When Tom Dillmann crossed the finish line at the end of Friday afternoon's feature race at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, it was in ninth place - which meant that it was looking like a hard slog for the Rapax driver in the Saturday morning sprint. But a post-race penalty for DAMS driver Felipe Nasr for ignoring yellow flags bumped Dillmann up one position - and under the reversed grid positions, that propelled him right into pole position for the final GP2
outing in Bahrain.
Now all he had to do was to keep the top spot for 23 laps and claim the chequered flag. Never simple in the best of circumstances, and certainly not with a fired-up Davide Valsecchi starting from eighth place in his quest to claim a whitewash of the back-to-back race weekends in Bahrain and with his eyes locked on an unprecedented fourth consecutive race win in GP2.
But Dillmann was up for it, and proved it with a solid start that saw him able to sweep across the track and block off any challenge from fellow front row starter Marcus Ericsson to get away clean in the lead into turn 1. Dillmann promptly started turning the fastest laps in the clean air while the iSport driver had to settle for second place.
"The start was okay but Ericsson had a slightly better one," Dillmann admitted after the race. "I took the inside to block him and then I took my line and it was fine. I saw he was fighting with someone at the beginning so I could make a gap."
Behind him, though, was a slightly different matter: Starting from the third row of the grid, Caterham's Giedo van der Garde had been tapped out of sixth place and into a spin that had sent up plumes of smoke from wheelspin, scattering the field behind him. The immediate cause of the spin had been an optimistic lunge down the inside of the corner by Lotus GP's Esteban Gutiérrez, who had then lost traction when he hit and clattered over the kerbing and ended up shattering parts of his front wing on the rear of the Caterham in the process. Working the outside line, Valsecchi had been lucky not to get collected by the spinning van der Garde in turn.
By the end of lap one, Arden's Luiz Razia had smoothly moved ahead of Carlin Rio Haryanto for third place, while behind them the rest of the top ten consisted of Davide Valsecchi already up to fifth place and ahead of Gutiérrez - who had escaped any stewards' sanctions for being involved in the turn 1 accident - followed by Valsecchi's DAMS team mate Nasr quickly recovering his lost penalty places in seventh ahead of Nathanael Berthon (Racing Engineering), Max Chlton (Carlin) and Fabio Leimer (Racing Engineering).
Razia was clearly one of the fatest cars on the track in the early stages and was soon harrying Ericsson for second place; on lap 3 the deed was done and Razia was released to go after Dillmann, while Ericsson now found himself under attack from Haryanto. At the end of the lap, Ericsson then found a large piece of the polystyrene 50m braking marker in the middle of the track in front of him - hit out of position by an off-roading Stephane Richelmi on the previous lap - and ran straight into it, unsettling the iSport and causing him to run wide onto the start/finish straight. It was the invitation Haryanto needed to get past him, and the Swede then had to regather himself, cope with the front wing damage sustained in hitting the marker, and focus on not making it so easy for Valsecchi to get past as well.
In the circumstances Ericsson did a very good job of holding onto fourth place, backing Valsecchi into the clutches of Gutiérrez. Valsecchi was unable to ward off Gutiérrez down the start-finish straight at the start of lap 5, and the Lotus quickly went on to pass the ailing Ericsson in the next few corners and then dismiss Haryanto for third place with similar ease on the following lap. Clearly, the Mexican youngster was on a mission to make up for what had been up to that moment a dismal second weekend in Bahrain.
That left Valsecchi back in sixth place staring at Ericsson's back wing, and despite the iSport's damaged state it still took the Italian a fair amount of time to line up his move and make the pass for position into turn 1 on lap 8. When it came it was a lovely manoeuvre, but perhaps Valsecchi had been a little too careful and mindful of his tyres than was ideal, because he had now dropped a long way back from the leaders and that historic fourth consecutive GP2
race win was looking very far off as well as a result.