Alex Premat took victory from under the nose of his ART Grand Prix team-mate after the pair clashed on the final lap of Saturday's feature race in Barcelona.

The Frenchman tapped long-time leader Lewis Hamilton into a spin just a handful of corners from home, although the Briton had time to recover to claim second place ahead of a distant Michael Ammermuller. The controversial move was the climax of a ten-lap battle between the pair, with Hamilton's tyres going off but leaving the Briton with just enough to hold Premat in check until the last lap, when the Frenchman went for a gap that wasn't quite car-sized.

Hamilton had it all to do early on after making another poor start, dropping from fourth to eighth by the first turn. At the front, polesitter Nelson Piquet Jr, Premat and Adam Carroll held their position to lead the race from Olivier Pla, who stormed up to fourth from ninth on the grid.

Hamilton was into the pits as soon as they opened, along with Nicolas Lapierre, in an attempt to leap up the grid through the stops. He came out in 20th position but immediately set the fastest lap as a sign of intent. Up at the front, Piquet was doing what he had to do, building a gap to Premat each time they went by the pits and looking in control of the race while a number of drivers took their chance at an early stop.

Ammermuller was in from sixth on lap eight, with fifth-placed Gianmaria Bruni following him a lap later, as it looked as if the leading pack were weighing up their options. Piquet's pace was strong compared to Hamilton's and so he stayed out, but Premat was losing time and came in on lap ten, re-emerging behind his rapid team-mate.

Piquet held station in front of Carroll and Pla until lap 13, when all three came in at once, handing the lead to Andreas Zuber. Piquet came out in fifth place, just ahead of Hamilton and looked to have done enough to claim a win, with Carroll coming out between the ART cars and in line for a possible podium to follow the one he secured at the Nurburgring exactly a week ago.

The stewards had other ideas, however, and Piquet was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane. Meanwhile, it also emerged that Carroll had not actually stopped, the Ulsterman uncertain of his stall after missing his lollipop man, and would need another visit to the pits.

Piquet returned to the fray in tenth place, his race seemingly in tatters, while Zuber lost a strong points finish at the final corner when his left rear deflated - another tyre problem for the Austrian series rookie - and threw him off into retirement. Carroll's 'real' stop dropped him down to 19th on the road and almost certainly out of the points in the most important race for his team and its Spanish sponsors.

Back at the front of the pack, Ferdinando Monfardini was now leading, courtesy of being the only man to have not stopped so far, was setting times faster than the now second-placed Hamilton and building a gap despite the age of his tyres.

Behind them, Piquet was on a mission to reclaim something from the race, and made short work of Jose Maria Lopez to take seventh, before setting off after Pla. The Frenchman had done well out of the stops, but wasn't the only one as, behind Monfardini and the ART pair, were Ammermuller and Clivio Piccione, the latter in the points for the first time this year and hounding the Arden man for what he knew would be a podium finish.

Lopez, however, was dropping back into the hands of Bruni, who was more than anxious to get into the points again. On lap 22, the pair came together at turn one, the Trident car moving to the inside - where Lopez wasn't leaving much space. Bruni rode the kerb before spinning into the Super Nova car, putting both cars out on the spot.

The move put Tristan Gommendy into the points, the reward for a strong drive ahead of Xandi Negrao, while, behind them, Lapierre's tyres were clearly going off as he dropped towards a very eager Giorgio Pantano. The Italian smelt blood and attacked at La Caixa, pulling to the inside and pushing Lapierre wide out of the corner: Pantano was through into tenth like a shot, followed by Ernesto Viso.

The order at the front held station until lap 30, when Monfardini finally made his stop, promoting the ART pair into first and second, ahead of Ammermuller and Piccione. The Monegasque driver was all over the rear of his rival, but the German was defending stoutly, the battle seemingly set to run to the flag.

The other Arden car was over and out three laps later, however, as, after dropping like a stone once passed by Pantano and Viso, Lapierre pulled into the pits and retirement. His countryman Pla looked likely to join him as, unable to hold Piquet at bay, he also began falling down the order, being overtaken by Gommendy, Monfardini and Negrao in quick succession.

With one lap to go, the race seemed to be over. Premat's tyres may have been fresher than Hamilton's, but it seemed impossible that he would make a move on his team-mate at this late stage. However, the impossible happened, Premat - desperate to atone for many saw as a walkover for Hamilton at the Nurburgring - pushed inside the Briton at La Caixa, despite Hamilton leaving him a little room but no more. The Frenchman needed extra, and a small collision between the pair was inevitable, but it was Hamilton who came off worst, spinning helplessly as Premat ran through to take an unexpected victory.

"I needed to move back to Lewis and Nelsinho in the championship, to win a lot of races and, hopefully, then win the championship," Premat insisted afterwards, "I'm sorry for Lewis, because he had a good race, but I think I was much faster at the end... I am very happy with this result."

Hamilton was remarkably sanguine about the whole affair, celebrating with his team-mate despite knowing that a chance to record GP2's first hat-trick had gone begging.

"This is racing," he shrugged, "Fortunately, I managed to get second, but I was lucky because I just managed to keep the motor running. To get points is the most important thing for me and for the team."

Such was ART's advantage once again, Hamilton had enough in hand to beat Ammermuller, who still had the spirited Piccione all over him with just a couple of corners to go. The DPR car made one last attack at the final turn, but speared off the road and out of a certain points finish.

Piquet was the next man through, claiming fourth after losing a seemingly easy win in the pits, while Gommendy was fifth for his first points finish. Monfardini opened his account with sixth after an extremely strong race for DAMS, with Negrao leading Pla across the line for the final scores.

As a result, the Frenchman will be on Sunday's pole, no doubt hoping for a repeat of his race-winning antics in a similar position last year, while Adrian Valles took the point for fastest lap on his last trip around the circuit, having made a second pit-stop late on.

With Hamilton losing the win and Piquet claiming fourth, the pair share the lead in the championship on 34 points, with Lapierre next up on 25 following his non-score. Premat's win lifts him level with Ammermuller on 23.



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