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Coletti claims maiden sprint race victory

Stefano Coletti won the sprint race from pole position, in a race that saw spins for Romain Grosjean and Sam Bird and penalties for Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi.
Starting from pole position on the reverse grid (after Max Chilton's feature race eighth place was disallowed for overtaking by cutting a chicane), Trident's Stefano Coletti made a solid start to Saturday's 26-lap sprint race and converted pole to a strong early sprint race lead ahead of Giedo van der Garde, who had got a better start over Sam Bird who had suffered from too much wheelspin at the green lights.

Further back Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi were starting alongside each other on the fourth row and immediately had a fierce first lap battle with Grosjean determined not to get bottled up behind his compatriot for a second race in succession. However, Grosjean came out worst from the encounter and ended up spinning out of the race at turn 11.

Coletti had built up a 2s lead at the front ahead of van der Garde, when word came down that the Dutchman had been handed a drive-thru penalty because of an infraction by one of his pit team, who had ventured onto the grid just seconds before the formation lap green light to pick up an overlooked piece of equipment left in the Barwa Addax's sidepod. Van der Garde took the penalty at the end of lap 4, which dropped him back to last place just behind Dani Clos, who had stalled on the grid before the start of the formation lap and been required to start from the pit lane.

Otherwise there was once again little overtaking to be seen in the first half of the race, with the top six of Coletti, Bird, Josef Kral, Marcus Ericsson, Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer remaining unchanged from then through to closing five laps. Just outside the top six, Jules Bianchi closing up on the back of Leimer in an attempt to get into the points; Bianchi himself had problems from the ever-dangerous Michael Herck immediately behind him in eighth - Herck being able to apple pressure despite having suffered front wing damage early in the race which had seen items of debris drop off during subsequent laps. Bianchi was able to temporarily free himself from Herck's advances with a pass on Leimer on lap 21, and while Herck was also able to get past Leimer three laps later he was too far back to be a threat to Friday's feature race winner.

Nathanael Berthon had managed to pressure Johnny Cecotto Jr into a mistake on lap 13 that sent the Venezuelan wide and left Berthon up a place in 10th, but behind them Charles Pic laboured for half the race to get the same result with Jolyon Palmer despite being all over the back of the Arden. It finally took a bold move by Pic to full it off and claim 12th place, in the overtaking move of the weekend. Once released, Pic went on to set several fastest laps soon after to show just how much quicker he could be without the traffic holding him up. He was able to pass Rodolfo Gonzalez for what proved to be tenth position, but he ran out of laps to climb further.

With five laps to go it was looking like a good day for iSport's Sam Bird as he pushed hard to keep the pressure on Coletti at the front. But on lap 21 disaster struck: Bird hit a kerb awkwardly and lost control, crashing out of the race at turn 10 and throwing away a potential major points haul.

As the drivers completed the final lap, Coletti was the clear winner ahead of Kral and Ericsson, having put in a faultless display from pole and never putting a wheel wrong throughout despite the early pressure from van der Garde and Bird.

Behind them Jules Bianchi made a last lap attack on Davide Valsecchi for fourth place - and the Lotus ART did indeed slip past the Team AirAsia after the cars banged wheels, but did so by running wide and taking entirely to the grass. Given the drive-thru penalty handed out to Chilton on Friday, there were immediate concerns that Bianchi would be given a penalty.

Bianchi was indeed penalised, along with Berthon and Pic, but their misdemeanour was not respecting yellow flags. They were all given 20s drive-thru penalties retrospectively which placed them eighth, 14th and 21st respectively. The penalty also cost Pic the point for fastest lap since he was moved out of the top ten; that now goes to Bianchi, who had the next fastest lap time.

Full race times can be found in the results section.



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