Beautifully blue skies and a welcome dry track with no chance of rain greeted the 26 GP2 cars on the feature race starting grid at Silverstone for the fifth weekend of the 2013 season, a wonderful change from the damp and grey conditions of 24 hour before.
Polesitter Marcus Ericsson got a great start off the line, while fellow front row man Sam Bird suffered from wheel spin in the Russian Time car which allowed Felipe Nasr to blast past him from the second row of the grid in the Carlin. However Ericsson made a small error into the first corner which allowed Nasr to try using his superior momentum to sweep around the outside; Ericsson defended robustly and both cars went off the track into the runoff.
While they quickly recovered, Nasr's car was compromised and the whole incident had left the door wide open for Bird to go right past them both, followed through by championship leader Stefano Coletti for second place in the Rapax. Ericsson and Nar held onto third and fourth ahead of DAMS' Stephane Richelmi and Arden's Mitch Evans, while local boy James Calado had succeeded in climbing from tenth on the grid to seventh place in the ART ahead of Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer. On the downside of things, MP Motorsports's Daniel de Jong cemented a dismal weekend so far with the first penalty of the race for speeding in the pitlane, while Trident's Kevin Ceccon became the first retirement on lap 4 when he spun out.
Meanwhile at the front, Bird was busy checking out with a big lead while Coletti was having to battle to hold position over a back-on-it Ericsson. Bird was in for his mandatory pit stop on lap 6 at the same time as Ericsson which enabled the Swede to get track position on Coletti, but that effort was for nought when he was handed a drive-thru penalty for having forced Nasr off-track in their first corner incident at the start.
That left Richelmi and Evans temporarily in charge of proceedings at the front in lieu of their own pit stops to come, while Bird was momentarily running in ninth as the fastest of those to have come in while still enjoying a big lead over Coletti. However, it was the Monegasque who was now posting the fastest laps at this stage on his new set of prime tyres, and Bird was further badly held up by trying to get past the still-to-pit Fabio Crestani on lap 12, who was back on GP2 duty this week having replaced Kevin Giovesi in the #25 Venezuela GP Lazarus car.
Once past Crestani, Bird then hit further frustration as he came up on the back of Johnny Cecotto (Arden) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (MP Motorsport) battling over fourth place, cutting Bird's edge over Coletti to less than two seconds in the process. The hold-up also meant that interim race leader Richelmi was able to come in for his own pit stop at the end of lap 13 and return to the fray just behind Coletti in effective third place of those who had stopped.
Evans had taken over the lead when Richelmi pitted and he finally came in for his own stop at the end of lap 16 of the 29-lap race having built up a 23 second lead over Bird; that enabled to him to come back out right in the middle of the pack effectively battling for the second place, but he had the disadvantage of running of cold tyres that meant he lost out in a bruising battle with Coletti and his own still-to-stop team mate Cecotto. Evans hopes of converting this tactical stroke of genius were dashed minutes later when he was handed a ten second stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane in his zeal to get out as fast as possible.
All this had played to Sam Bird's advantage, and the Brit now enjoyed a growing lead of more than six seconds over Coletti, who had his hands full with fellow Monaco native Richelmi. The DAMS driver finally pulled off a lovely move around the outside of the last corner of lap 19 to take the position, which meant that the waning Rapax was now under threat from Leimer and Carlin's Jolyon Palmer in the remaining laps of the race.
As the last man to surrender the lead for his mandatory pit stop and return to the track in sixth place, Bird's Russian Time team mate Tom Dillmann was also shaping up to be a major threat to those ahead: he immediately started setting fastest lap times on his fresh rubber, and this enabled him to hijack Palmer for fifth place on lap 21, and moments later he breezed past Leimer for fourth as if the two cars were in different categories. Just when it looked as though third place would soon follow, Coletti defied expectations by using all his skills to make his Rapax as wide as possible and thwart the Frenchman time and again even when it appeared that a pass was surely an inevitability, all of which helped Leimer close up on the back of both of them.
Coletti appeared to be able to survive everything that Dillmann could throw at him, but on his penultimate run through the final complex he made an error that undid all his good work and allowed Dillmann to finally pounce decisively and take third place relatively easily. Coletti was left somewhat flustered and unprepared for how close the threat from Leimer now was, and two corners later he drifted slightly wide which encouraged the Swiss driver to poke his nose down the inside of a left-hander. Contact ensued, and Coletti ended up off in the gravel at the side of the track banging his steering wheel in frustration, the late retirement dropping him from a battle over third to a final result of 21st in a matter of seconds - a big blow for the championship leader, although at least his closest rivals in the points standings were also having a less than stellar time of it.
Dillmann was by now far too far off the back of Bird and Richelmi who headed him to the line some nine seconds up the road. However, in a Keystone Kops moment of confusion the top three ended up parking in the old Silverstone pit lane complex halfway around the circuit rather than at the new facility where the podium presentations were due to be held. That meant that the medical car had to be dispatched to ferry the top three to where they were meant to be, while everyone was left tapping their feet waiting for the guests of honour to show up.
Leimer survived his clash with Coletti to claim fourth place ahead of Hilmer Motorsport's Jon Lancaster, with Jolyon Palmer finishing in sixth ahead of Barwa Addax driver Rio Haryanto. Further back, James Calado's home feature race did not go according to plan after he was forced off-track on lap 9 while trying to ward off Hilmer's Robin Frijns, and he then clashed with fellow Brit Lancaster mid-race which had tipped the ART into a spin at turn 6. Calado rejoined and battled his way back into the points in ninth place by the finish, but he missed out on the reverse grid pole which went instead to Racing Engineering's Julian Leal after Coletti's late retirement boosted him up a place to eighth at the line.
However, the Calado/Lancaster collision along with the Coletti/Leimer incident were both marked for post-race review by the stewards, along with an early incident between Kevin Ceccon and EQ8 Caterham Racing's Alexander Rossi who finished in tenth place just behind Calado. The adjudications could yet rewrite the race results and final outcome of the Silverstone feature race.
However it shapes out, all will be known by Sunday morning when the 21-lap sprint race gets underway at 9.35am.Full race results are available