After a somewhat sluggish start to the sprint race on Sunday morning in Valencia, the field got a second go at it after a quick safety car period forced a restart - and this time around, Esteban Gutierrez made the most of his opportunity to pressure polesitter Josef Kral into turn 4 to take the lead, and after that his speed and his dominance of the race only grew as he raced to his maiden GP2 series win.
The start of the race had been delayed because of a big oil spill trail on the street track that had to be treated with huge quantities of concrete dust to soak it up, which set back the formation of the grid by some ten minutes. When the cars finally got away for their warm-up lap, it was without Johnny Cecotto Jr who was left stalled in his grid position and had to be quickly removed to start form the pit lane.
Few of the drivers got great starts when the lights went out: the front row duo of Gutierrez and Kral were rather sluggish, allowing third-place man Luiz Razia to move up alongside Gutierrez and go wheel-to-wheel through the first turns, but Gutierrez managed to hold firm and keep the position.
The slow start at the front did mean that the field was unusually backed up and compressed going into the first few corners, with a result that several cars bumped and jostled for position which led to some minor damage and broken front wings: Jolyon Palmer was in for a new front wing and Max Chilton for a right rear puncture.
Romain Grosjean was particularly caught out, squeezed severely into a three-way with Sam Bird and Davide Valsecchi that was never going to end well; Grosjean was briefly lifted up into the air by contact with Bird, who simultaneously damaged his front wing on the back of Razia in the process.
That probably contributed to Grosjean promptly losing the backend of the Dams at turn 5 and spinning, the car coming to a halt right at the apex of the corner leaving those first on the scene - Rodolfo Gonzalez and Charles Pic - with nowhere to go but into a slow-speed pile up that saw the noses of all three cars locked together in a very artistic arrangement, and all of them out of the race. It was clearly going to take a crame to disentangle the trio so a safety car was immediately deployed, with Pic opting to stay in the cockpit of the Barwa Addax for the airborne ride.
At the restart, Gutierrez was presented with a second opportunity to pressure Kral into a mistake, and this time it paid off when Kral went too deep into turn 2 and locked up the brakes of the Arden, allowing not only Gutierrez but also Razia to escape past him into the lead. Kral would manage to recover and hold off further overtaking attempts from Giedo van der Garde for two more laps, but the Dutchman finally pressed the issue around the outside with the two nearly banging wheels before Kral finally conceded the position - and promptly allowed Dani Clos past in the same move. Kral would eventually retire on lap 14 after spinning out just before the bridge, ending up in an ignominious backwards roll down the hill to the run-off area.
Initially Razia looked as though he would be able to stay with Gutierrez and not allow him to break away, but as the laps ticked down this proved to be a pipe dream and Gutierrez disappeared down the road, getting ever fasted and not looking remotely affected by tyre wear in the later laps - indeed, looking more and more confortable if anything. By the end the Sauber Formula 1 reserve driver claimed his maiden GP2 series victory by nearly 13s over Razia, while the AirAsia driver in turn was able to hold off the attentions of Barwa Addax's van der Garde to claim the runners-up spot.
Jules Bianchi proved that the Lotus ART has well and truly hit the set-up sweet spot by battling his way up the field from 24th place on the grid after his post-feature race penalty. He was up to eighth place going into the final corner of the race. Ahead of him, Kevin Mirocha got very shakey on the exit of the final turn and Bianchi needed no second invitation to pounce, flooring the accelerator out of the corner: Mirocha tried to fend him off aggressively and the two nearly collided down the start/finish straight, but ultimately Bianchi had seventh position by the narrowest of margins, just 0.026s - rewarding even if it came with no points.
Otherwise the middle section of the race was surprisingly quiet and settled, surprisingly so given the breathless hijinks of the feature race and of the GP3 race that preceded this one on Sunday morning. However, things did start to liven up again in the final laps as tyre wear became an increasing factor and caused the cars to close up and make mistakes, offering opportunities for the more astute and discerning drivers (like the Lotus ART duo, and iSport drivers Bird and Marcus Ericsson) who had been looking after their rubber to shine during this stage.
Dani Clos's pace did its now-familiar late-race slump which allowed Davide Valsecchi to take fourth place with ease just three laps from the end, but the Racing Engineering car was able to hold off Michael Herck to the line to keep fifth despite a strong last-lap challenge from the Coloni.
Despite his early retirement, Romain Grosjean continues to hold on to the championship points
lead albeit by a single point over Giedo van der Garde who was the most consistent performer at Valencia with two podium positions. Davide Valsecchi's unflashy but sustained successful form now puts him in front of Sam Bird in third place.Full times and positions