The 2013 GP2 feature race at Monaco got off to a delayed start thanks to some repairs being required to the circuit barriers at Massenet as a result of an earlier support race crash on Friday morning, which had also laid down a lot of oil on the track requiring a covering of cement dust through the same corner. As the Arden cars of Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Mitch Evans lined up at the led of the 26-car grid, there was even a swelling of cloud overhead where the previous day had seen unbroken expanses of the purest blue, making the principality feel considerably cooler than it had the last time the cars had taken to the track.
Cecotto got a poor start with too much wheelspin, allowing his rookie team mate Evans to easily sweep into the lead through Ste Devote while a rattled Cecotto was left trying to fend off Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer through the first corner. It was an impossible line for Cecotto to hold and he duly skipped head-long into the barriers, trapping Leimer whose car climbed all over the left hand side of the Arden in its agitation.
That was bad enough, but when Carlin's Jolyon Palmer spun while taking evasive action on the inside line, it sealed the corner and left the field with virtually no where to go: in total, 15 of the 26 cars ended up parked in various states of disrepair on the track and the red flag was inevitable and immediate. Stepping out of their cars were Cecotto, Leimer, Palmer, Stefano Coletti (Rapax), Julian Leal (Racing Engineering), Tom Dillmann (Russian Time), Robin Frijns (Hilmer Motorsport), Marcus Ericsson (DAMS), Alexander Rossi (EQ8 Caterham), Nathanaël Berthon (Trident), Rene Binder and Kevin Giovesi (Venezuela GP Lazarus), Rio Haryanto and Jake Rosenzweig (Barwa Addax) and Daniel Abt (ART).
The only cars that had completed the first lap were Evans, Sam Bird (Russian Time), Kevin Ceccon (Trident), Felipe Nasr (Carlin), James Calado (ART), Stéphan Richelmi (DAMS), Jon Lancaster (Hilmer), Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Daniël de Jong (MP Motorsport) and Simon Trummer (Rapax). Arguably the happiest man in this entire morass was EQ8 Caterham's Sergio Canamasas, who has stalled on on the grid at the start and missed out on the mayhem altogether but would now get a second chance to get underway for the restart.
A 40-minute delay was required to clear the track and recover the cars for a restart with the affected drivers working frantically to restart their cars and get back to pit lane for repairs to allow them to take up their positions behind the safety car for the restart. In all, nine cars were out while Canamasas was listed a lap down having been recovered directly to the pits from the grid rather than undertaking the first aborted lap.
Evans pulled off an assured restart once the safety car pulled off, leaving him in the lead ahead of Bird, the duo already two seconds clear of Ceccon, Nasr, Calado and Richelmi. Having been compromised by the first lap accident and near the back of the field already, Coletti and Dillmann opted to pit at the end of lap 7 to get their mandatory stop out of the way early and get them back out on fresh rubber in a clear track position. Haryanto and Abt followed suit next time round, everyone so far electing to change just the rear tyres, and on lap 9 it was Calado with Lancaster and Trummer.
Coletti's early stop had produced lap times two seconds faster than the race leader, but Calado was still in front of the Rapax: but other drivers including Nasr realised the significance and dived into pit lane next time around to maintain his position over Calado and Ceccon and Richelmi did likewise on lap 11. All of this was piling the pressure on race leader Evans who was now lapping almost three seconds a lap slower until his own stop at the end of lap 12, and he'd left it a lap too late - as he exited pit lane, Ceccon pushed past him up the hill for position. Evans had no riposte and the Trident was soon three seconds down the road.
Evan's waning pace had hurt Sam Bird who had been bottled up behind the Arden despite a clearly faster car. Once released the Russian Time was just about a match to the pace of the recent stoppers, and in any case he was committed to his long first stint strategy and just had to knuckle down and do what he could with it from here.
A problem with the rear jack ruined de Jong's pit stop on lap 15 which he compounded by cutting the pit lane exit blend line, for which he received a drive-thru. Then it was Bird's turn to come in: and the Briton had indeed done enough in those few laps in the lead and he not only emerged ahead of Ceccon and Evans, he was also still in front of Binder who was the last man still to make his mandatory stop. It looked as though the race was in the bag for Bird in what would be his second win of the season after sprint victory in Bahrain last month, but a close shave with the barrier on the entrance to the tunnel on lap 18 provided a jolt of adrenalin to the system and reminded all concerned that there was no such thing as an 'easy' cruise to the chequered flag at Monaco, where a single moment of inattention could allow the Armco barriers to bite.
Haryanto learned that the hard way on lap 28 when he came under attack for 13th place from Daniel Abt down the inside into Rascasse and ended up being punted into the outside barrier with a shattered nose as a result. The race stewards decided that Abt's move had been too aggressive, and they duly handed the ART man a drive-thru for daring to try overtaking at Monaco; he also got a black-and-orange flag telling him to pit to have damage from the collision with Haryanto attended to, with a subsequent run-off at Mirabeau just compounding his misery.
Binder's turn in pit lane came on lap 29, and the #24 Venezuela GP Lazarus came out in seventh position behind Stefano Coletti having started the race in 22nd following his three-place grid penalty for blocking during qualifying - provisionally giving Binder a front row start for the Saturday sprint race under reversed grid rules alongside potential polesitter Richelmi. At the front, Bird continued to lead with a gap of 17s now over Ceccon who was just holding off a resurgent Evans in third who himself had Felipe Nasr and James Calado all over the back of him.
While Bird was safe at the top and led Ceccon and Evans to the chequered flag at the end of 42 laps, Richelmi was unable to hold on to the sprint pole after MP Motorsports' Adrian Quaife-Hobbs has a strong finish to the race, muscling his way past Stéphane Richelmi in the final seconds of the race. That puts the Briton alongside Binder on the front row on Saturday afternoon's event.
In the championship, Coletti's somewhat lacklustre home race still helped him extend his lead over many of his accident-hit main rivals, his points haul now standing at 103 points with Nasr up to 88 points in second - and Sam Bird up into third place with 58pts just ahead of Fabio Leimer with Frijns, Calado and Palmer now a long way adrift.See full Monaco feature race results