Jules Bianchi gave Lotus ART the best possible start to the GP2 Asia series in 2011 with victory in the first feature race of the year.
Bianchi was able to get a better start off the line and better pace in the run down to the first corner, so that by the time the cars entered turn 1 Bianchi was already firmly in the lead and polesitter Romain Grosjean had his hands full just keeping his Dams car in second place from Team AirAsia's Davide Valsecchi.
But even as the cars exited the corner, the safety car signs were already out on display: behind the leaders, there had been a massive accident on the start line triggered by Dani Clos stalling in his fourth position grid box. Most drivers had seen the problem and reacted fast enough to avoid him, including Jolyon Palmer who swerved to the right just before a potential collision.
Unfortunately that meant Luiz Razia, running just behind Palmer, reacted to the Arden's move and swerved left - straight into the right hand side of the stationary Racing Engineering car. There was a shower of carbon fibre as the side of Clos' car disintegrated, and Razia's AirAsia was tipped over on its side and would have rolled completely had it not then impacted on the barrier wall. As all this played out, poor Pal Varhaug arrived on the scene and had no where to go but be involved in the aftermath.
The safety car call then had its own effect on proceedings, as the cars started to lift off and brake as they headed into turn 4 - but Rodolfo Gonzalez didn't react fast enough and ploughed into the back of the slowing Charles Pic and was briefly launched into the air by Pic's shattered rear wing. And in a separate, less serious accident Fabio Leimer misjudged his braking and steamed down the inside into turn 1 and ended up losing his front wing.
All these separate incidents and associated debris meant that extensive clearing up and barrier repair was required, so the safety car became a red flag for the better part of half an hour, which was a blessing for Gonzalez, Leimer and Pic as it enabled them to return to the pits and have their respective collision damage attended to. The long delay also pushed the race well into the Abu Dhabi dusk, meaning that the race was far more of a floodlight affair than originally planned and would be time-curtailed at 33 rather than 36 laps in total.
At the restart, Bianchi calmly kept control and refused to get distracted by Grosjean's impatient antics behind him. Where Bianchi was inch perfect, the clearly faster Grosjean would lock up and run off the track as he tried in vain to find a way past. The two quickly pulled away from Valsecchi in third place, who didn't have the pace of the front-runners but had enough to keep the likes of Giedo van der Garde from being a major threat to his podium position.
Grosjean now had to rely on the mandatory pit stop to provide the opportunity to reclaim the lead. By the end of lap 12 it seemed that those cars on early stop strategies were some half a second faster on track than those on old rubber, so Grosjean came in for his stop hoping for an advantage over Bianchi. Unfortunately clutch problems hampered his getaway from the pitbox and the delay put him behind an incoming Max Chilton. When Bianchi reacted and pitted the following lap, it was clear that he had done enough to retain his lead over Grosjean despite his own less serious hassles with his clutch.
As the race wore on, Fabio Leimer and Charles Pic emerged as the final cars to come in for their pit stop and ran first and second place for much of the midpart of the race until they were caught in turn by Bianchi and Grosjean, and politely took that as a cue to come in to the pits. Interestingly their pace remained fairly strong despite the now very old rubber, the initial propitious drop in pace seemingly stabilising at about 0.7s thanks to the lightening fuel load - interesting data for future races.