Antonio Giovinazzi has taken his first GP2 Series win with a battling performance in a highly-eventful first race to be held around the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan.

The Italian had started from pole position, but a terrible start that left him fifth at the end of the opening lap would force him to work hard for victory in a chaotic race headlined by a turn one pile-up, four safety car periods and a frantic two lap sprint to the finish.

Indeed, with the tricky circuit always expected to offer an exciting set-piece with its long home straight and twisty mid-section, the race offered up plenty of action from the very start as five cars fell foul in a turn one pile-up.

Triggered by Pierre Gasly tipping Norman Nato into a spin, the concertina effect would see Alex Lynn, Sergio Canamasas, Nicolas Latifi and Marvin Kirchhofer clip one another, forcing all but championship leader Nato into retirement.

Up at the front, pole sitter Giovinazzi's awful getaway would allow front row sitter Nobuharu Matsushita to capitalise, the Japanese driver heading up the safety car slowed field ahead of Raffaele Marciello, Luca Ghiotto, Oliver Rowland and the slow-starting Italian.

As expected, the long slipstream-ready straight coupled to DRS would provide much of the overtaking action, as Matsushita found to his cost at the restart when he was comfortably overtaken by Marciello. Though the Japanese driver got him back on lap four, the Italian repaid the favour again on lap six into turn three.

A second safety car to clear Philo Paz Armand's Trident car from the barriers at turn one would prompt the flurry of pit-stops, Marciello coming out ahead of Matsushita and Nabil Jeffri, the Malaysian the only driver not to stop.

With the safety car coming out for a third time just two laps later after Monaco winner Artem Markelov collided by Artur Pic to bunch up the order again, Matsushita found himself caught out by the looming pack behind him when the race got underway, losing position to Rowland, Giovinazzi and Ghiotto as he steadily slipped out of contention.

With the benefit of clearer air, Giovinazzi began to demonstrate the pace that took him to pole position, first passing Rowland on lap 14 before quickly hunting down countryman Marciello to pass for the lead on lap 18.

With a lengthy fourth and final safety car - prompted when the recovering Nato damaged his car in bungled attempt to pass team-mate Jordan King - reducing the race to a time limit, a two lap sprint to the chequered flag would determine the encounter, Giovinazzi doing his utmost to limit the slipstream effect by leaving it as late as possible to get the hammer down at the restart.

It was a strategy that would work, Giovinazzi getting away with a long lock-up into turn one to keep Marciello behind and keep the margin solid over the final lap to take the chequered flag for his and Prema Racing's first-ever GP2 Series win.

Behind him, Marciello would also lose second position on the run down to the finish line after being out-slipstreamed by Sergey Sirotkin. The Russian produced a fine comeback from a low of tenth after being caught out by Giovinazzi's slow start directly ahead of him to secure a first podium of the year from the unfortunate Marciello.

Losing out at the final restart as Sirotkin surged past, Rowland had to make do with fourth place for MP Motorsport, with Mitch Evans climbing to fifth from the fading Matsushita in sixth.

In a race of just 10 finishers - after Jordan King's eventful race ended on the penultimate lap due to a clash with Jimmy Eriksson -, each driver to reach the chequered flag picked up points, with Sean Gelael, Daniel de Jong (who secures pole for race two), Ghiotto and Gustav Malja getting on the board.