Holland's GP2 Series team MP Motorsport celebrated its first podium finish of the season on the streets of Monte-Carlo on Friday, 27th May, with a magnificent drive from Oliver Rowland securing the Briton his maiden silverware in the FIA Formula One World Championship feeder series.
From fifth on the grid, the Racing Steps Foundation driver made an excellent start and after climbing into the top four after a lengthy battle with Mitch Evans he broke into the top three on lap 23 when Sergey Sirotkin collided with the barriers. After his late-race tyre change stop, Rowland emerged in third position and remained there to the finish to claim an excellent podium in the principality.
Team-mate Daniël De Jong also starred in the sister MP Motorsport car, the Dutchman claiming his first points finish of the year in Friday's 'Feature Race' with a richly deserved top 10 result. Having started 18th on the grid, De Jong delivered outstanding pace throughout on his way to 10th place and, post-race, he was elevated into ninth following a penalty for a rival.
In round four on Saturday, 28th May, Rowland – who is part of the Renault Sport Academy – finished a largely uneventful 30-lap 'Sprint Race' in seventh spot to extend his unbroken 2016 points scoring run. De Jong, meanwhile, just missed out on another top 10 result in 11th place – his pace impacted by an electrical problem.
Reflecting on the weekend, race engineer Sarah Shaw said: "We're obviously delighted for Oli to see him take his first podium in GP2 – where better to achieve it than in Monaco! He did a fantastic job and Daniël too had some great pace this weekend, he definitely deserved to be in the points and it was a shame he had a problem with the electrics in race two – even with that, his pace was good. For the team as a whole, we're really happy to take our first podium of the season."
MP Motorsport magnificent in Monaco
Due to the tight confines of the Monte-Carlo streets, qualifying was split into two groups and Rowland was third fastest in his session – equating to fifth on the grid for round three – while De Jong qualified in 20th position, 10th in the previous group.
At the start of Friday's race, Rowland maintained position after a great start and stayed glued to the back of Mitch Evans' car lap after lap. Swarming all over the back of the Kiwi's car, on lap 13 the MP Motorsport racer had an opportunity to try and pass out of the tunnel into the chicane and he was almost alongside when Evans cut the corner to maintain his place.
Rowland, therefore, remained frustratingly bottled up behind Evans, despite clearly being the quicker of the two, but after a Virtual Safety Car period several laps later he pounced brilliantly at the re-start to take fourth place at the Swimming Pool complex – around the same time Evans was also given a five second time penalty for the earlier chicane-cut.
Instantly scorching away and closing on the top three, Rowland then took third on lap 24 after Sergey Sirotkin collided with the barriers. Two more Virtual Safety Car periods followed in quick succession and on lap 28 he took second place when Jordan King tagged the wall. Two laps later, Rowland served his pit-stop and rejoined the track in third where he stayed to the conclusion.
"It feels really good [to be on the podium]", said Rowland after the race, "To be honest, I started the race fifth so I'm quite happy to be on the podium. We had really good pace, I was able to fight with Mitch [Evans] and passed him at the re-start of the Virtual Safety Car. It was a pretty good day."
De Jong started the race a row further forward than expected due to penalties for a couple of rivals following qualifying. Leaping into the top 15 early on after an excellent start to the race, he reeled off some outstanding laps and when some drivers took early pit-stops for tyres De Jong moved up into the points in ninth place by lap eight.
Lapping on a par with team-mate Rowland, the Dutchman was within 0.1 seconds of podium pace during the first half of the contest and although edged back to 10th by Artem Markelov on lap 22 De Jong moved back into ninth when Nicholas Latifi hit the barriers in the tunnel. Climbing into eighth when Sergey Sirotkin hit trouble, De Jong then served his stop on lap 26.
Rejoining the race in 11th position, he moved back into the top 10 with just over three laps to go when Luca Ghiotto's car stopped on track. Staying there to the finish on lap 40, just 0.7 seconds shy of ninth place, post-race De Jong was elevated into ninth due to a penalty for Antonio Giovinazzi.
Round four on Saturday afternoon was an altogether more processional affair with Rowland starting the contest in sixth place – the top eight finishers from Friday reversed – and De Jong lining-up on the fifth row in ninth position.
Both MP Motorsport cars were edged back a position off the start and with Rowland on the outside into Ste Devote, there was nothing he could do to re-challenge Norman Nato. For the majority of the race, Rowland was under serious pressure from Markelov while the gap between the MP driver and Nato ahead did fluctuate. Ultimately, no places changed and so seventh place was the end result.
De Jong ran in 10th place for almost the entire duration, soaking up immense pressure from Gustav Malja and then former team-mate Sergio Canamasas during the final third of the race when the latter passed Malja. On lap 27, Canamasas managed to squeeze ahead of De Jong but even with an electrical problem which affected his pace the Dutch racer was still able to finish in 11th place.
Next on the GP2 Series schedule is the championship's first ever visit to Azerbaijan with rounds five and six taking place at Baku City Circuit over the weekend 18th/19th June.
2016 GP2 Series Driver Standings (after Rd4):
7th Oliver Rowland, 22pts; 15th Daniël De Jong, 2pts
2016 GP2 Series Team Standings (after Rd4):
7th MP Motorsport, 24pts