As the lights went out to get the Nurburgring feature race underway, it was Stephane Richelmi starting from pole position for the first time alongside his DAMS team mate Marcus Ericsson, and in conditions much sunnier and hotter than they ever had been in practice and qualifying during an overcast Friday.
Richelmi got a reasonable start but it was no match for that of Ericsson who immediately passed him on the inside line; Robin Frijns tried outflanking the pole sitter on the outside line and succeeded in briefly getting second place before Richelmi managed to reassert himself, leaving the Hilmer Motorsport car vying for third spot with Felipe Nasr. That battle was decided in favour of the Carlin when Frijns drifted off the right hand side of the track, while Mitch Evans' opportunistic lunge down the inside into turn 1 into the briefest of race leads had been overcooked and left him running wide, dropping down in 16th place once he recovered.
But then all battles were suspended as word came that the safety car had been deployed for a big incident on the front straight: Adrian Quaife-Hobbs had stalled on the grid which had forced the field behind him to scatter in order to avoid him, but that left Quaife-Hobbs a sitting duck for an accident developing further back. Trident's Kevin Ceccon had got himself into a three-way pinch between ART's Daniel Abt and his own team mate Nathanael Berthon that ended up clipping the #21 into a roll - and in the process right into the back of Quaife-Hobbs' stationary car immediately ahead. It looked serious but fortunately all drivers involved were okay, although the mess on the front straight was such that the safety car had to lead the train of cars through the pit lane while the clean-up was carried out.
At the restart at the start of lap 5, Ericsson led Richelmi, Nasr and Frijns to the green flag with ART's James Calado picking up fifth spot ahead of Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer. Ericsson quickly pulled away while Richelmi was clearly holding up a line of traffic, which encouraged Nasr to dive into pit road early as soon as the window for mandatory pit stops opened at the end of lap 6 allowing him to ditch the supersoft compounds as soon as possible.
Ericsson was in for his own stop at the end of lap 8 putting him briefly right into the middle of a battle between Abt and Julian Leal for 13th that he was relieved to be quickly clear of. That put Ericsson ahead of Nasr, Calado and Frijns who had also already pitted, but it was Frijns who was posting the fastest laps as he sought to follow the others through the slower traffic as all three tried to hunt down Ericsson ahead.
Leimer made a wild entry into pit lane on lap 10, and Richelmi pitted from the race lead two laps later only to endure a slow front right change after a crew member slipped that put the DAMS back out on track right behind Frijns in what was a effectively a battle for fourth place behind Ericsson, Nasr and Calado with Caterham's Alexander Rossi now looking good for sixth place ahead of Leimer.
Tom Dillmann pitted the Russian Time from the lead at the end of lap 17 but wasted his chance of coming out in a strong position by briefly stalling as he pulled away. Sam Bird (Russian Time) and Stefano Coletti (Rapax) lasted to the mid-point of what was scheduled to be a 34-lap race before pitting from the front, leaving the race lead temporarily in the hands of Mitch Evans ahead of his Arden team mate Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Rapax's Simon Trummer.
In the meantime, the battle of the leading cars to have pitted was focussing on Nasr, who was clearly struggling as he paid for that early stop for fresh tyres. Calado got past the Carlin through turn 1 on lap 18 but ran wide, offering the Brazilian a glimmer of hope of reclaiming the spot on the switchback but the ART man was able to just hold on long enough until the track once more turned in his favour. Nasr was just about strong enough to ward off an over-optimistic lunge from Frijns the following lap, but on lap 21 the Dutch driver made a proper job of it and made the move stick, leaving Nasr in the sights of the rapidly closing Richelmi who in turn was under heavy pressure from Coletti on his much fresher Pirelli tyres.
Evans pitted from the lead on lap 23 but Arden had a miserable time with the front right wheel change that cost the New Zealander any hope of a decent result; his team mate Cecotto was in from the inherited lead next time by and suffered a similar fate after he missed his marks. That left Trummer minding the store at the front, albeit now just seven seconds ahead of Ericsson and with his mandatory pit stop to come in the remaining ten minutes of what was now confirmed as a one-hour time-capped race.
Once Trummer pitted at the end of lap 27 and Ericsson was finally able to reclaim the lead of the race, he had more than four seconds on Calado and Frijns while Coletti had successfully worked his way up to fourth place. Richelmi and Leimer had also managed to pass the waning Nasr who was running ahead of Jon Lancaster in the Hilmer Motorsport #23, the Briton having pulled off a smooth pass for position down the inside of Dillmann. Despite holding the provisional pole for the sprint race under revere grid rules, Lancaster didn't hesitate to also jump Nasr for seventh spot; Nasr then immediately dropped another spot to Dillmann in turn, and it was the Frenchman left holding the Sunday race pole when the music stopped.
Nasr wasn't the only driver complaining about his tyres being totally shot: Calado was clinging onto second for dear life, and Frijns was under severe pressure from Coletti for the final podium position which he did everything he could to thwart. In the closing corners Coletti went for broke and the two collided in the penultimate left-hander - not enough to spin either car but it did break Frijn's last vestiges of momentum. Coletti was released to the podium spot while Frijns tried to hold fourth place only to clash with Stephane Richelmi through the apex of the final corner, which served to open a window of opportunity for Fabio Leimer to pounce on them both and snatch the position by a whisker at the line.
There was no question about Ericsson's win - finally a strong result for the Swede, whose results so far this season have been so dire that he must have feared that his 2013 campaign must have been cursed. Despite having pronounced his tyres shot, Calado held on to second spot thanks to the battle over third place holding up the rest of the field to the line.
At the back of the field, Barwa Addax's Jake Rosenzweig had an eventful race of it, penalised early in the race for speeding in pit lane and then placed under investigation for an incident with Nathanael Berton which saw the Trident driver spin on lap 5. Julian Leal was handed a mid-race penalty for exceeding track limits, while a number of other cars including Bird, Sergio Canamasas (Caterham) and Rio Haryanto (Barwa Addax) were announced as being under post-race investigation for overtaking under the safety car at the start of the race.
Another of the drivers cited for that latter investigation was Stefano Coletti, meaning that even as the podium celebrations got underway the championship leader had to have half a mind on what was to come in the race stewards office, which may prove to have a significant effect on the 2013 GP2 Series championship battle going into Sunday morning's sprint race.Full race results are available