Rossi had less than a second over Palmer going into the final half dozen laps of the race, with Leimer restored to third place and on course to clinch the championship given that Bird's efforts to get back into the points had essentially stalled. However, the race took another dramatic turn on lap 23 when a move by Evans down the inside of Canamasas through the final corner resulted in contact that spun the Caterham broadside across the track and left the Arden pulling over to the pit wall: not only did that gift Bird a couple of extra places, it also meant a safety car was deployed in order to retrieve Evans' car which was deemed to be in a dangerous place on the track.
By the time the safety car's second appearance came to an end, Bird was suddenly back into the points in tenth place after Stefano Coletti opted to use the break in racing action to pit for fresh tyres. That still wasn't good enough to stop Leimer clinching the title as things stood - he needed to finish seventh or better to do that - but at least the field was packed closely together for the restart with four laps remaining.
That proved a double-edged sword when the track went green, as Bird found himself under heavy pressure from Quaife-Hobbs for tenth place. Bird's tyres had clearly reached end-of-life status and refusing to give him the traction out of corners, and he maintained position only when the MP Motorsport car locked up its brakes in an over-ambitious lunge. Not that things were going entirely Leimer's way either, as he was forced to surrender his podium position to Marcus Ericsson on lap 26.
That left Bird now needing just one extra position to hold off Leimer's coronation, but try as he might he was unable to get around the ART of Daniel Abt before the clock ran out. A big late blow-up for the engine in Berthon's Trident did nothing to change things where it mattered, and as the chequered flag came out for Rossi for his maiden series victory ahead of Palmer and Ericsson at the end of an hour's heated competition, it also greeted Leimer home in fourth place and bestowed upon him the 2013 GP2 Series championship.
In some ways it was a shame that Leimer would not be able to celebrate his title with a podium appearance, and that the title battle wouldn't come down to the final race of the season after all. But the 24-year-old Swiss driver didn't care about such technicalities: he was the champion, following in the footsteps of Davide Valsecchi, Roman Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hülkenberg, Giorgio Pantano, Tim Glock, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
That's pretty good company indeed for Leimer, who was celebrating in the GP2 pit lane with the Racing Engineering team as the top three finishers were bussed around the track to the main start/finish straight and for their own turn in the spotlight in the podium celebrations while elsewhere in the Yas Marina complex, Sam Bird was left ruing how an entire season's work had been undone in a single moment on the starting grid under the blazing skies in Abu Dhabi.
Full race results