Full sprint race results/championship standings after Bahrain now available
Another dreadful start from a polesitter in Sakhir opened the window for DAMS driver Jolyon Palmer to work his way into the lead of Sunday's sprint race, and once there he was able to hold off all-comers and claim his fourth win in the GP2 Series championship - the perfect turnaround after his own grid start nightmare just 24 hours earlier.
Having finished in eighth position at the end of season-opening feature race at the Bahrain International Circuit, the reverse grid rules had put Carlin's Felipe Nasr in pole position for Sunday's sprint race alongside Rapax's Simon Trummer, who had driven a superb long stint to recover from a formation lap stall on Saturday. Takuya Izawa (ART) and Arthus Pic (Campos Racing) started on the row behind, with Stefano Coletti (Racing Engineering) on row three alongside Palmer who had finished in third place the previous day. Saturdays race winner - his ART already slightly compromised by the loss of a top access panel abruptly flying off on his way from pit road to the grid - was in eighth for the start, just behind Carlin's Julian Leal.
When the lights went out, what should have been Nasr's best chance yet of securing a GP2 victory disappeared in an instant and for the second day in a row the pole sitter got a terrible launch off the grid, allowing Trummer to take the lead ahead of Palmer and Leal jumping up into third ahead of Adrian Quiafe-Hobbs in the Rapax starting from tenth on the grid who also got in front of Nasr by the first corner, as the drivers had to work hard to avoid the stalled Coletti.
Trummer wasn't able to fend off a challenge for the lead from Palmer in turn 1 at the start of the second lap, while further back the feature race winner Vandoorne found he was out of luck today in the sprint, initially managing to pass his team mate Izawa but then making contact with the rear of Daniel de Jong's MP Motorsport which damaged his front wing and left him slow on track, where he was barged off-track by the much faster Russian Time of Artem Markelov before he could then limp back to pit road for repairs that left him running well out of the top ten. Alexander Rossi was also forced to being his Caterham in for an unscheduled pit stop after picking up a puncture on lap 3, and he would later make a second stop to change to option tyres in an 'Oh, why not?' bid for the fastest lap.
With no mandatory pit stops or tyre strategies involved in Sunday's 23-lap event, it was now a straight fight to the finish. Palmer had the race lead but was still under pressure from Trummer who was less than a second back, and Leal was also staying in touch despite concerns about suspected collision damage on his Carlin. Quaife-Hobbs, Nasr and Pic rounded out the top six ahead of Stephane Richelmi (DAMS), and Mitch Evans soon battled his way up to eighth place after dispatching de Jong on lap 6. Further back, the an on the move - in the wrong direction - was Caterham's Rio Haryanto who after making gains at the start was now proving worryingly easy prey for the likes of Izawa, Conor Daly (Venezuela GP Lazarus) and Markelov, who then went on to take both of the cars in front of him on lap 11.
As the halfway point approached, the question was now about who had used and abused their tyres too early in the race, and who had been husbanding their rubber with an eye on a late urge. In the meantime, there was much entertainment to be had from a midfield battle between Daniel Abt (Hilmer Motorsport) and Nathanael Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus) over 15th place which also caught up the lapped Racing Engineering car of Raffaele Marciello, who like his team mate Coletti had stalled on the grid at the start and been forced to get underway from the pit lane.
As the race entered the final six laps, the top three were still covered by less than two seconds: Palmer and Leal were being given continual reminders to protect their tyres, while Rapax's communications took a different tack entirely as they informed Trummer that he had to attack now if he wanted to win the race. Behind the top trio, Quaife-Hobbs was falling back and struggling with tyre degradation that left him in the cross-hairs of Nasr, their battle bunching up a pack of cars consisting of Pic, Richelmi, Evans and Binder resulting in jostling and minor contact between the various parties. Nasr finally sealed the deal and took fourth place on lap 20 on his third attempt, but now too late in the race to do anything about the nine second lap between him and any hope of retrieving a podium position from his start line debacle.
Also out of time was Trummer, who had been unable to do anything about Palmer's grip on the race lead as the chequered flag neared, and he had to console himself with his first GP2 podium position in second place as they crossed the line, with Leal safely home in third place behind them. Nasr sealed fourth, while Richelmi pulled off a last-lap overtake on Quaife-Hobbs for fifth place while behind the Briton a furious battle over the remaining top ten places finally saw Evans and Binder get the edge on Pic and Markelov for the final points on offer.
Conor Daly was the only retirement of the afternoon, forced out of the race on lap 15 after hitting a tuning vane that had just fallen off Rene Binder's Arden.
Two podium positions at Bahrain gives Palmer a strong early lead of 12 points over Julian Leal after the first weekend of the 2014 season. Palmer's efforts also put DAMS ahead in the team championship albeit by just four points over Carlin, with ART also scoring strongly in Sakhir thanks to Stoffel Vandoorne's Saturday victory.Full sprint race results/championship standings after Bahrain now available