Artem Markelov pulled off a remarkable race victory at the Bahrain International Circuit as he played his tyre strategy to perfection to deny Norman Nato and Charles Leclerc.
The Russian Time driver was seemingly out of contention until he made his mandatory pit stop for the Pirelli soft tyre, with his race coming alive, closing down the ten-second gap to those ahead of him and passing both to take the victory.
Leclerc had lead away from the start having started from pole position on his series debut, but the Monegasque driver could not convert it to a first victory as well, losing the lead to Nato into turn one, although the Pertamina Arden driver was unable to shake off the attentions of the Prema Racing driver thereafter.
Nato appeared to struggle more with his tyres than the debutant, and as such found himself re-passed by Leclerc in a similar move into turn one, before he lost position to Markelov.
Nato was the first to pit on lap fourteen to switch to the soft tyre, with Leclerc following a lap later, and with his tyres up to temperature, the Arden driver made the pass around the outside of turn four.
Markelov remained on track for two additional laps on the medium tyre, and such was the pace advantage of those on the softs he dropped well behind Nato and Leclerc before making his charge to the front. With three laps remaining, he got ahead of Leclerc, and with a staggering speed advantage, the following lap he was ahead of Nato and in the lead, where he would stay to take the victory.
A final lap pass by Jordan King gave the MP Motorsport driver fourth ahead of former MP driver and fellow Briton Oliver Rowland, now with DAMS, while Alexander Albon was the second best rookie in the field, taking sixth place for ART Grand Prix.
Luca Ghiotto was seventh in the second Russian Time entry ahead of Nobuharu Matsushita, who took eighth and claimed pole position for Sunday’s Sprint race for ART Grand Prix.
Nyck de Vries had been running fourth but found the going tough on his tyres, and the Rapax driver tumbled down the field to finish just inside the points in tenth, just behind Antonio Fuoco, who endured a tough afternoon of his own after a rough first lap saw him fall down the order from his fifth place on the grid.
Bahrain International Circuit Feature Race Result
|1||6||Artem Markelov||RUS||Russian Time||58:18.977s|
|2||20||Norman Nato||FRA||Pertamina Arden||+7.891s|
|3||1||Charles Leclerc||MON||Prema Racing||+13.780s|
|4||15||Jordan King||GBR||MP Motorsport||+17.478s|
|6||8||Alexander Albon||THA||ART Grand Prix||+19.744s|
|7||5||Luca Ghiotto||ITA||Russian Time||+27.056s|
|8||7||Nobuharu Matsushita||JAP||ART Grand Prix||+29.971s|
|9||2||Antonio Fuoco||ITA||Prema Racing||+30.950s|
|10||18||Nyck de Vries||NED||Rapax||+35.726s|
|12||11||Ralph Boschung||SWI||Campos Racing||+52.529s|
|13||14||Sergio Sette Camara||BRZ||MP Motorsport||+55.146s|
|15||19||Johnny Cecotto Jr||VEN||Rapax||+1:06.723s|
|16||12||Stefano Coletti||MON||Campos Racing||+1:12.933s|
|17||21||Sean Gelael||INO||Pertamina Arden||+1:18.579s|
|18||4||Gustav Malja||SWE||Racing Engineering||+1:24.483s|
|20||3||Louis Deletraz||SWI||Racing Engineering||+1:39.106s|