Normally when a polesitter bogs down off the line and drops five places before the first corner, that's game over in terms of any realistic chance of winning the race. Especially when the person who takes over at the front is the driver's own team mate running identical equipment and who quickly pulls out a lead of more than ten seconds over the rest of the field.
Such was the scenario facing Jolyon Palmer, who suffered an issue with the anti-stall device on his car and stuttered off the line as all around him surged past. His Carlin team mate Felipe Nasr had no such issues and shot off free and clear into turn 1, while Palmer found himself surrounded by the triumvirate of Fabio Leimer, James Calado and Stephane Richelmi and forced to give ground to all three.
Leimer came out best in the battle for second, while Richelmi's attempt to ward off Palmer on the outside line allowed Calado to slip down the inside into turn 2 for third. But once those fraught opening few seconds had calmed down, Palmer was able to recompose himself and apply himself to a quick and deft pass on the DAMS car and then a similarly straightforward overtake on the ART for third place before the end of the first lap. Palmer might still be down in third place and already worrying car off the leading duo, but at least the fightback had begin.
Leimer looked a threat to the lead early on thanks to his decision to go with supersoft front tyres for the opening stint, but the performance of the options dropped off rapidly and by lap 4 Leimer was not only no longer a threat to Nasr, he was easy prey for Palmer who was now back up into second spot despite that dire start. Even so, Nasr's lead over his team mate was already up to nearly five seconds: it seemed that it was still the Brazilian's race to lose.
Leimer's problems with the supersofts were mirrors by similar strife for the likes of Stefano Coletti and Sergio Canamasas, both of whom had made up places early but who were now falling down the running order at a fair rate of notes. The exception to the rule of the options was Sam Bird, who had fallen back to 13th place at the start but who had then been able to husband his option tyres over the ensuing opening laps so that when others hit problems he was in an ideal position to pounce and take advantage of the opportunity to regain that lost ground and then some.
Unsurprisingly those cars struggling on the options pitted for prime tyres as soon as the mandatory pit stop window was open on lap 6; Leimer and Richelmi waited only a lap longer before they too were in. For a second, Leimer's race fortunes - not to mention his championship hopes - seemed on the brink of disaster as a spent wheel got away from the pit crew and rolled across the pit lane, but an alert crew members retrieved it and the oddly lenient race stewards didn't deem it worthy of investigation for any potential penalties.
Sam Bird was in next lap by having worked his way back into the points, but a delay with the wheel gun on the right rear cost him valuable seconds and undid all that early good work, leaving him with it all to do all over again.
The first surprise of the race came at the start of lap 9, when the race leader Felipe Nasr came onto pit road despite having started on the prime tyres, followed by second-place man James Calado. Both men swapped rear tyres only on a like-for-like basis: perhaps both teams were working a tyre strategy designed to stop them having to run Sunday's sprint race on the short-lived options, or perhaps they were reacting to an on-track incident that seemed poised to trigger a safety car period.
That incident had begin with Julian Leal optimistically feinting the nose of his Racing Engineering car down the inside of Nathanael Berthon's Trident in the run down to turn 13, only to end up being panicked into the Armco barrier in a collision that saw both men end up in the run-off and out of the race. Berthon was subsequently handed a five-place grid penalty by the race stewards for causing the collision after video evidence showed that Berthon had reacted to intentionally block Leal's pass and thereby triggered the avoidable accident.
Despite the clean-up operation, the safety car ultimately was not called into action and the race continued. Nasr's stop hadn't been the fastest of affair, but it was enough to keep him comfortably ahead of his team mate when Palmer came in three laps later at the end of lap 11 for his own considerably smoother and faster stop. Palmer's hopes of closing on Nasr soon dimmed as the Brazilian opened out a lead over over ten seconds by the midway point of the 28-lap race, and now it seemed that the matter of the race win really was firmly resolved and Palmer should consider himself fortunate to come home in second after that terrible start.
Palmer didn't exactly see it that way. He put his foot down and by lap 18 the situation was serious enough to cause his pit wall crew to send out alarm signals, telling him that his pace was a second faster than Nasr and two seconds faster than anyone else out on track: "the pace is too hot," they warned. Of course, Palmer reacted as any motor racing professional would to such information: he redoubled his efforts and started tearing chunks of almost two seconds out of Nasr's lead, wasting no time in case his window of opportunity came to an abrupt end as a result of prematurely cooking his current set of tyres.
In fact that never really happened, and instead it was Nasr who was increasingly struggling with tyre degradation. He might have pitted only two laps earlier than his team mate but he difference in performance was clear, and with eight laps to go in the race Palmer was advancing in leaps and bound in Nasr's rear view mirror, with Nasr increasingly snatching at his brakes and locking up as he battled to stay ahead. When Palmer finally caught him four laps from the end the pass was a foregone conclusion - not that Nasr made it easy for him. Desperate to claim his first win in GP2, Nasr did everything he could to fend his team mate off but finally the superior pace of the Briton was too much and the deed was done.
Further back it seemed that Fabio Leimer was about to pull off the same sort of seek-and-destroy move on James Calado. Leimer cut through the gap separating third from fourth, Leimer was clamped to Calado's rear wing - but then unlike Palmer up the road could find no decisive way to make the deciding move for the position and instead found himself held up and backed into the path of a late-surging Stephane Richelmi, who pounced on the Racing Engineering car and claimed fourth for himself on the final lap of the race, albeit just too late for the DAMS man to then carry the assault to Calado for the podium position.
At the front, Palmer and Nasr had pretty much inverted their respective standings at the midway point of the race as Palmer crossed the finish line with a massive 13-second lead over his fellow Carlin driver, who in turn was a comfortable 12 seconds down the road from Calado, Richelmi and Leimer, while Tom Dillmann had made the most of a late-stop strategy to come him in sixth place ahead of Richelmi's team mate Marcus Ericsson.
In a move of major significance to the championship, Sam Bird succeeded in passing MP Motorsport's Dani Clos for eighth place two laps from the finish which means that the Briton will take pole position for the sprint race under revere grid rules, giving him a chance to close back up on Leimer in the title battle despite a rather nondescript weekend of it so far in Singapore.
Clos lost a further position to Hilmer's Jon Lancaster in the final seconds of the race meaning that he finished in tenth place just ahead of Arden's Mitch Evans, who like his team mate Johnny Cecotto Jr. had gone for an extra-long first stint. Evans pipped former championship leader Stefano Coletti whose miserable run of luck continued with another pointless outing at Marina Bay which saw him finish just ahead of ART's Daniel Abt.
In the title battle, Leimer's fifth place was enough to see him double his lead over Bird by six points in the drivers championship, with Nasr closing up on them both after overtaking Coletti for third place in the standings. Despite the Carlin one-two, Russian Time still holds the lead in the team standings albeit by just two points over Russian Time, with Racing Engineering also still very much in contention for the honours with three races remaining in 2013.See full feature race results