Stoffel Vandoorne had always been the favourite to win the first GP2 feature race of the new season, but the ART driver's plans very nearly came unstuck when an early safety car following a multi-car pile-up gave the upper hand to Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi, leaving Vandoorne running out of time at the end of the race to hunt down the American for the race victory.

See full feature race 1 results from Bahrain

When the lights went out at the beginning of the race, Vandoorne had immediately converted pole to a commanding lead by the first corner. His team mate Nobuharu Matsushita starting alongside him on the front row wasn't nearly so lucky and the Japanese driver bogged down badly when his anti-stall kicked in, which allowed a dozen cars to stream past him before he could properly get underway.

Matsushita's misfortune enabled DAMS' Alex Lynn to take up the chase in second place. Arden's Norman Nato was instantly up to third from seventh place on the grid, followed by Trident's Raffaele Marciello who had got the better of Campos Racing's Arthur Pic. There were no major incidents on the first lap and all 24 cars were still running as the cars completed the first of the 32 scheduled laps of the 3.363-mile, 15-turn grand prix circuit, although a couple of laps later Marco S?rensen limped back to pit lane to retire after damaging his Carlin while trying to fend off an overtaking move from MP Motorsport's Daniel de Jong.

At the front, Vandoorne settled in for a prolonged first stint on the medium compound Pirelli tyres and was able to maintain a one second margin over Lynn who had opted to start on the shorter-life soft options. All appeared to be going according to plan for the race leader, but all the racing strategies then went out of the window when an increasingly heated scrap over third place between Nato, Marciello, Pic and DAMS' Pierre Gasly boiled over and ended with a four-car pile-up at turn 8. The incident began with an aggressive overtaking move by Marciello and an equally fierce defence from Nato, the two cars tapping Pic into a spin and then Gasly arriving at the apex with no where to go but right into the middle of the fracas.

Those drivers who had started on the soft options - including Lynn, Racing Engineering pair Alexander Rossi and Jordan King, Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin and Russian Time's Mitch Evans - now used the opportunity presented by the ensuing safety car to pit for their mandatory tyre change, even though it resulted in them all dropping out of the top ten. It would also mean pushing their new set of mediums right to the limit with a daunting 25 laps of the race still to go. Meanwhile Vandoorne kept to his original race strategy and stayed out, with Rio Haryanto (Campos Racing) now up to second ahead of Julian Leal (Carlin), Matsushita, Robert Visoiu (Rapax) and de Jong for the restart on lap 9.

Vandoorne just managed to hold off Haryanto into turn 1 and then got down to work by immediately punching in the fastest lap of the race to this point to re-establish his one-second lead over the field. Leal's restart position had flattered to deceive and the Colombian soon found himself passed by Matsushita and Visoiu. Further back among those who had pitted under the yellow, Lynn's attempt to get an early jump on Rossi for 13th place nearly ended in disaster when he rammed the back of the Racing Engineering car and he was exceedingly lucky not to completely shatter his own front wing in the process.

Once things settled down, both Rossi and Lynn were soon putting their fresher tyres to good use to carve their way through the field and back into the top ten, albeit still some ten seconds off the leader. Rossi pushed even harder and by lap 15 he had put the new DRS facility in use in GP2 for the first time this weekend to make fast work of de Jong, Russian Time's Artem Markelov and Lazarus' Nathana?l Berthon to claim sixth place and crucially put some space between himself and Lynn who was finding it tougher going.

Rossi was also soon past the waning Leal, but his buffer over Lynn was disappearing as more and more of the midfield cars disappeared down pit road for their mandatory tyre change. Lynn however has his hands full fending off Mitch Evans, and on lap 18 the Kiwi for the better of the Brit going into turn 1 to claim what was now eighth. More disturbingly for the DAMS team, Lynn was reporting mounting problems with tyre degradation with half the race still to run despite having run only a dozen laps since his early switch to what should have been the more durable prime compound, possibly exacerbated by lingering damage to his front wing from that earlier clash with Rossi. Sure enough, Lynn started sliding backwards as drivers who had taken extra care of their tyres early on now had the pace needed to easily drive past him.

Rossi certainly didn't appear to be suffering to anything like the same extent as Lynn, and at the end of lap 20 he was promoted to fourth place when Matsushita became the latest caller on pit road. Crucially, Rossi was still managing to stay roughly ten seconds within the race leader Vandoorne, and that meant the Belgian was well short of the margin he needed to come in for his own stop and retain the lead when the time came.

Vandoorne finally pitted for his switch to the option compound with ten laps remaining, a slight delay fitting the right rear costing him vital seconds that he simply didn't have to spare. He emerged back on track down in eighth place although with much fresher and faster tyres than those ahead of him on the track. The remaining leaders including Haryanto and Visoiu were also in moments later, all of which finally promoted Rossi to the lead with six seconds in hand over Evans, followed by King, Andre Negrao (Arden) and Sirotkin. Lynn continued to struggle with his tyres in sixth followed by Sergio Canamasas (MP Motorsport) and a charging Vandoorne.

A tough scrap over second place between Evans and King released Rossi into a huge lead at the front. It also created something of a roadblock behind them that worked to Vandoorne's advantage as he made quick work scything through the field. With five laps remaining, Vandoorne completed moves on both Evans and King in quick succession to claim second place, although he was still nine seconds off the back of the race leader Rossi and both time and tyres were starting to run out.

However the tyre degradation was even more acute for Rossi, not helped by the Racing Engineering car increasingly locking up and flat-spotting its tyres. Rossi's lead evaporated like a mirage in the desert heat and Vandoorne was all over the back of him with two laps remaining. Taking care not to rush the move that might end up in a costly contact, Vandoorne waited for the American to run wide and then pounced before quickly pulling away to safety in time for the chequered flag to come out and greet him onto the top step of the podium.

Rossi's tyres were now completely shot and he was unable to hold on to second place from Haryanto who had echoed the race winner's strategy. However, Rossi did manage to cross the line in third place thanks to a seven second lead over his team mate Jordan King who had made an impressive GP2 d?but to finish in fourth place ahead of Visoiu, Evans, Berthon, Leal, Negrao and Matsushita. Status Grand Prix's Marlon St?ckinger narrowly missed out on making it into the points in 11th, but he did succeed in writing a piece of history by becoming the first Filipino driver to start a GP2 race.

The GP2 teams and drivers now get a brief respite from the desert sun and heat before the 23-lap sprint race 2, which gets underway on Sunday afternoon at 2.15pm local time (12.15pm BST). Under reverse grid rules, Julian Leal will take pole position for the start of the race alongside Nathana?l Berthon, while Vandoorne will have to work his way up from eighth if he's to succeed in pulling off the double this weekend. And on the sort of commanding form and calmness in the face of adversity that he displayed on Sunday, few people will be writing off his chances of doing just that.

See full feature race 1 results from Bahrain


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