Davide Valsecchi continued his domination of the first of the back-to-back GP2 Series race weekends in Bahrain, with a commanding feature race victory, remaining ahead of a frantic race-long battle behind him.
The Italian series veteran had been clear of the rest of the field in free practice and qualifying on Friday, and continued that form into Saturday. Fellow front-row starter Esteban Gutierrez pulled alongside him off the line, but Valsecchi held the inside line into the first corner and retained the lead.
He pulled open a lead of more than ten seconds through the pitstops, and although his advantage was wiped out by a safety car in the middle of the race, he came home seven seconds ahead of anyone else, also claiming the bonus points for fastest lap as he took the lead of the championship.
Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto followed up a surprise qualifying performance by moving up from fifth to third with a flying start to the race, but quickly came under pressure from Valsecchi's DAMS teammate Felipe Nasr. Nasr however was passed by more experienced compatriot Luiz Razia on lap nine.
Two laps later Gutierrez came in from second, and was followed by Cecotto and Razia. Gutierrez endured a slow stop, while Razia jumped both of them. All three however rejoined behind the early-stopping British duo of Max Chilton and James Calado, who had been running seventh and eighth during the first stint. Nasr stopped on the following lap, and rejoined between Razia and Gutierrez.
Valsecchi pitted one lap later, briefly losing the lead to Fabio Leimer until the Swiss driver stopped on lap 14, enduring a slow change around that dropped him down the order after running ahead of Chilton and Calado earlier on, while on the harder of the two tyres.
Leimer's Racing Engineering teammate Nathanael Berthon was still to stop though, and he had been caught by the train led by Chilton, fighting over what was to become second place. Chilton pulled alongside Berthon down the back straight, but decided against diving down the inside into the final turn. Calado saw an opportunity though, and squeezed past Chilton and Berthon with a stunning manoeuvre.
Razia got past Chilton too, and pulled alongside Berthon heading down the straight. The Frenchman wanted to head into the pits though, Razia being forced to take avoiding action as Berthon jerked right.
Cecotto had got past Gutierrez, but the Mexican soon regained the place, being forced to run off the circuit on a straight after Cecotto swerved to defend his position. Gutierrez got the pass done nonetheless, and then dived underneath Nasr under breaking to take fifth.
Cecotto then ran into Nasr as he tried to get by the British F3 champion, a collision that left both cars stationary on the track and bringing out the safety car. It's safe to say the South American pairing had differing opinions on who was to blame in their subsequent trackside discussion.
After the restart it took Razia until lap 23 to finally get by Calado for second place. Pitting early had done the Racing Steps man wonders earlier on, but now he was struggling badly with tyre degradation. Both Chilton and Gutierrez got by him, and then commenced a battle of their own.
Chilton remained ahead at the start of the final lap, as he looked to repeat his podium finish from Malaysia on what is his 21st birthday. It wasn't to be though, as Gutierrez pulled a great move to steal third place. Chilton defended heading towards the Turn 11 left-hander, with Gutierrez seemingly trying to go around the outside. He jinked to the inside though, diving past the Carlin driver. Running a bit wide, Chilton was able to pull back alongside, forcing Gutierrez onto the marbles. Somehow he kept grip and powered through the subsequent right-hander to keep the place.
Calado held onto fifth place under pressure from fellow GP3 graduate Tom Dilmann, the latter having made up a host of places during the course of the race after starting 14th. His final victim was Leimer, who finished seventh, and will be one of the favourites for Sunday's sprint race, which he will start on the front row alongside Fabio Onidi.
Rio Haryanto was very strong late-on in the second Carlin car after stopping later than most, and carved his way through to ninth. Brendon Hartley started from the back of the grid for his GP2 return with Ocean after a grid penalty for a qualifying collision, but he stormed his way through to claim the final point in tenth.
Stephane Richelmi began from the third row alongside Cecotto after a fine qualifying performance of his own, but lost a host of places during the opening laps to fall well down into the midfield before making an early pitstop. That helped him to charge back as high as eighth, but he Monegasque driver lost out to Haryanto and Hartley in the final laps on old tyres.
He finished 11th ahead of Trident teammate Julian Leal, with Marcus Ericsson and Fabrizio Crestani close behind. Rodolfo Gonzalez, Simon Trummer (who served a drive-through for pitlane speeding), Ricardo Teixeira and Giancarlo Serenelli completed the finishers.
Dani Clos lay sixth during the safety car period on his GP2 return with Addax, but he later plummeted down the order before pitting into retirement. Nigel Melker suffered from a delaminating tyre that dislodged his front wing at high speed and scattered debris over the track in the closing stages. After spinning at the start and then playing his part in the battle over second, Berthon also failed to finish.
Giedo van der Garde looked out of sorts in his Caterham, first having a coming together with Stefano Coletti after trying to ease the latter off the track, and later breaking his front wing with an ambitious move on Berton, before calling it a day. Engine failure meant that Jolyon Palmer failed to make the start, that after he stalled at the start of the Sepang feature race last time out.