Having pipped 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne to pole position by a mere four hundredths of a second in Thursday's qualifying session, the question on Friday afternoon was whether DAMS' Pierre Gasly would be able to keep that lead going into turn 1 once the lights went out at the start of the 32-lap feature race at the 15-turn, 3.363-mile Bahrain International Circuit.

If Gasly couldn't then it was hard to see who or what would be able to stop the Belgian from romping away with his second Bahrain feature race win of the year, to add to the four other GP2 victories Vandoorne had taken this year on his way to sealing the title.

CLICK: Full GP2 feature race 1 results from Bahrain International Circuit

The answer was quick in coming: Vandoorne immediately took control of the race and leapt out to a big lead, with Gasly only narrowly able to hold on to second ahead of Trident's Raffaele Marciello and Arden's Norman Nato.

Further back, Campos Racing's Arthur Pic improved two places after starting from ninth but then surrendered one of them back to Russian Time's Mitch Evans, while Alexander Rossi (Racing Engineering), Sergei Sirotkin (Rapax) and Rio Haryanto (Campos) had a great scrap for ninth which finally fell in Rossi's favour following light contact at the hairpin on lap 3, after which Rossi was free to press on and bring pressure to bear on Alex Lynn (DAMS) for eighth.

Marciello was able to fend off Nato's bid for third place through the opening laps, and was then in a position to turn his attention to overhauling Gasly ahead of him for second place which he finally achieved with a little dab of DRS in turn 1 at the start of on lap 4. Gasly was clearly not happy with his early pace and continued to haemorrhage places, allowing Nato to move up to third and ART's Nobuharu Matsushita to fourth.

Lap 6 saw the first of the mandatory pit stops with Carlin's Dean Stoneman in to ditch the soft compound option Pirelli tyres for a set of mediums followed next time around by Status Grand Prix's Oliver Rowland and then Lazarus' Nathanael Berthon, but the majority verdict had been to start the race on the longer-lasting primes meaning that Stoneman and Rowland spent the next few laps out of position having their own private but enthralling battle over 22nd spot.

Meanwhile Vandoorne was quietly building up an impressive safety margin at the head of the field well in front of Marciello, Nato, Matsushita, Gasly, Evans, Rossi, Haryanto and Pic with Lynn in tenth. The two Campos drivers had a lap-long scrap over eighth, which was finally settled in Haryanto's favour by a decisive move around the outside by the Indonesian on lap 11 after some back-and-forth, after which Pic's pace dropped off and he quickly fell victim to moves from Sirotkin, Lynn and Racing Engineering's Jordan King as he dropped outside the top ten before finally opting for damage limitation by pitting on lap 14.

Vandoorne's lead over Marciello and Nato was up to four seconds by the time the race reached halfway, but fully 18 of the 24 drivers had yet to make their mandatory pit stops. Lazarus' Sergio Canamasas was next to come in on lap 16, and next time around it was Sirotkin and Status Grand Prix's Marlon St?ckinger who were forced to make slightly earlier than planned own stops after having comprehensively worn out their first set of tyres.

The top ten eked out their rubber a little longer, but on lap 18 it was Rossi and Haryanto heading down pit lane, followed by Evans on lap 19. Vandoorne continued to sail serenely on at the front, his lead now extended to a massive ten seconds after Marciello and Nato eased off in the hope that maybe they could get some advantage over the Belgian by preserving their tyres and going deeper into the race before their own pit stops.

That advantage never materialised. More of the leaders surrendered their track position to make their pit stops, but Vandoorne toughed it out until lap 21 and when he came in he was followed by all the others suddenly transforming pit lane into a brief hive of activity. When they emerged, Vandoorne was back out in front but only by three seconds - the early pit stop strategy had worked well for Berthon who was now up to second ahead of Evans, Rossi and Matsushita, followed by Sirotkin, Haryanto and Stoneman in eighth place in a transformed running order that had dumped Marciello down to ninth ahead of Haryanto and Gasly.

Marciello et al were, however, on much fresher tyres and were soon working their way forward again. By contrast, Stoneman was soon plummeting backwards down through the positions in a clear sign that his own tyres were thoroughly cooked. Berthon similarly quickly reached the same tipping point, and by lap 25 Rossi's tyres were also too far gone and he was forced to pit for a new set as well as a new front wing after he had made light contact with the rear of Mitch Evans's car as they battled over second place in turn 4. Not that tyre issues were reserved for the early stoppers: a rear-right puncture for Norman Nato left the Arden limping back to pit lane at an agonisingly slow pace, his day wrecked.

At the front, it had taken Vandoorne little time to restore his huge lead over Evans whose tyres were now also approaching terminal, putting him firmly into the clutches of Matsushita. That meant an ART 1-2 was in sight and duly achieved with DRS at the start of lap 30. Sirotkin was running in fourth but he was now firmly in the sights of Marciello who sealed the deal in turn 4, but unfortunately for Marciello he was too far back from Evans to realistically close the gap in time and challenge for a podium position.

Behind the top four, Sirotkin was able to survive the final two laps to pick up fifth place ahead of pole sitter Gasly, who had managed to get around Haryanto with a nice move three laps from the end. Gasly's team mate Alex Lynn pipped Jordan King to eighth place, meaning that Lynn will start Saturday morning's sprint race from pole position under reverse grid rules. King will start from ninth, lucky to escape without sanction after a mid-race incident with Haryanto at pit-in in which he was forced to cut across the blend line ahead of the Campos car.

The final points position was taken by Pic, while Berthon's second half decline had left him just outside the top ten in 11th followed by Canamasas and St?ckinger, the mid-race pit stop arguably proving the least effective of the various strategies on display on Friday. They nonetheless still fared significantly better than Alexander Rossi who marked his return from his stint in F1 only to came back to earth with a bump in 18th place, a setback to his hopes of beating Sirotkin and Haryanto to the runners-up spot in the GP2 championship.

No such concerns in the team championship, the team 1-2 on Friday meaning that ART has successfully clinched the 2015 GP2 title (to go along with the GP3 crown they'd sealed earlier in the day) with three races to spare, the first of them being the 23-lap sprint race on Saturday morning at 10.45am local time (7.45am GMT).

See full GP2 feature race 1 results from Bahrain International Circuit



Loading Comments...