It was a relief to see no significant overnight changes to the starting grid for the Sunday morning sprint race in Hungary, after the race stewards largely brushed off the incidents that they had said they would look into overnight, with Daniel Abt the only driver to incur a penalty. He was found to have forced Alexander Rossi off track in a collision during the feature event which saw him sent to the back of the grid for the second race of the Budapest weekend.
Most significantly, the investigation into Marcus Ericsson for forcing Felipe Nasr outside track limits during their battle for second place had been dismissed, and that in turn meant there was no change in running order at the front - and that Trident's Nathanael Berthon was still listed in eighth place and therefore the recipient of the sprint race pole under reverse grid conditions.
The Frenchman was determined to make the best use of the opportunity, and when the lights went out he leapt away in the long run down to turn one leaving the opposition trailing in his wake. Given that he was starting the race from the dirty side of the notoriously dusty Hungaroring circuit, fellow front row man Mitch Evans did an impressive job to keep the Arden ahead of the pursuing pack in the run down to turn 1, while Fabio Leimer had a flying start from fifth place eon the grid to slip right through the middle of Simon Trummer (Rapax) and Stéphane Richelmi (DAMS) on the second row to slip into third place with Ericsson also managing to slip through before the window of opportunity closed.
A clean start into turn 1 turned into a messy exit, however, with a storming Sergio Canamasas finally coming to grief when his Caterham tagged the rear end of the MP Motorsport of Daniël de Jong in an incident that also caught up de Jong's former team mate Adrian Quaife-Hobbs whose new Hilmer Motorsport company car was also left shattered and in the middle of the track, forcing the race director to scramble the safety car. Those three were out on the spot - and Canamasas will have a ten place grid penalty in Spa for causing the crash - while Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr. had also been tagged in the rear during the incident but he was able to continue, only to later tap his front wing on the back of Tom Dillmann's Russian Time car and ultimately retire from the race on lap 19.
The track workers completed an efficient clean-up operation and racing was soon underway, Berthon backing the field up through the last turn and then blasting away as soon as the green flag was out to make sure no one could get the jump on him. He went on to punch in some early flying laps that moved him well up the road, with only Evans able to even attempt to stay in touch despite being told by his pit wall to prioritise tyre conservation and play the long game in the hope that Berthon would suffer for his early pace in the closing laps.
The two pulled away form the rest of the field, with Leimer finding he had his hands full with Ericsson all over the back of him. Behind them, Simon Trummer was unable to stop Felipe Nasr slipping past him through the inside of turn 1 for fifth place at the restart, and while he then thwarted Richelmi's attempt to get by in the same move he was subsequently powerless to stop ART's James Calado pull off a beautifully smooth late-braking pass for sixth a few laps later. Trummer regrouped and held off Sam Bird until the Russian Time's tyres faded late in the race and left Bird focused on retaining eighth place from Richelmi and Rio Haryanto (Barwa Addax).
With the running order at the front effectively locked even at this early stage, that didn't mean there weren't scraps going on elsewhere on the track as the race wore on, with Caterham's Alexander Rossi tagging Julian Leal's right rear wheel into turn 1 causing a puncture that sent the Racing Engineering car into a spin a couple of of corners later and for which Rossi earned the inevitable drive-thru penalty for causing the initial collision.
Dani Clos was also in the wars on his return to GP2 duty this weekend with MP Motorsport, a puncture that sending him limping into pit lane for a replacement; and championship leader Stefano Coletti had another wretched day of if with damage to the Rapax's front wing sending him to pit road as well, firmly out of contention for any parts once again. Also firmly out of luck on Sunday was the Saturday feature race winner Jolyon Palmer, who had used up his last set of prime medium tyres to win the day before and now was doomed to limp around 28 sprint laps on a set of 'not fit for purpose' soft options that saw him slog round to a 12th place finish by the chequered flag.
All that remained was to see was whether Berthon's initial blistering breakaway pace has indeed been too scorching for his tyres to handle. It turned out that he'd judged it well, and while Evans was able to cut the gap between them at the front over the final laps of the race it still seemed that Berthon had more than enough in hand to carefully manage the situation and ensure that the Kiwi didn't get too close for comfort. Evans soon realised that the hoped-for opportunity simply wasn't there, and in the end he had to settle for second place two seconds back from maiden GP2 race winner Berthon, who celebrated with gusto on the podium.
He and Evans were joined there by Fabio Leimer, who has been 11 seconds adrift of the leading pair but safely two seconds ahead of Ericsson at the finish. With Coletti out of the points all weekend and Bird only making a minimal impression, this was good news for both their championship chances. Hungary also proved a good weekend for Carlin's Felipe Nasr, who was able to add fourth place on Sunday to his feature podium which mean that he's now in second place only six points back from Coletti making it tight on top as GP2 heads into the August shutdown that it shares with F1, before racing resumes again in Belgium at the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit on August 24/25.
See full race results for the Hungary sprint