Valsecchi's huge pre-interval lead was wiped out, and he had to make sure that he didn't lose out to James Calado and Luiz Razia at the restart on lap 20. The leaders were followed by Max Chilton, Esteban Gutierrez, Dani Clos, Fabio Leimer, Tom Dillmann, Stephane Richelmi and Fabio Onidi forming the remainder of the top ten.
Valsecchi's superiority on the day was such that he had no problems staying out of reach, while Calado was suffering the consequences of slightly older tyres and immediately under intense pressure from Razia for second. Calado fought for the position for all he was worth, but finally succumbed to the Arden in the final corner of lap 24, after which his own tyres were so cooked his earlier battle that Calado found it impossible to hold off passing moves from Max Chilton and from his own Lotus team mate Gutierrez and from Max Chilton.
Gutierrez was harrying Chilton for the final podium position, and looked to have set things up perfectly for a slingshot move on the Carlin out of turn 3 only to be frustrated to see a local waved yellow as a result of debris on track caused by a massive burst tyre for Ocean Racing's Nigel Melker. But Gutierrez waited a few seconds more and finally caught Chilton out with a sudden switchback change of line down into turn 11, and then managed to hold off Chilton's counter-attack through the ensuing corners despite straying out onto the slippery tyre discard marbles in the process. Poor Max Chilton has his birthday present snatched from him at the last minute and third place duly went to Gutierrez as they crossed the finish line just half a second apart.
"It was very exciting because it was a fair fight, a clean fight," said Gutierrez later when asked how those final few laps had played out from his perspective. "This is what we love. I love competition. It makes life interesting! It was a great feeling. ... I'm really happy and so is the team. We never stop pushing."
Calado had enough rubber left to hold on to fifth place, which was now just three tenths ahead of Tom Dillmann after Fabio Leimer had also struggled in the final laps and lost sixth position by briefly running off the track in the closing stint. Fabio Onidi rose two positions to finish in eighth place, giving him pole position for the Sunday sprint race and Leimer the shotgun position on the front row.
The final laps also saw late retirements from Dani Clos and Nathanael Berton. The iSport car of Jolyon Palmer failed to even join the formation lap, and was unable to start from pit lane either. Apart from Nasr, the only penalty of the race went to Simon Trummer who was handed a pit lane speeding penalty during the race.
Almost forgotten for much of the race was Valsecchi, who was almost nine seconds ahead in the final laps before easing off the gas at the end to finish 'just' 7.7s ahead of Razia.
"We were really fast: my car was perfect, I drove really well. Yesterday we deserved the pole; today we deserved the win," said Valsecchi. But he wasn't taking anything for granted going into the Sunday sprint race, which will see him start from eighth place on the reversed grid.
"I finished the race six seconds ahead of Razia, but maybe because he starts ahead of me tomorrow, he will be able to preserve his tyres better," he pointed out to the GP2 Media Service. "Tomorrow is another day and another story. I don't think I will start with a big advantage, but I am confident that we can score some points if we finish the race and we try to avoid incidents at the start. I hope I can make a good one and we will see."
Full race results
for Saturday's Bahrain feature race are available.