CLICK: Full GP2 feature race 1 results from Autodromo Nazionale Monza

A cool, calm and collected Stoffel Vandoorne managed to sustain his early lead in the GP2 feature race all the way to the chequered flag despite intense pressure from Campos Racing's Arthur Pic that lasted almost the entire 30-lap race distance at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on Saturday afternoon.

Almost as crucial was the recovery drive staged by Jolyon Palmer, who had been forced to start from the back row of the grid after being excluded from the results of qualifying because of a breach of the technical regulations. He threaded his way through the field, avoided getting embroiled in an early lap two accident at the first chicane, and emerged in the points only two places back from his main title rival Felipe Nasr (Carlin).

At the start of the race, pole winner Vandoorne had immediately pulled his ART right across the track to make sure he kept the lead into the first chicane ahead of Arthur Pic and Mitch Evans (Russian Time), with Stephane Richelmi and Julian Leal immediately up into the top five after Simon Trummer failed to launch off the grid.

The first lap, while hard fought right through the field, was relatively clean but things soon got much messier at the start of lap 2 when Kimiya Sato flew down the outside line and locked up into the first chicane, making side-on contact with Daniel de Jong's MP Motorsport car along the way. Sato ended up in the run-off area while de Jong crawled round the chicane where he inadvertently triggered a number of incidents among the cars seeking to avoid him: Takuya Izawa's ART was tapped into a spin by contact with Rene Binder's Arden, which in turn forced Raffaele Marciello - who had already suffered a terrible start - off the track to avoid a collision. The Racing Engineering car was unable to continue and so the Italian joined Sato, de Jong and Izawa on the sidelines for the remainder of the race. Sato subsequently received a five place grid penalty for the sprint race for instigating the incident.

The track stewards sprang into action and avoided the need for a safety car, allowing Vandoorne to maintain his small lead over Pic and Evans at the front. Further back, championship leader Jolyon Palmer was moving forward and quickly in his DAMS and was soon up to 15th place after that second lap fracas. A few laps later and early pit stops for Daniel Abt, Sergio Canamasas, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Rene Binder had moved Palmer further up to 12th place by the end of lap 9, and the next time by he was up to 11th after passing Rio Haryanto who was struggling for pace in the Caterham.

Richelmi and Felipe Nasr were the first of the leading pack to exchange their medium option compound tyres for their harder prime counterparts at the end of lap 11, and Vandoorne surrendered the lead to Pic for his own stop next time by at the same time as Leal. Pic and Evans responded at the end of lap 13 which left the in the hands of MP Motorsport's Marco Sorensen, with Stefano Coletti (Racing Engineering) and Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Trident) also running at the front pending their pit stop and Palmer now brilliantly up to fourth place from the back of the grid.

The question now was which strategy - early stops or late - would turn out to the race-winning one. Pic had returned to the track just behind Vandoorne, who had himself dropped almost half a minute behind the new race leader and running in eighth place behind Sorensen and the others still to make their mandatory pit stops. Behind Vandoorne and Pic, Evans was in ninth after managing to fight off serious pressure from Richelmi to retain his track position advantage after their synchronised pit stops.

The first indicator of the relative balance of power came on lap 18 when Coletti pitted from second and came back in 11th place, although now he had the advantage of a fresh set of soft option tyres giving him extra grip and speed for the remainder of the race. That flicked the strategy switch for the remaining teams and two laps later the rest of those cars still to make their visit to pit road now opted to do so, restoring Vandoorne to the front with his one second lead over Pic intact and Evans back up to third ahead of Richelmi. Andre Negrao and Felipe Nasr rounded out the top six, following an earlier incident in which the pair had been battling with Leal and Abt through Lesmos that ended with Abt being forced off into the gravel by Leal, who subsequently won a drive-thru penalty from the race stewards for causing the incident.

After having led the race during the overlap in the various pit stops, Sorensen had been rewarded for his strategy gambit with seventh place keeping him just ahead of Coletti, Palmer and Cecotto in the remaining points positions. Palmer was now looking to add the points for the fastest lap to his recovery drive, and clearly had his sights set on grabbing the sprint race pole under reverse grid rules by passing Coletti for eighth - which happened surprisingly easy with four laps still to go.

At the front Pic had continued to keep Vandoorne in his sights for the entire race. However with two laps to go he finally appeared to acknowledge that he was never going to find a way past and proceeded to back off a little, allowing Vandoorne to clinch the chequered flag for the third time in his GP2 career. The pair finished three seconds up the road from Mitch Evans who claimed the final podium place after driving away from Richelmi in the latter stages of the race. In fifth place Negrao resisted any ambitions Felipe Nasr might have had to get past, leaving the Brazilian in sixth place and unable to take any real championship advantage over Palmer who had finished only two spots further back, just behind Sorensen.

Palmer had been content to run to the finish in eighth in order to secure the Sunday sprint pole, which could well allow him to convert that had looked to be a potentially disastrous weekend points-wise after this qualifying exclusion into a strong chance to extend his lead at the front of the title battle. With just two points lost to Nasr on Saturday, Palmer's advantage currently stands at 30 points over the Carlin driver, with Vandoorne a further 22 points back in third.

The 21-lap sprint race 2 is on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST). In the meantime the GP3 field is in action in two 17-lap races, the first at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST) on Saturday afternoon and the second on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST). All three races will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1.

See full GP2 feature race 1 results from Autodromo Nazionale Monza

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