A veteran of 69 previous GP2 Series starts coming into Sunday's sprint race at Bahrain International Circuit, Rio Haryanto finally clinched his maiden win in the feeder series with a fast start followed by a cool, calm and assured display of race management that showed the 22-year-old has at last come of age in the competition, marking him out as a potential championship contender capable of giving title favourite Stoffel Vandoorne a run for his money in 2015.

CLICK: Full sprint race result from Bahrain and current championship standings

Having finished the Saturday feature race in eight place, the reverse grid rules handed Carlin's Julian Leal pole position for the 23-lap sprint event with the Lazarus car of Nathana?l Berthon on the front row alongside him. However, no one was ignoring the threat posed by yesterday's race winner Vandoorne despite the ART having to start from eighth place on the grid. How he fared would be the first big test of the impact on GP2 racing of the new DRS system introduced to the series this season.

When the lights went out, Leal managed to retain the lead into turn 1 but only by aggressively chopping across the front of the pack. A terrible start for Berthon dropped the French driver down to seventh and opened up a path to the front for Russian Time's Mitch Evans who came thrillingly close to passing Leal but then had to settle for second. That put him just ahead of Haryanto's fast-starting Campos Racing car, Saturday's runner-up instantly having gained four spots off his fourth row grid position. The Indonesian driver was followed by Andre Negrao (Arden) and Robert Visoiu (Rapax) with ART pair Nobuharu Matsushita and Vandoorne in hot pursuit.

At the rear, Sergey Sirotkin had been forced to start from pit lane after stalling at the start of the formation lap, and duly came out behind Arden's Norman Nato who had been penalised three places pushing him onto the back row of the grid for causing a four-car accident early in the feature event. There were no major incidents on the opening two laps of today's race, although Rene Binder was forced onto pit road for an early retirement with apparent mechanical issues with his Trident.

Now secure on the lead, Leal was able to pull out a reasonable gap over the rest of the field. By contrast Evans didn't look at all comfortable with the pace and was soon forced to surrender second to Haryanto, while Negrao was in free fall down the order and rapidly passed for position by Visoiu, Matsushita, Vandoorne and Alexander Rossi. The second Racing Engineering car was faring less well than Rossi, Jordan King clashing on lap 4 with Sergio Canamasas who suffered understeer as the pair ran side-by-side. Contact sent both cars off track and into the sandy run-off, the MP Motorsport car coming out of it the worst with front wing damage that forced Canamasas to park the car and which will cost the Spanish driver a further three-place grid penalty at his home feature race after officials deemed he failed to leave enough room. King by contrast was able to continue and rejoined the track in 12th place, but it had still been a costly excursion for the English rookie.

Up front Leal's early pace had quickly waned and he was now struggling with his tyres. By lap 7 he was under huge pressure from Haryanto, who also had the benefit of the DRS boost which meant that he was soon able to blast his way past into the lead. That left Leal under attack from Evans: the Kiwi initially managed to make the pass but then ran wide which allowed Leal to get back around followed by Visoiu, the Romanian wasting no time in gaining another position by overtaking Leal for second place.

Evans again lined up Leal for a pass but Leal defended robustly and contact was made, the front wing end plate of the Carlin slicing the Russian Time's front left tyre which left Evans limping back to pit lane for a new set Pirelli tyres. Despite the damage to his wing, Leal stayed out but was haemorrhaging more positions by the minute as both ART cars made short work of getting by. They were soon followed by Rossi, who pushed Leal down to sixth place ahead of Negrao and Berthon with King back up to ninth ahead of Status Grand Prix's Richie Stanaway.

By this time Haryanto had pulled out more than three seconds over Visoiu, who had evidently overtaxed his tyres and was now unable to maintain the pace which saw him quickly fall prey to Matsushita, with Vandoorne following through moments later with a decisive DRS surge down the front straight at the start of lap 16. Vandoorne was now on target for his second podium of the weekend, but he clearly had higher ambitions still as he put his foot down to take a full second out of his team mate on the next lap. That set up a repeat DRS move at the start of lap 18 to pick up second position, allowing Vandoorne to set his sights on hunting down the race leader in the remaining five laps.

Haryanto was well aware of the situation, and he was immediately able to pick up the pace and maintain his edge, and even started to pull further away. Vandoorne seemed to be at the end of his tyre life and had nothing extra to throw into the battle; his team mate Matsushita was also now struggling for pace and lost his prospective podium place to Rossi before he dropped another place to a flying Berthon, who went on to make a fine DRS-assisted pass on Rossi for third place at the start of the final lap which made for a great comeback after his terrible start to the race.

As the chequered flag came out, Haryanto had done more than enough to retain control of the race and ended the day with his three second margin Vandoorne fully intact. Berthon was a further 2.6s back in the final podium spot after Rossi was unable to find sufficient time or speed to retake the position before the finish line loomed.

Julian Leal's day had improved after that painful mid-race dip in performance, and he was able to finish with something of a flourish as he pulled off a late pass on Matsushita for fifth place. Visoiu managed to arrest his own fall down the standings in time to hold on to seventh place, while the final points of the day went to Negrao leaving Jordan King empty-handed in ninth.

After the first two races of the 2015 GP2 Series, Vandoorne holds on to the championship lead by ten points from Haryanto who in turn has his own ten point advantage over Rossi in third, the American followed closely in the drivers' standings by Berthon, King and Visoiu. The battle for this year's title will recommence in three weeks time at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona when the series runs in support of the F1 Spanish Grand Prix on May 8-10.

See full sprint race result from Bahrain and current championship standings

Comments

Loading Comments...