Whatever happened to that nice, well-behaved, somewhat quiet and shy Valencia street circuit? The one that everyone dismissed as being rather dull for racing on? It certainly wasn't in residence this weekend for the GP2 Series, with the incident-packed Saturday feature race now followed by a sprint race that began with more of the same but ended up delivering an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the final laps.
Lotus GP's James Calado had been promoted to pole position for the second time of the weekend, after Davide Valsecchi had been penalised following the feature race and lost his spot on the reverse grid. That gave the Briton the chance to make amends for his Saturday disappointment, and he set to work with another perfect start off the grid that promised good things to come.
It wasn't the best flyer on offer: even better starts further down the grid were on display from Caterham's Giedo van der Garde, iSport's Marcus Ericsson and Calado's own Lotus team mate Esteban Gutiérrez. Van der Garde navigated a relatively safe path down the middle of the track, while Ericsson tried to sweep around the outside of turns 1 and 2 followed by Gutiérrez.
That put Ericsson wheel-to-wheel with the Racing Engineering car of Nathanaël Berthon who had beaten a sluggish Max Chilton off the line for second place; Berthon had his own problems on the inside with Chilton's Carlin team mate Rio Haryanto forcing his way through, and the three-wide mix into turn 2 didn't leave enough room on the outside for Ericsson to clear the barrier. He went into it and came to a crunching halt.
Following immediately behind the iSport and with his own wheel-to-wheel battle going on with Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer, Gutiérrez had no warning of his forthcoming emergency stop; similarly, the Coloni of Stefano Coletti planted itself in the back of the Lotus, and then the DAMS of Davide Valsecchi thumped into the back of the Coloni in turn. The safety car was called to allow for the four cars to be disengaged, of which only Valsecchi was in any state to resume the race. Ericsson, Coletti and Gutiérrez all returned to pit lane to watch the race from the sidelines, joining Venezuela Lazarus GP's Fabrizio Crestani who had been unable to take up his grid position because of the damage sustained to his car in his somersault accident on Saturday.
The race resumed on lap 4, and immediately there was another accident requiring a safety car. Johnny Cecotto Jr. had run slightly wide out of the final corner and briefly run wide, and when he moved back onto the main straight it was into contact with Jolyon Palmer who hadn't left enough room for Cecotto to recover. The Barwa Addax car was left in the middle of the straight broadside-on, and Palmer's iSport was comprehensively trashed in the turn 1 runoff.
Calado faced yet another trial-by-restart on lap 6, and yet again proved up to the task by maintaining the lead of the race ahead of the Carlins of Haryanto and Chilton, followed by Leimer and van der Garde. But the latest restart was not without incident, with sixth-placed Berthon treading all over the front wing of Fabio Onidi's Colini and Caterham's Rodolfo Gonzalez encouraging Stephane Richelmi into a race-ending head-on nudge against the barrier.
Fortunately both incidents were quickly cleared up by the track workers without recourse to yet another safety car. The person to gain the most from the restart incidents had been Luiz Razia, who had been behind Berthon and Onidi's scrap and used the opportunity to muscle his Arden car cleanly past Berthon for sixth place. With that done, the race finally started to find its rhythm and everyone settled down to some proper green flag racing.
It seemed obvious that Calado would now repeat his Saturday march away from the field to draw out a big lead - but that didn't happen. Haryanto stayed with him, and if anything the Carlin was looking far smoother and more settled than the leading Lotus during the first half of the race. Gradually it became clear that Calado was starting to struggle, in particular repeatedly locking up into the final corner that led onto the main start/finish straight. Haryanto waited, and watched.