Evans and his Arden International team put in a strong strategic performance in sweltering heat at the twisty Grand Prix circuit which is 20km from Budapest. After 36 laps Evans was just 22.58s behind race winner Jolyon Palmer; and the 19-year-old set second fastest lap within the top ten finishers.
"It was a good result because we didn’t qualify well on Friday,” said Evans.
He was disappointed to be down in twelfth place during Friday’s 30 minute practice session, and then qualifying eleventh later in the day. Faced with starting from the sixth row, his Arden International team opted for a different tyre strategy than most of the 26-car field.
"I started the race on the harder medium tyres and my team mate Johnny (Cecotto) and I did a longer run than most other drivers. I got alongside Johnny at the start but he closed in on me under braking; and then pushed me wide at the second corner.
We touched at the chicane, and from then on he was holding me up.”
The two Arden cars were running second and third by lap 10 but it took another five laps of intense pressure before a frustrated Evans got safely ahead of Cecotto. Evans then pulled away, leading for five laps before making his late stop on lap 26 to change to a set of the softer Pirelli tyres.
He came out 14thafter his tyre change and charged back to seventh at the flag.
"I stayed out until the tyres hit the cliff. Out again on the softer tyres the car was still good and I could have pushed for a few more places. We had good speed at the end but there was no reason to push – we had the front row start for the reverse grid tomorrow (Sunday in Hungary) and we’ve saved a new set of the medium compound tyres.”
The result will see Evans starting second on the reverse top eight grid for tonight’s Sprint race which is timed to start at 20.30 (NZ Time).
Jolyon Palmer’s alternative strategy on tyres also paid off. The Briton made a good start from seventh and stayed out on medium tyres while those ahead of him stopped earlier. In the second half of the race he romped away to claim a 15sec victory ahead of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
Tom Dillmann made a terrible start from pole to hand the lead to Nasr when the lights went out, with Fabio Leimer following the Brazilian through ahead of Ericsson and teammate Stéphane Richelmi. Palmer had a better run and snuck past the DAMS pair for third on the road from seventh on the grid.
The Swede took advantage of a tow along the front straight to slip inside Palmer and through at turn one on the second lap. The pair then had a ferocious battle for the podium position for lap after lap, with Ericsson under extreme pressure until he stopped on lap seven after struggling on his soft tyres.
The change worked, and when Nasr and Leimer covered his stop two laps later they were behind the Swede, who had put himself into contention for the win.
However, Palmer was able to run quicker laps in clear air. Palmer came in for a set of medium tyres, emerging side-by-side with Ericsson before the Swede snuck through. The pair had another epic battle as Palmer pushed hard, taking the position a few times but running out of track. He eventually claimed the place after running side-by-side for the first three turns until Ericsson had to yeild.
The fight took its toll on the Swede’s tyres, and Nasr started to push hard for a Carlin 1-2. With Palmer easing away to win by 15 seconds, Ericsson ran as wide as he could on the last lap to hang on to second ahead of a disappointed Nasr, with Leimer holding off Richelmi at the line for fourth.
Simon Trummer took advantage of another very long first stint for sixth, just ahead of Mitch Evans. Nathanael Berthon claimed eighth, and tomorrow’s pole; with James Calado mugging Sam Bird at the end of the race for an extra point.
Stefano Coletti was unable to repeat his Nurburgring heroics after a collision at the start meant an extra stop, but the Monegasque driver holds on to his lead in the championship from Nasr by 135 points to 123, with Leimer on 100 points, Bird on 91, and Calado on 86 points ahead of tomorrow’s sprint race.