After heavy overnight rain, and with much cooler temperatures on Sunday morning than they had experienced over the preceding two days at Barcelona, it was a very different Circuit de Catalunya awaiting the GP2 teams for the 26-lap sprint race.
Unfortunately it was the same old technical glitches awaiting poor old Jolyon Palmer in the iSport, who came to a halt halfway around the formation lap to trigger an aborted start and reduce the race distance by a lap in the process. That cost him a start from ninth place on the grid; Giancarlo Serenelli had already stalled on the getaway from the grid for the formation lap and would have to start from the pit lane, but at least he was already slated to start from the back row as it was.
At the second attempt at a race start, Max Chilton bogged down in second position on the grid which freed up Luiz Razia to scamper away at the front in the Arden, and also allowed Nathanael Berthon to dodge around the Carlin to compete over second place with Davide Valsecchi into turn 1. The DAMS went slightly too wide into the first corner, which enabled the Racing Engineering car to steal the position out of the turn.
Chilton held on to fourth place in all of this, just ahead of the two Lotus GP drivers James Calado and Esteban Gutiérrez who both got the better of yesterday's feature race winner Giedo van der Garde on the first lap, with Felipe Nasr tucking into eighth ahead of Stefano Coletti and Fabio Onidi. But van der Garde wasn't down and out yet, and once he regrouped and found his pace he was soon able to repass Gutiérrez for sixth place, while Calado kept out of reach by slipping past Chilton on lap 4 to put the Carlin between him and the recovering Caterham.
Gutiérrez continued on his backwards trajectory, losing places to Nasr and Coletti in quick succession and installing himself at the head of a closely packed train of cars who were jostling for position, including Barwa Addax's Johnny Cecotto banging wheels to get past Nigel Melkur for 11th. Cecotto then made a successful move on Onidi for 10th, but Onidi ended up spinning across the path of an innocent Melkur as a result of the pass: both the Coloni and the Ocean Racing cars ended up in a slow-speed run off onto the grass which cost them a lot of time and positions. Melkur's agony was further compounded when he also had to come into the pits for a new nose cone as a result of the collision.
Up front, Razia had a reasonably consistent and comfortable - if hardly runaway - lead over Berthon averaging at around 1s which he started to slowly stretch out in the second half, with Valsecchi a further second behind them both doing what he always does: biding his time looking after his tyres while waiting for an opportunity to strike late in the day. However he was also coming under growing pressure for his podium place from a charging Calado in fourth
Gutiérrez' strangely up and down day took a new turn mid-race when he bounced back from being harried by Johnny Cecotto Jr. to then repass Nasr for eighth place on lap 13. Nasr had already started to struggle and had just lost a position to Coletti earlier on the same lap, and it seemed only a matter of time before the surging Cecotto also found a way past the DAMS.
But in fact Cecotto had blown his tyres with his early advance, and now was paying for it: Fabrizio Crestani got past the Addax for tenth place on lap 18. Cecotto then had no chance to fend off Rapax's Tom Dillmann, or Fabio Leimer two laps later when the Racing Engineering driver put in a lovely dive down the inside into the chicane on lap 20.
Calado had been right on the back of Valsecchi for half a dozen laps now, hounding him while being unable to find that final killer edge to pull off the pass. He was running out of time, and was left hoping for something to change with the condition of the tyres if he was to avoid missing out on his second podium finish of the weekend - but nothing materialised.
As the leaders came to the chequered flag, Razia had by now built up an unassailable 5s lead over Berthon, who was relieved to have avoided any late race pressure from Valsecchi after all, given that the Italian had his hands full with Calado.
Behind them, Max Chilton was 6.5s back but had managed to salvage that poor race start to deliver a decent fifth place ahead of Giedo van der Garde, who had himself come under late pressure from Esteban Gutiérrez after the Mexican had found his way past a flagging Stefano Coletti to finish in seventh place.
New boy Victor Guerin ran foul of the stewards with a jump start and Marcus Ericsson got done for ignoring yellow flags while running in 11th place, while Serenelli's day ended early after his pit lane start with a self-inflicted spin into the turn 4 gravel trap on the third lap.
The result meant that once again, the top two men in the GP2 drivers championship shared a podium, with Nathanael Berthon the guest star on this occasion. But it confirmed that the title is very much a two horse race at this stage between Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia - although with only four weekends out of 12 complete, there's still plenty of time for the balance of power to change in 2012.Full sprint race results
and GP2 driver and team championships positions