Stoffel Vandoorne nursed a badly flat-spotted tire home to take a dominant victory on his Formula Renault 3.5 debut at Monza on Saturday.
The McLaren junior driver suffered a huge lock-up into Turn 1 on lap 12 when he had already broken clear of the chasing pack after a messy start. But the resulting flat spot from that lock-up gave him a huge vibration. By the end of the race the tire was close to falling apart.
Vandoorne's woes appeared to give Antonio Felix da Costa a chance of victory once the Red Bull junior had picked his way though the chasing pack. The pre-season title favorite was reeling the rookie in, but then retired in spectacular fashion at the first corner with a suspected puncture. That left Kevin Magnussen in second, but the Dane could do nothing about Vandoorne's big lead as he suffered a flat spot of his own.
Vandoorne had opened out a lead in the early laps as he broke clear of the chaos behind him, where several cars cut the chicane on lap one and fifth place starter Daniil Move was spun out. There was more action to follow as Nikolay Martsenko tried to hold onto a surprise second place.
The Russian was fending off Will Stevens, who eventually tried to pass him on the outside into Turn 1, but bounced over the Turn 2 curb and spun Martsenko out. Their clash promoted da Costa to second, and in the seven laps that followed he reduced the gap to Vandoorne from nearly 10 seconds to just 5.6 before his retirement.
Magnussen was the next to inherit second place, having passed Christopher Zanella shortly before that. But the Swiss driver and Oliver Webb gave Magnussen a hard time all the way to the checkered flag.
Behind them, Nigel Melker held off a charging Arthur Pic – who started 22nd – to complete the top five.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Stoffel Vandoorne Fortec 46m48.474s
2. Kevin Magnussen DAMS + 7.053s
3. Christopher Zanella ISR + 8.596s
4. Oliver Webb Fortec + 8.991s
5. Nigel Melker Tech 1 + 16.461s
6. Arthur Pic AV Formula + 17.087s
7. Jazeman Jaafar Carlin + 17.838s
8. Mihai Marinescu Zeta Corse + 18.474s
9. Matias Laine P1 + 19.932s
10. Norman Nato DAMS + 25.456s
11. Andre Negrao Draco + 29.408s
12. Zoel Amberg Pons + 38.137s
13. Nico Muller Draco + 38.144s
14. Marlon Stockinger Lotus + 38.988s
15. Mikhail Aleshin Tech 1 + 45.247s
16. Carlos Huertas Carlin + 45.650s
17. Emmanuel Piget Zeta Corse + 49.859s
18. Will Stevens P1 + 56.310s
19. Marco Sorensen Lotus + 1 lap
Driver Team Laps
Pietro Fantin Arden Caterham 23
A.F.da Costa Arden Caterham 13
N.Martsenko Pons 6
Lucas Foresti Comtec 1
Sergey Sirotkin ISR 1
Yann Cunha AV Formula 0
Daniil Move Comtec 0