Sunshine and cloudless blue skies graced the start of the penultimate feature race of the 2010 GP2 season at Monza, but any hopes that such ideal conditions would mean fewer accidents compared with the cold and damp Spa outing a fortnight ago were quickly dashed, as almost half the field succumbed to early crashes - including both championship contenders, which all but seals the title battle.
The first exit was a rather embarrassing one, when Rodolfo Gonzalez got a little overzealous weaving to warm his tyres up on the formation lap and planted the nose of his Arden firmly into the metal barriers on the back straight, but it didn't hold up the start: polesitter Jules Bianchi and team mate Sam Bird got great starts and raced side-by-side down to the right hander entrance into the first chicane. Bird had the inside line and managed to force Bianchi to run wide and over the kerbing, which cost him drive out of the chicane and allowed Bird to get the upper hand and claim the lead.
The rest of the field followed them though without major incident, although Alvaro Parente banged wheels with Sergio Perez and sustained steering damage that resulted in his overshooting the first chicane and earning a pit-lane drive-thru penalty for his pains, a fate also shared by Davide Valsecchi and Fabrizio Crestani. But the real trouble came on the run down into the second chicane, when Luca Filippi lost control and went into a slide that saw him deliver a hard hit on the left rear of Giedo van der Garde. Dani Clos, following immediately behind, ended up steering wide over the kerbing which sent him into a spin all of his own. Charles Pic also got caught up in the incidents and ended up heading into the pits for a lengthy stop to have the damage sorted out and a new front wing attached.
That brought out the safety car for three laps, and when the track went green Sam Bird got a great restart that quickly powered him away from the problems that were bubbling up right behind him. First it was Bianchi and Jerome d'Ambrosio, who clashed through the chicane and ended up running off onto the grass verge. That caused the drivers immediately behind to slow up, and the compression effect had predictably disastrous results - most immediately for Pastor Maldonado who didn't react quickly enough and ran into the back of Romain Grosjean. The collision launched him into the air, and he returned to earth with a heavy 45-degree crunch onto his front right suspension that would leave the Rapax seriously hobbled.
Nor was the accident finished yet, because this second accident caused more compression and a second separate crash in the chicane that launched Luiz Razia into the air thanks to a combination of the kerbing and impacts with Brendon Hartley and Marcus Ericsson. The three-car wreck blocked the track, and brought out the safety car again for a rapid reappearance.
It was a golden opportunity for Sergio Perez to capitalise on his rival's accident and take the championship battle through to the final weekend in November in Abu Dhabi. Alas, that dream died just seconds after the second restart when Michael Herck tried a move on Perez and made contact, throwing the Addax into the right hand barrier going down into Variante Ascari, sending Perez for a painful grinding contact before bouncing across the gravel trap until finally coming to rest against the tyre wall. There was no coming back from his - Perez was out, and looking rather shaken and sore but otherwise unhurt.
That relieved the pressure on Maldonado, who was able to give up trying to drag his damaged car round the track and come in to retire in the pits and celebrate clinching the title with his pit crew - although as others worked the numbers, it emerged that Maldonado couldn't quite lay claim to the title just yet. There was still a slight mathematical chance that Perez could still win provided he got every point going from the remaining races (including fastest lap) and also providing Maldonado failed to score again. Hardly likely, and the deal will surely be sealed in Sunday's sprint race, but it's enough to make the celebrations just a little premature.
The rest of the race proceeded remarkably calmly - partly because there were so few cars left on the road. The ART duo were clearly the fastest cars on track, Bianchi effortlessly passing Oliver Turvey when the iSport car emerged from his mandatory pit stop just in front of him. But there was no catching Bird, who had complete control of the race and was rewarded with a great pit stop of his own, and the Briton was able to claim a convincing and well-deserved - not to mention long-overdue - GP2 victory.
Bianchi and Turvey claimed the other podium positions, with Christian Vietoris, d'Ambrosio, Adrian Zaugg and Edoardo Piscopo ahead of Max Chilton in eighth place, meaning that the teenager won pole position on the reverse grid of the sprint race.