After a winless weekend at Hungary before the summer break, Stoffel Vandoorne was back in top gear and hungry to add to his tally of victories - especially here in Belgium at the McLaren test and development driver's home event.

Vandoorne flirted with disaster on a couple of occasions, but when the chequered flag finally came out after a race that included a 40-minute red flag for a serious accident involving MP Motorsports' Dani?l de Jong it seemed that Vandoorne's ninth GP2 win and his fifth of 2015 was in retrospect never in doubt at all.

CLICK: Full GP2 feature race 1 results from Spa-Francorchamps

The fine weather continued at Spa-Francorchamps, with the 4.335-mile (7km), 19-turn circuit bathed in hot sunshine as the 25 cars and drivers sweltered on the starting grid waiting for the 25-lap feature race to get underway. When the lights went out, pole sitter Vandoorne bogged down and was slow to get away which allowed Sergey Sirotkin to beat him in the run down to La Source. However the Russian had already been complaining of a long brake pedal on the Rapax during the formation lap and he duly overshot the first corner and ran wide through the turn 1 hairpin, allowing Vandoorne to regain the lead for the climb up to Eau Rouge.

Meanwhile there was disaster for MP Motorsport's Oliver Rowland who made contact with the second ART of Nobuharu Matsushita, damaging both cars in the process and sending them limping around the circuit to pit lane for repairs. That put Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi up into second place, with Sirotkin recovering to reclaim third place ahead of Russian Time's Mitch Evans while there was a wild battle over fifth place between Jordan King (Racing Engineering) and Alex Lynn (DAMS).

Evans was able to apply a well judged dose of DRS to make a clean pass on Sirotkin for third on lap 4, but moments later there was a distinctly less successful move by MP Motorsports' Daniel de Jong trying to overpower DAMS' Pierre Gasly on the high-speed run down to Blanchiment. The pair ended up making wheel-to-wheel contact and de Jong careened out of control into a sickeningly hard head-on impact with the outside tyre barrier, triggering a safety car as the track workers and medical team scrambled to respond.

Vandoorne had started on the softer, short-lived option tyres meaning that he had always been set for an early mandatory pit stop, and he opted to do so now while the field circulated behind the safety car. The Belgian returned to the track in ninth place thanks to the safety car inadvertently picking up Status Grand Prix's Richie Stanaway and slowing the rest of the field behind. All the cars ahead of Vandoorne were left on the harder prime tyres and not expected to make their own stops until deep into the race, which meant Rossi now inherited the lead ahead of Evans, Sirotkin, King and Lynn with Trident's Raffaele Marciello, Lazarus' Sergio Canamasas and Rapax's Robert Visoiu rounding out the top eight.

With the medical team still attending de Jong and extensive damage to the tyre barrier to take care of, race control opted to throw a lengthy red flag on lap 9 which involved recalling all cars to pit lane to allow that work to proceed without distraction. The teams could now change the tyres on their cars if they wished and the leaders did indeed duly opt to switch to a new set of options for the restart, but it didn't obviate the requirement to also make their mandatory stops at some point after the race resumed.

After a warm-up lap behind the safety car the race got back underway with Vandoorne quickly dispatching Visoiu for eighth and Canamasas for seventh, but further back his ART team mate Matsushita was in the wars again at La Source clashing with the sole Hilmer Motorsport car of Nick Yelloly which left both cars being forced into retirement.

Vandoorne gained another place with a pass on Marciello at the end of lap 14, but he was still 11s back from the race leader Rossi who was doing everything he could to get the most of his newer option tyres in an effort to pull out enough of a gap and make his still-to-come mandatory stop. Marciello was another of the drivers to have switched tyres under the red flag but after just six laps he was reporting that the options were dead and he dived onto pit lane, where a problem with the front left cost him any hope of emerging with decent track position. All in all, it wasn't looking good for Rossi who was in himself at the end of lap 16 for his stop, choosing to stick with another set of options for his final stint and clearly intending to race his way back through the positions in the closing laps.

Evans and King were in next time around, while Sirotkin lasted two laps further still before surrendering the lead at the end of lap 19 to make his own stop, which restored Vandoorne to the front of the field ahead of Campos Racing pair Rio Haryanto and Arthur Pic. However the Indonesian driver's hopes of a podium result were immediately dashed by news of a ten second stop-and-go penalty for team personnel having to spring into action to refire his car on pit lane after the race had officially restarted.

Pic was duly promoted to second place ahead of Russian Time's Artem Markelov who had made astonishing progress after starting from 22nd place on the grid, with Carlin's Juli?n Leal up to fourth ahead of Lazarus' Nathanael Berthon. But approaching rapidly from the rear was Rossi, and with the huge advantage of the fresh options he was soon making easy work of Berthon who then tried and failed to ward off further attack from the similarly charging Evans. Behind the Kiwi, Status Grand Prix's Marlon St?ckinger was fighting a losing battle to stay ahead of King in the battle for the crucial eighth place (and with it the sprint race pole under reverse grid rules) which the Briton resolved with a decisive feint and cutback at La Source with two laps to go.

What was no longer in doubt was the identity of the feature race winner. Despite having changed his tyres before the red flag, Vandoorne had managed to conserve his set of primes to perfection and the end of the race he had a ten second gap over the rest of the field, with Pic cautiously making his way to second place ahead of Markelov who clinched his first GP2 podium despite pressure to the line from Leal.

The question of who will be awarded fifth place will likely go to the race stewards office. By the final lap, Rossi had cooked his tyres and was in the sights of a better-off Evans, but the pair made contact and both cars went off on the exit of the bus stop. Evans recovered quicker that Rossi and was first across the line but the incident will doubtless be reviewed before the classification is made final. Behind the pair, Berthon was able to hold on to seventh while King made an early claim on the sprint pole with eighth ahead of Sirotkin who had managed to get ahead of St?ckinger on the final lap.

GP2 returns to action for the 18-lap sprint race on Sunday morning at 10.35am local time (9.35am BST). Dani?l de Jong is unlikely to take part in Sunday's race although he is reported as conscious and talking after his crash, having been flown by helicopter to a local hospital in Li?ge for a full medical evaluation following his hard impact with the tyre wall.

Before the sprint race, the GP3 field will be in action with the 17-lap race 1 set to get underway this afternoon at 5.15pm (4.15pm BST) and the 13-lap second race taking place on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).

See full GP2 feature race 1 results from Spa-Francorchamps

 

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