Changing conditions at the Nurburgring caught out many drivers during a wet, time-limited sprint race on a cold and grey Sunday morning.
The track was emphatically wet from a pre-race downpour and ongoing slight drizzle, but not to the degree seen at Silverstone where a start behind the safety car was required, so the cars and drivers had to go for wet tyres and set-up and then struggled to find the acceptable limits of grip as the lights went out for the start of the sprint race.
Polesitter Sam Bird struggled to get away and keep the lead from a flying Giedo van der Garde who stormed down the middle between Bird and Dani Clos, the Barwa Addax car briefly taking the lead through turn 1 before Bird was able to take back control. That left van der Garde tangling with Racing Engineering's Clos, and the two came together in the entry to turn 5 and flew off the track, ending both drivers' races.
If Bird thought that was the end of his problems, he was sadly mistaken as he misjudged turn 10 two laps later, put a wheel onto the wet kerbing and spun off onto the grass, dropping several positions before rejoining in seventh place.
That left Jules Bianchi in the lead of the race ahead of Romain Grosjean, ahead a third Frenchman Charles Pic who was struggling to stay ahead of feature race winner Luca Filippi. Their battle allowed the lead duo to break away, with Grosjean looking fast initially but Bianchi clearly able to stay in control of the race and by lap 7 had been able to eke out a 4s lead over his compatriot.
His Lotus ART team mate Esteban Gutierrez confirmed how the team had really nailed a wet weather set-up and was surging: on lap 6 he took fourth place from Filippi at turn 1 only for the Italian to fight back and reclaim the position a few corner later in an epic developing battle; next time through turn 1, however, and with Pic struggling under braking Gutierrez not only had a perfect opportunity to overtake Pic, he was also able to pass Filippi in the same move with a bit of wheel-banging and vault up two spots to third place. While Pic and Filippi's ongoing battle allowed Max Chilton the chance to overtake them both later in the lap, Gutierrez was clearly the fastest man on the track and was quickly out of reach, soon scything through the gap between himself and Grosjean.
By contrast, yesterday's race winner Filippi was looking distinctly unhappy with the state of affairs and on lap 10 he was passed by AirAsia's Davide Valsecchi for fifth in turn 1. His Coloni simply didn't seem to be handling well in the marginal conditions, and with all the cars increasingly having to seek out standing water down the straights to cool their wet tyres it seemed like it was time for an audacious switch to slicks on lap 11.
And a risk it certainly was - Stefano Coletti had made an attempt to go to slicks on lap 7 only to quickly spin out of the race, and conditions were still bad enough on lap 10 to cause the experienced Alvaro Parente to spin the Carlin car out at turn 3. But Filippi wasn't alone in his gambit, and at the end of lap 11 he was joined by other front runners including Pic and Bird in a dive for pit lane and a new set of dry weather tyres.
Pretty quickly it was clear that the slick-shod cars weren't simply flying off the track anymore, and their time was several seconds faster per lap, so next time around a whole lot more cars led by Adam Carroll picked up the strategy and arrived on pit lane.