"If the safety car had been called 10 seconds earlier, there would have been no problem at all, but just like that my race was over as all others had the chance to do their mandatory pit stop," he added. "I had no possibility to react anymore. This was a strange decision as a safety car is usually deployed when it is the best to do so.
He had missed his final chance to duck into pit lane for his mandatory pit stop, while Johnny Cecotto Jr. was able to do exactly that, and return to the track in second place between Gutiérrez and Palmer. If Leimer was looking to pull out another big lead when the race went back to green flag conditions before he had to pit, that plan was also thwarted by the rapid return of the safety car: Stefano Colletti had gone for a gamble on slicks, but he soon found that this was a terrible choice when he promptly spun out at Bridge
There was now less than ten minutes remaining on the clock, and Leimer's hand was forced. He crawled into the pits for his mandatory stop, and when he emerged back on track the runaway race leader found himself in a dismal 18th position, the day ruined by the pit stop strategy fumble. Gutiérrez had inherited the lead ahead of Cecotto and Palmer, with Melker now an impressive fourth place ahead of Razia and Nasr.
"There were not many laps left after this, so, even though I pushed, there was little more I could do," said a deeply disappointed Leimer of the lost race win opportunity.
With conditions improving all the time, there were no more incidents once the track went green with only three minutes left to run, and Gutiérrez duly led the remaining distance to the green flag.
"Strategy played a big role in this race," admitted the young Mexican, who has now won two races in a row. "I'm really happy and grateful for this victory," he added.
Further back, Giedo van der Garde found himself in eighth place at just the right time to pick up the pole position for Sunday's sprint race under reversed grid conditions. Starting alongside him will be championship leader, after that early pit stop call by DAMS had salvaged a race that had begun with a back row start for the Italian following his fuel load infringement in Friday qualifying.
After the race, Daniël de Jong was handed a ten-place grid penalty for Sunday for his collision with Gonzalez, and Fabio Onidi had 30s added to his time after the race for overtaking under safety car conditions, which dropped him down to 22nd place in the results.
Full feature race results