Full feature race results available
Highly-fancied McLaren Young Driver star Stoffel Vandoorne emphatically proved his worth and then some with a strong, assured maiden victory in the opening feature race of the 2014 GP2 Series championship at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday.
Vandoorne started from second place on the grid alongside pole winner Jolyon Palmer, but when the Palmer had a horror start that saw the DAMS completely bog down and fail to get away, the door was open for Vandoorne to wrest control and boost his ART into the lead ahead of Stephene Richelmi who did his best to keep the DAMS colours flying with second place, having himself benefited from Hilmer Motorsport's Daniel Abt also having dreadful launch troubles from third on the grid.
Behind Richelmi, Racing Engineering's Stefano Coletti slipped into third ahead of Caterham's Rio Haryanto, while Russian Time's Mitch Evans picked up a couple of spots to take fifth place but who immediately found himself under pressure from a fired up Palmer in sixth desperate to undo the early damage of the start and get himself back in contention. Felipe Nasr shrugged off his overnight grid penalty to pick up seventh place in the Carlin ahead of Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Trident) and Julian Leal (Carlin) while Abt found himself moribund in tenth.
Evans had just managed to relieve the pressure from Palmer by pulling off a nice overtaking move on Haryanto for fourth through turn 1 when the safety car was deployed for a nasty accident for the young rookie driver Axcil Jefferies, who was busy defending his position down the main straight from Campos Racing's Kimiya Sato when the Japanese driver ran into the back of him and punted the Trident into a hard impact with the wall before it slid across the track again at turn 1 and into the run-off - fortunately without collecting any secondary impacts. The incident saw Sato handed a 10-second stop-go penalty and put Jefferies out of the race on the sidelines, where he joined Facu Regalia whose Hilmer Motorsports car had suffered broken suspension while battling for position on the opening lap.
The restart at the end of lap 6 saw Vandoorne time his launch perfectly, but other drivers including Richelmi, Coletti, Haryanto and Nasr opted instead to dive onto pit road for an early change from the soft option tyres to a set of the prime tyres, new regulations this year forcing teams to use both compounds during the feature race rather than being able to run the whole race on two sets of primes. Evans and Palmer realised they had missed a trick and pitted next time by, but Vandoorne was committed to making track position work for him and so he stayed out, now over five seconds ahead of Arthur Pic (Campos), Nathanael Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (Rapax) who similarly still had their mandatory pit stops to make.
Those that had pitted were headed by Palmer, who just managed to get ahead of Leal as the latter exited pit lane, while further Evans also managed to win a close fight with Richelmi to gain a place. However the bitterest battle was between Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Felipe Nasr who had already clashed in qualifying on Friday night and who now found themselves banging wheels again while fighting for position, Nasr aggrieved when he found himself swept off the side of the track by the Trident.
Vandoorne finally elected to surrender the lead for fresh tyres at the end of lap 9, and he slotted back onto the track some two seconds ahead of Palmer, Leal, Haryanto, Coletti and Evans to maintain his lead among those drivers who had stopped, albeit down at the bottom of the top ten behind those yet to come in for tyres. In the meantime, Berthon was content to lead a group of seven cars that had started the race on prime tyres aiming for a long first stint which included his team mate Conor Daly. Rene Binder was up to third for Arden ahead of ART's Takuya Izawa and Simon Trummer who was running in fifth for Rapax after having to start the race from the pit lane following a stall at the start of the formation lap. Trummer sealed his recovery by passing both Binder and Izawa in a lovely single move on lap 14, taking advantage of the forward pair's private battle to pounce on them both to take third place and then quickly making a successful challenge for Daly for second place on lap 16, the halfway point of the race.
Trummer took the lead on lap 18 when Berthon ducked onto pit lane, where the Frenchman suffered a problem with a wheel nut that left him limping round with a suspected loose wheel before he could return to pit road. Trummer continued to stay out, the last man to do so, losing remarkably little of his pace considering how far he'd pushed this set tyres. Vandoorne was able to make inroads into Trummer's lead in the meantime but it still stood at eight seconds when Trummer finally came in at the end of lap 30, returning Vandoorne to the lead ahead of Leal who had just claimed second from Palmer with a fine move down the inside of turn 1. Coletti, Pic and Nasr followed, but behind them the late-stoppers including Quaife-Hobbs and Izama were storming through on newer option tyres and setting the fastest laps, easily putting the likes of Evans, Haryanto and Richelmi to the sword as they were all struggling to hold on with ageing sets of primes.
Trummer himself had returned to the track in tenth place with just two laps remaining, but he was also armed with the freshest set of option tyres in Sakhir which soon took their toll on the opposition as he cruised past Quiafe-Hobbs, Nasr and Binder to cross the line in seventh place, leaving Nasr with the compensation prize of eighth place and the pole position for Sunday's sprint race under reverse grid rules.
There was no question about the winner, however - although Stoffell Vandoorne's margin was only a second and a half ahead of Julian Leal by the finish. Palmer had to settle for third place - a podium proving to be rather decent damage limitation in the circumstances given that horrific start - with Coletti just missing out in fourth ahead of impressive rookie Pic and Izawa.
Elsewhere in the race, Raffaele Marciello (Racing Engineering) was handed a drive-thru penalty for speeding on pit lane during his mandatory stop, which dropped him down to a lowly 18th place at the finish, while Johnny Cecotto Jr. was investigated for exceeding track limits while overtaking at turn 7 during the middle stint of the race and duly handed his own drive-thru penalty that left him crossing the finish line in 21st.
Full feature race results available