Johnny Cecotto Jr won the 15th round of the GP2 Series, his second feature race victory of the year, at Hockenheim on Saturday afternoon after a brave gamble on slick tyres on an initially wet track worked a treat.
Starting three quarters of an hour after Formula 1 qualifying concluded, the track was damp but not wet enough for a safety car start, so the feature race grid formed up using treaded rubber - all except for Cecotto and Stephane Richelmi, whose Addax and Trident cars started on slicks.
That choice turned out to be inspired. The track dried quickly, and although Cecotto dropped as low as 19th from 17th spot on the grid, the race came to him. The star of the show in those early laps, however, was Ocean's Nigel Melker, who entered the back straight on lap one in third and ended it in the lead.
He zapped past poleman Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) and Fabio Leimer (Racing Engineering) along the Parabolika sweeper to hit the front, and led by 1.1 seconds by the end of the opening lap.
But Leimer, who passed van der Garde on the exit of the Spitzkehre hairpin, was not about to roll over. Two fastest laps in succession put him back on Melker's tail and the Swiss grabbed the lead on lap five. Van der Garde also swept past Melker, to establish himself in second.
As early as lap four, however, Cecotto set the fastest sector two time, and by the time he crossed the finish line he had set fastest lap by 2s. His next lap was amazing, passing cars left, right and centre as they struggled with worn wets on the now-dry track. He passed eight cars alone in the second half of lap five, and took the lead as they all dived into the pits for slicks.
Cecotto held a 12s lead over Richelmi, but the second-placed man was running the softer of the tyre options, as opposed to Cecotto's medium-compound rubber, and slashed that gap to 6.9s by lap 13, by which time Cecotto had stabilised the margin.
The drivers who stopped were now benefiting from their fresh rubber, so much so that when Richelmi pitted for two more fresh softs on lap 23, he rejoined behind Leimer, with Felipe Nasr and van der Garde also jumping ahead. But after a couple more laps, the early stoppers began to hit tyre wear issues, so Richelmi picked off van der Garde and Nasr to score his first-ever GP2 podium.
Cecotto pitted a lap later than Richelmi, and despite a sticky left-rear wheel, he rejoined just under a second ahead of Leimer. On fresh rubber, he extended that gap to 9.6s by the finish.
"Incredible," said Cecotto. "From the formation laps I said to the team 'we could take slicks but it will be on the limit'. It was amazing at times, the team told me to keep pushing to keep the gap, so I drove 15 qualifying laps."
Leimer managed his worn tyres well to stay clear of Richelmi in the closing laps, with Nasr finishing fourth ahead of van der Garde, Melker, points leader Luiz Razia and James Calado.
Razia extended his championship lead over Davide Valsecchi to 12 points. Valsecchi raced into the fringe of the points until his tyres went off and he slumped to 13th.