CLICK: Full GP3 race 1 results from Abu Dhabi
Dean Stoneman rebounded from any disappointment he might have felt of losing any chance of winning this year's GP3 Series title to pick up his fifth race victory of the season in an orderly race 1 at Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
With the drivers championship wrapped up in Alex Lynn's favour after Stoneman had failed to pick up the bonus points available for pole position on Friday, the race weekend had boiled down a battle between Stoneman, Marvin Kirchhöfer, Jimmy Eriksson and Richie Stanaway for the runners-up position, and for Carlin to secure the team title over ART.
Kirchhöfer and ART started the first race of the weekend from pole ahead of Stoneman, who was driving for the second weekend for Koiranen GP after the exit from the series of his original race team Marussia Manor Racing. However behind them lay a brace of Carlins in the form of Emil Bernstorff and new champion Lynn himself, ready to take advantage if either of the front row men faltered.
When the lights went out at the Yas Marina Circuit, Stoneman got the better start and out-dragged Kirchhöfer into the first corner. ART's Dino Zamparelli moved up to third place past Bernstorff after Lynn ran wide and dropped to fifth place, just managing to rejoin ahead of Alex Fontana (ART), Patric Niederhauser (Arden) and Nick Yelloly (Status Grand Prix).
An over-optimistic move by Patrick Kujala into turn 11 saw his Trident run into the back of Matheo Tuscher's Jenzer Motorsport car, Kujala then spinning and collecting the third Carlin of Luis Sa Silva, putting all three cars out of the race and bringing out the safety car for a brief spell as Kujala and Sa Silva's cars were recovered. Kujala will now start Sunday's race 2 from the pit lane after being penalised by the race stewards for causing the incident.
Despite losing a wing mirror as he ran slightly wide over the kerbs, Stoneman retained the lead with a smooth restart and quickly pulled away from the duelling team mates Kirchhöfer and Zamparelli. Kirchhöfer quickly dealt with business and smartly pulled away to give chase to the race leader, leaving Zamparelli with his hands full fending off the attentions of Bernstorff, Lynn and Fontana.
As has so often been the case in 2014, once the race settled down it became somewhat processional with the leaders far too capable to make a mistake that would allow a rival to slip past them. Further back Jimmy Eriksson had a go at passing his much slower Koiranen GP team mate Santiago Urrutia for tenth place seven laps into the 14-lap race, but he overshot and ran off track on his first attempt, forcing him to hand the position back rather than be penalised for exceeding track limits. Two laps later the Swede had a stronger chance and this time made the move stick, sweeping past the Uruguayan to get into the points; however he now had two seconds to make up in the remaining five laps before he could make at attempt on Jenzer's Kevin Ceccon for ninth, and it duly proved too much too late for him to achieve.
Kirchhöfer had been working on a similar deficit to the race leader ever since the safety car had come in, and while he got the gap down to under a second in the final laps there was never any real doubt that Stoneman didn't have the proceedings perfectly under control. He duly crossed the line eight tenths clear of Kirchhöfer, meaning that the battle for the runners-up spot in the championship will go all the way down to the final race of the season with just two points between the while and Eriksson, Bernstorff and Stanaway now found themselves too far back to be a factor.
With Kirchhöfer's team mate Zamparelli joining them on the podium it meant that ART had made impressive advances in the team championship, although with Bernstorff and Lynn coming home in fourth and fifth it meant Carlin had done all that they could to minimise the damage and give themselves a slender five point advantage going into the final race of the year.
Yelloly held on to eighth place to pick up pole position for Sunday's race 2 where he will be joined on the front row by Niederhauser, with Fontana alongside Lynn on the second row.
See full GP3 race 1 results from Abu Dhabi