Luca Filippi won the battle off the front row of the Monza feature race grid to lead into the first turn of the 30 lap event, and despite locking up and stumbling over the apex of turn 2 in the chicane he held onto the lead and started to pull out a gap at the front of around half a second per lap.
Filippi was also able to stay out longer then any of his rivals and didn't come in for his pit stop until lap 14, which meant that he was able to get in and out without any chance of slow-starting polesitter Charles Pic undercutting him, although it did result in his lead of over 10s being reduced to only 4s when he returned to the track.
It was no matter, and he was soon setting fastest lap times again - trading the top time with Romain Grosjean and more crucially with Jules Bianchi, a fellow contender for the runner-up position in the drivers championship, who was seeking the all-important bonus point for himself. By the end of the race Filippi's lead over Pic was 5.627s and he also managed to clinch the point for fastest lap by 0.031s from Bianchi as he delivered a home win for himself and the Coloni team before an appreciative crowd of cheering Italians.
With the top two finishers firmly locked in from early in the race, attention turned instead to the final place on the podium. Fabio Leimer had got a poor start, allowing Alvaro Parente to take the position followed by Romain Grosjean in fourth, and the two of them were all over the back of Pic in the early phase of the race while Grosjean was also doing everything he could to hustle Parente into a mistake.
A mistake did come - but ironically it was in the pit lane with Grosjean no where in sight. Parente was released from his mandatory pit stop into the path of the incoming Johnny Cecotto Jr. on lap 11 in what was duly judged to have been an unsafe release by the team. Parente was handed a drive-thru penalty that dumped him down to 13th position and out of contention, and in any case the slight delay in the near-miss had already given Grosjean the gift of third place.
Other drivers who received penalties during the race were Dani Clos (who had run second at one point during the pit stop cycle before being penalised for speeding in the pit lane and being dumped down to 15th) and poor Giedo van der Garde, who suffered first lap accident damage requiring a pit stop and was then given a drive-thru for not respecting the track limits at turn 1. That meant he ended up finishing a dismal 21st place to add to a truly nightmarish weekend at the office.
Michael Herck may well have been handed a penalty for causing a collision at the start of the race, badly misbraking into turn 2 and taking out Max Chilton as a result. However, Herck himself was out of the race because of the accident and so any sanction will be handed to him by the race stewards overnight instead.
With Davide Valsecchi and Brendon Hartley both needing a extra pit stop at the end of lap 1 for some collision damage, and Jolyon Palmer and Julian Kral also being removed from the race early in the running, one of the definite beneficiaries was Jules Bianchi who had qualified a dreadful 19th position after suffering serious understeer problems on Friday afternoon.
All the retirements helped him push his way up to 11th place before then jumping Luiz Razia in the pits as they were among the earliest to make their stops. Bianchi then gained two more positions from the penalties for Parente and Clos, which meant that he entered the latter stages of the race in eighth place. With his Lotus ART team mate Esteban Gutierrez in ninth holding back any attack from Luiz Razia, he was not under any undue pressure in the closing laps. Not only did this give him a single championship point, it more importantly put him into the provisional pole position for Sunday morning's sprint race under the reversed grid rules.
Further back, Stéphane Richemi acquitted himself very well in his maiden GP2 outing, having stepped in to the Trident team to substitute for the injured Stefano Coletti. Richemi was one of the very last cars to come in for their mandatory pit stops, and staying out meant that he inherited the race lead for four laps. He dropped back to 17th after his pit stop, but then impressively worked his way past first Julian Leal and then Johnny Cecotto to finish the race in 15th place.
In the drivers championship battle, the fight for second place behind already-crowned champion Grosjean is wide open, with just three points covering Pic (52pts), Filippi (51pts), Bianchi and van der Garde (49pts). However, Sam Bird has now definitely fallen out of contention and will end the season in sixth place in the championship after finishing the Monza feature race in fourth position from tenth on the grid, having got the better of Adam Carroll and Fabio Leimer in the pit stops.
But while Pic goes into the final race in the lead, he's not necessarily in the strongest position to win the runners-up spot. Jules Bianchi now has the key advantage of starting the sprint race on pole position, while Pic and Filippi start from seventh and eighth respectively. If Bianchi wins, then either Pic or Filippi must finish second to deny him the runners-up spot - although the bonus point for fastest lap could also prove critical. In the event of a tie, Filippi has three race wins this season to Pic's two and Bianchi's one.
Meanwhile in the constructors' battle, Pic's second place over Grosjean's third (and neither of their team mates scoring) means that Barwa Addax pull out one point further in the lead over Dams. It's mathematically still possible for Dams to steal a win but it would require Pal Varhaug to score his first points of the year (unlikely but not impossible from an 11th place start on the grid) and for the Addax duo of Pic and van der Garde to fail to score at all.
Either way, it should make for an entertaining battle in the final GP2 race of the 2011 season.
Full race results