Jules Bianchi produced an outstanding wet weather drive to claim his maiden Formula 3 victory in the Masters of F3 at Zolder today.
The French rookie started alongside his ART Grand Prix teammate Nico Hulkenberg on the front row and surged into the lead when Hulkenberg fluffed the start.
He was able to maintain a gap over the favourite for the first half of the race and then pull clear to take a comfortable victory in tricky drying conditions.
Bianchi, only in his second year of car racing, traded fastest laps with Hulkenberg throughout the race as the wet circuit gradually dried up, and his more experienced team-mate had no answer for his pace.
"I'm really happy to get my first win in the Masters," said Bianchi. "I tried to make a gap in the first laps but Nico was quick. After it dried a bit it was easier for me, although it was very difficult at the end because the front tyres were finished.
"My grandfather and uncle were Belgian racing drivers (Turn Four is named after his uncle) so it's very special for me to win here."
Hulkenberg was lucky to survive to finish second after getting caught up in an accident off the line. Renger van der Zande tangled with Koudai Tsukakoshi as both tried to go round the slow-starting Hulkenberg. Van der Zande spun across the front of Tsukakoshi and into the wall. That incident triggered several more on the first lap as multiple collisions sent cars flying off the road at each chicane.
The leaders had to deal with backmarkers from the first few laps of the race as several recovered from their incidents. A few more chose to gamble on slicks while their having damaged repaired in the pits but circulated 10 seconds per lap slower than those on wets for most of the race.
Bianchi picked his way through the traffic well and stretched his lead over Hulkenberg to more than five seconds in the second half of the race, before easing off in the last two laps to protect his overheating wet tyres.
Hulkenberg pulled well clear in second, with Jon Lancaster completing an all-ART podium in third. The Briton had stayed with his team-mates in the early stages but lost time behind backmarkers on consecutive laps and couldn't make it back up.
Mika Maki had a quiet race in fourth, while Brendon Hartley finished as the top British championship runner in fifth. It took him half the race to clear Daniel Campos-Hull, by which time those ahead had disappeared up the road, forcing him to settle for fifth.
The battle of the race raged behind Hartley as more than half a dozen cars contested sixth place. Jaime Alguersuari slipped backwards, while his Carlin Motorsport team-mate Richard Philippe clipped Henkie Waldschmidt causing both to spin. Rodolfo Gonzalez tried a similar move on Campos-Hull at the final chicane and knocked the Spaniard out of the race.
That cleared the way for Atte Mustonen and Sam Bird to move into sixth and seventh places from 24th and 22nd on the grid. Both were unlucky to miss the cut for yesterday's top 20 shootout but showed their true pace today as they charged through the pack.
Mustonen set the fastest lap of the race on wet tyres, before Max Chilton snatched it at the end as the circuit favoured slicks in the last two laps.
Pos Driver Team Car Gap 1. Jules Bianchi ART D/M 45:19.275 2. Nico Hulkenberg ART D/M +4.495 3. Jon Lancaster ART D/M +20.539 4. Mika Maki Mucke D/M +27.030 5. Brendon Hartley Carlin D/M +34.170 6. Atte Mustonen Double R D/M +40.536 7. Sam Bird Manor D/M +53.861 8. Jaime Alguersuari Carlin D/M +57.479 9. Rodolfo Gonzalez Carlin D/M +1:03.294 10. Jean-Karl Vernay Signature D/V +1:10.049 11. Erik Janis Mucke D/M +1:14.649 12. Michael Devaney Ultimate M/M +1:14.810 13. Henry Arundel Double R D/M +1:18.153 14. Martin Plowman Signature D/V +1:20.051 15. Edoardo Mortara Signature D/V +1:27.377 16. Tom Dillman Jo Zeller D/M +1 lap 17. James Jakes ART D/M +1 lap 18. Christian Vietoris Mucke D/M +1 lap 19. Esteban Guerrieri Ultimate M/M +1 lap 20. Kazuya Oshima Manor D/M +1 lap 21. Max Chilton Hitech D/M +2 laps 22. Niall Breen Manor D/M +2 laps 23. John Martin Double R D/M +2 laps Retirements Yann Clairay SG D/M 25 laps Stefano Coletti Prema D/M 24 laps Nick Tandy JTR M/M 23 laps Roberto Merhi Hitech D/M 21 laps Daniel Campos-Hull HBR D/M 19 laps Richard Philippe Carlin D/M 16 laps Henkie Waldschmidt SG D/M 15 laps Dani Clos Prema D/M 6 laps Koudai Tsukakoshi Manor D/M 1 lap Renger van der Zande Prema D/M 0 laps Daniel Ricciardo SG D/M 0 laps Basil Shaaban HBR D/M 0 laps Franck Mailleux Signature D/V 0 laps Ricardo Teixeira Ultimate M/M 0 laps
Fastest lap, Chilton 1:31.197 on lap 24
D/M = Dallara Mercedes, D/V = Dallara Volkswagen, M/M = Mygale Mercedes