The unwillingness of the Catalunya circuit to allow overtaking (without the aid of the F1 toys) was once again in evidence; Michael Herck was particularly good at being an implacably immovable object, holding up a train of cars behind him while running in ninth before the pit stops. After the mandator tyre stop, he found himself in front of the two Lotus ART cars of Jules Bianchi and Esteban Gutierrez who were chomping at the bit waiting to get past. After several laps of sustained pressure, Bianchi finally pulled off a classy pass on Herck with a dummy through turn 1; unfortunately Gutierrez was less measured (he had nearly punted his own team mate off in the early laps of the race already) and tried a lunge where one wasn't on, went off over the kerb and onto the grass and lost handling, causing him to hit the back of Herck and spin the Coloni around. The two cars came to a stop with their noses locked together in the middle of the track, and a second safety car was required. Gutierrez would get handed a ten-place grid penalty for the sprint race for causing the accident.
There was no trouble for the leaders at the restart, and the race settled down to an orderly procession that only started to get interesting toward the end of the race when tyre wear became an issue and cars that had taken only two tyres finding themselves depressingly easy fodder for those who had taken four. Bianchi was one car to take advantage, while the most impressive of all was Fabio Leimer who - having had to start from the back of the grid after technical gremlins put him out of Friday qualifying - put in a flurry of four impressive overtakes down into turn 1 in the last ten minutes of the time-limited race. Sadly for him, the clock ran out while he was still too far back to make an attack on Bianchi for the all-important eighth place, and all that effort seemed to have been for scant reward.
Tyres weren't an issue for Charles Pic, however, who managed to control the race and his tyre wear to lead home an impressive 1-2 ahead of van der Garde, with Bird coming in right behind them after a quite afternoon's work which once again collected a nice handful of GP2 championship points.
Speaking at the press conference after the race, Pic said that "My start was okay, I conserved my position during the first 8 to 10 laps until Sam's tyres began to degrade, I then tried to overtake him but it was very, very hard!
"So I preferred to save my tyres and he decided to pit, so the pit had the right strategy to stop me directly, and so we passed him during the pitstop. After that Giedo had a little problem in his pitstop so we passed him, and I wasn't expecting to be in first position!," he said with a laugh. "After that I was trying to manage the degradation, and that's it!"
"I'm happy, but the win was there," said van der Garde of his near-miss. "The strategy was not planned, we had an option to go for two or four tyres, but because we had a big gap we said let's go for four tyres because we will make it: we did it, but we struggled on the left rear, I let of the clutch a little early too, so we lost two or three seconds. It can happen but it's a pity, because this was our race."
A surprisingly low-key and anonymous Romain Grosjean finished in fourth, but in the hours after the race word came down that the Dams car had failed technical inspection and would be excluded from the race. Not only would he lost his points (handing the championship advantage to Sam Bird, with whom he had been tied on points in the lead of the GP2 title battle coming into Barcelona) but he would also have to start from the back of the grid for the sprint race. His weekend was effectively wrecked.
But it proved to be excellent news for Fabio Leimer: all that hard work scything through the field in that closing stint had paid off after all. He inherited eighth position after Grosjean's disqualification, gaining a solitary point but more importantly the pole position of the sprint race under reverse grid rules. Not bad for the guy starting at the very back of the grid!
Full results and times
Fabio Leimer led the field away at the green lights for the Sunday morning GP2 sprint race, but just as on the previous day proceedings were quickly curtailed by a safety car following a crash on the starting grid. And for the second day running, Jules Bianchi was involved.
This time, it was Bianchi who bogged down and got a terrible start, leaving him on the extremely defensive on the run down to turn 1. Marcus Ericsson got past on the inside and Dani Clos on the outside, leaving Bianchi desperately struggling as the meat in a very uncomfortably sandwich.