Fabio Leimer had looked strong all through post-season testing with Racing Engineering in Spain, confirmed it with an unbeatable performance in Friday qualifying, and then promptly knocked it out of the park in Saturday's GP2 Final feature race to cruise to an unchallenged maiden series victory.
"I am very happy as this is my first feature race victory," said the proud winner after the finish. "The team gave me a really good car, a really comfortable car, I felt very comfortable!"
Leimer got a perfect getaway from pole position, while second-place man on the Abu Dhabi starting grid, Rapax's Dani Clos, got a less successful start and ended up sandwiched between second-row starters Arden's Josef Kral and Caterham Team AirAsia's Luiz Razia. As Razia surged past them both to take up the chase of the lead, Clos and Kral stumbled over each other: running the outside line into turn 1, Kral was clipped by Clos and sent into a spin. Clos limped around the Yas Marina Circuit and retired in the pits at the end of the first lap, while Kral got going again but was later ordered to the pits because of damage to his front wing and ended up finishing a lap down.
They weren't the only ones to encounter problems. Esteban Gutierrez had made a blazing start as he sought to overcome the disappointment of eighth place on the grid after technical problems with the Lotus ART curtailed his Friday afternoon qualifying session, but in the process of taking fourth place in the opening corners he suffered rear-end contact from Stefano Coletti that damaged his rear wing and obliged him to come in for lengthy repairs in the pits, leaving him a lap down and out of contention.
Max Chilton was another to hit early problems, locking up in the Carlin car and running off track at turn 1 at the start of lap 2 with a brake issue. He hit the barriers and was out of the race. "It's so frustrating to not be able to show what we were capable of today," he said later. "If you look at where the guys I was racing with finished, I would have been well inside the points today, and fighting for another good position tomorrow ... Obviously it's going to be very tough from the back of the grid tomorrow, but we just have to make the most of it."
All of that left Leimer disappearing into the distance with Razia grimly trying to hold on. Barwa Addax's Jolyon Palmer eventually settled into a distant third place, after having led for a lap during the overlap of mandatory pit stops mid-race. But that was the only time that Leimer was out of the top spot, and he promptly picked up the lead again when it was Palmer's turn to come in.
Leimer's margin of victory by the end of the 31 laps was almost 7s, and he even claimed the fastest laptime of the race with a time of 1:51.493s on lap 23 along the way. Arguably he could have pushed it even further into the distance if he'd felt under any threat, but Razia wasn't able to close the gap during the pit stops and fell away in the second half of the race; even so, he was over 20s ahead of Palmer in third by the chequered flag.
Palmer himself had a more pressured time of it, having to hold off iSport's Marcus Ericsson. Despite starting from 13th place on the grid, a great start for Ericsson combined with a well-judged and perfectly executed pit stop meant he finished fourth by the end of the 31 laps, comfortably ahead of Kevin Ceccon in the Coloni.
The top-placed rookie turned out to be Ericsson's iSport team mate Tom Dillmann, who drove to an assured sixth place despite intense pressure from Antonio Felix da Costa immediately behind him. James Calado managed to slot himself into eighth place at the finish, meaning that the Lotus ART driver claimed pole position for the Sunday sprint race in the reversed grid after he'd managed to overtake and then hold off both fellow GP2 newcomer Nathanael Berthon in ninth place and experienced series regular Stefano Coletti in tenth.