challenge from Brazil finished when Nelson Piquet Jr parked his car on the side of the track so implementing A1 Recovery for the very first time. This ground-breaking helicopter recovery service was given the green light by the FIA for A1GP to use it for the first time in Dubai.
A1 Teams Malaysia and Netherlands started a race long battle with Holland’s Jos Verstappen moving from nineteenth on the starting grid to twelfth at the end of lap one. Despite the Dutch driver’s best efforts there was no way he could overtake Malaysia but was less than a second behind at the end of the 15 lap race.
There were the usual wheel to wheel battles all the way down the field with New Zealand trying everything to get by South Africa on lap two. However, A1 Team France had a much easier time on lap four and was able to cruise by the Great Britain car relatively easily and take third place.
India and China may not have been in the points but this did not stop them battling on the track with the Chinese coming out on top on lap five after the Indian car slid off the track. All this time A1 Team Switzerland was holding a lead of about three seconds and never looked likely to be troubled by A1 Team Ireland who had more than enough to deal with as A1 Team France was up to within half a second of his rear wing by half distance.
Unfortunately for A1 Team Great Britain their third place was lost when Robbie Kerr spun on lap six and dropped down to ninth. A1 Team USA was being pursued by South Africa and the wheel to wheel battle was resolved in the favour of the South African car on lap eight when he moved into twelfth. A1 Team Mexico, despite being eighteenth was not going to make life easy for Austria but finally on lap nine the Austrian car was able to finally slip by and hold the Mexicans at bay until the chequered flag.
With just over a lap to go all looked set for Switzerland to be joined on the podium by Ireland and France but on the penultimate lap France spun off and dropped down to seventh and then the dramas continued with just a couple of corners to go on the final lap when A1 Team Ireland slowed dramatically due to an electronic fault with their gearbox. This allowed A1 Team Italy to claim their first podium and the Czech Team their second.
Italy’s Enrico Toccacelo commented: ‘I’m confident for the second race, we had a problem in qualifying but the team worked on the car and did a good job. I had a good start, despite the first corner which was really close, but I was lucky and got through ok.’
Also optimistic for the next race, and the rest of the season, the Czech Republic’s Tomas Enge said: ‘It was an unbelievable race, the car was perfectly prepared and I had a clear race. There were problems in the first corner but I managed to get through and was fast enough to keep up with Toccacelo. Hopefully we are making progress now, we were unlucky at the start of the season, but it is starting to get better now.’
A1 Grand Prix