While the Formula 1 circus returned to Europe after a much talked-about Bahrain Grand Prix, the GP2 paddock has remained in the country for a second, stand-alone race weekend.
The first two Sakhir races last weekend were all about one man; Davide Valsecchi. The Italian series veteran was clear of the rest of the field in practice and then again in qualifying where he claimed pole position.
He'd made a poor getaway from P1 on the grid at the season opener in Malaysia, but this time he made no such mistake, and tore away to a comfortable victory, despite having his leading margin wiped out by a midrace safety car.
In race two he surged through the field from eighth on the reverse grid, stealing victory from Esteban Gutierrez with a well-judged move at the start of the final lap after closing the Mexican hotshot down in a matter of laps.
“It's the best weekend of my career,” the DAMS driver declared. “A big thanks to the whole team who gave me a fantastically well-prepared car for practice and the races with an impeccable pit stop. On Saturday and Sunday I made great starts and I fought hard to achieve this happy end. With the DAMS team I can fight with the best and we're going to make sure this continues starting from next week.”
Having been the master of the Sakhir circuit once, it's hard to bet against a repeat performance from Valsecchi this weekend as he seeks to extend his championship lead.
The man who had arrived in Bahrain for the double-header as the points leader was Luiz Razia, after his season-opening victory in Sepang. The Brazilian picked up a highly respectable second-place and a fourth last weekend, but he still ended up losing crucial ground.
This weekend, the Arden man will be looking to regain the upper hand and prevent Valsecchi from building an early advantage before the European leg of the season.
Gutierrez has scored three podium finishes on the bounce, and the Mexican remains firmly in contention at the head of the standings. That first win of the season still awaits though, after losing out to Valsecchi at the death on Sunday.
He showed great pace in both races, fighting back from a slow pitstop on Saturday to claim third with a fine pass on Max Chilton a few corners from the end. On Sunday he fought his way to the front, but he'll need to keep an eye on that tyre degradation and avoid a repeat performance of losing the lead on the last lap.
Gutierrez' Lotus GP teammate James Calado continues to impress at the start of his rookie season. In race one he made a great opportunistic and clean move past Chilton for second as his compatriot dithered behind a slower car, but an early stop that got him into a strong position in the first place then meant that he lost out in the tyre degradation stakes by the finish, slipping to fifth at the flag. Race two then saw him make a lightening start to jump from fourth to first in a matter of metres. He looked like he might be set for a third sprint race win from as many starts, but lost out in the battle with Gutierrez. Still, a podium was another promising result, and he lies fourth in the points.
Impressing just as much in his rookie season has been Valsecchi's teammate Felipe Nasr, the reigning British F3 champion. He qualified a stunning third last weekend, but his weekend was dealt a blow when he clashed with Johnny Cecotto in the middle of Saturday's race. He was then somewhat contentiously handed a grid penalty for an incident that had looked 50-50 at worse for many, but that became elementary when he stalled the car before reaching the grid at the end of the warmup lap. He started the race from the pits, and produced an almighty charge through the pack to finish sixth, in just 22 laps. He's still learning, so there's nothing to say he's out of the title fight yet.
GP2 Series drivers’ standings:
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- The second Bahrain race weekend takes place over two days, on Friday and Saturday. Friday sees Free Practice at 08:00 BST on Friday, with Qualifying at 09:30 BST and the Feature Race at 14:00 BST. The Sprint Race takes place at 12:00 BST on Saturday.
- All sessions will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 HD in the UK.