Jules Bianchi made his tyres reach almost to the midpoint of the race, and paid the price when he lost multiple positions to those on fresher rubber. Worse still he had a terrible pit stop and lost more time, but as soon as he got his fresh tyres he was immediately back in the hunt and able to move through the field in the right direction this time, as the other cars that had pitted earlier started to feel the effects of increasingly bad handling as the tyres started to grain.
Worst affected of all was Racing Engineering's Christian Vietoris who had pitted so early in the race: the time the race was into its final ten laps he was in a dreadful state, no more than a mobile chicane bunching up crowds of cars behind him until they found a suitable place to surge past him and force him aside. He was losing half a dozen positions in a single lap, and the writing was on the wall: he had to return to pit lane to have his initial set of tyres (barely used; one previous owner) reattached so that he could make it to the end of the race sometime before the sun went down.
Seemingly the only people unconcerned and unaffected by the tyre shenanigans were the leaders, Romain Grosjean and Sam Bird. Bird had been staying in touch with the Dams until they both came in for pit stops on lap 16, but he lost time in pit lane and when they were back up to race speed Bird found himself over 5s off the back of Grosjean.
Bird wasn't giving up, and over the course of the next ten laps he did all has could to close the gap. And it was working: setting the fastest laps, he was cutting several tenths of Grosjean's lead so that by the start of lap 29 it was down to under a second and they were over 20s ahead of third place.
That was now Jules Bianchi, who had clawed his way back to third place with a nice move on Addax's Giedo van der Garde who had been among those to pit early in the race. Bianchi's move demonstrated his superior grip and ability to take a tighter, faster line through corners than van der Garde thanks to his later pit stop, proving that in the new era of Pirelli tyres the question of durability and tyre management will be as vital in GP2 as it's proving to be in F1.
As if to prove the point about tyres, fifth placed Dani Clos tried braking into turn 12 with four laps to go and found there was simply no braking capability left in the rubber, sending him sailing off into the run off area and allowing Trident's Stefano Coletti and Team AirAsia's Luiz Razia a free pass. He would also lose seventh place to Addax's Charles Pic in the remaining laps, but that came with a silver lining as the eighth placed finished gives him pole position alongside Pic on the reverse grid for Sunday's sprint race.
At the front, Sam Bird kept the pressure on right until the final lap, but Romain Grosjean simply seemed impervious, calling upon his F1 experience to keep the race nicely under control. But finally, even the Dams car's tyres started to protest their punishment, and Grosjean drifted wide in turn 12 with Bird perfectly placed to take advantage and pounce in the final two corners. Grosjean cleverly positioned his car and practically parked it on the apex into those final turns, and the presence of a backmarker also limited Bird's freedom of movement, and so the Frenchman just about made it to the chequered flag in the lead.
If there had been another lap to run then it would have been anybody's guess who would have taken the first feature race victory of the new season, which is just how race fans like it. All in all, a very entertaining and successful return to duty for GP2.
Full race results
, positions and times are also available.