ART GP's Stoffel Vandoorne turned in a faultless race as he won on his GP2 debut in Bahrain almost unopposed, ahead of Julian Leal and Jolyon Palmer.
Vandoorne went first off the line after an awful start from pole-sitter Palmer, who had dropped back to sixth by the end of the first lap. Facu Regalia received contact from Johnny Cecotto after four corners and was forced to retire, marking the start of an eventful few laps for Cecotto, as he forced Felipe Nasr wide before making a pass off the track, enough to earn him a drive-through penalty.
The safety car was deployed on lap three when Kimiya Sato punted Axcil Jefferies out of his first race in GP2, causing him to lose his front nose cone and a rear wheel after rebounding off a wall. The incident earned Sato a 10-second stop/go penalty, which he served on lap 13. The safety car gave Vandoorne relief at the front after coming under heavy pressure from Stephane Richelmi, and he managed the restart brilliantly to peel away again on lap seven. The flurry of pit stops which followed allowed Palmer to jump back into contention, as he waited one lap longer than most of his rivals to pit for fresh rubber and emerged ahead of Richelmi on lap 11, effectively leaving him second.
By the time Vandoorne pitted two laps later he had built up such a lead he slotted back into eighth, comfortably ahead of Palmer. He did not regain the lead on track until Simon Trummer pitted with just two laps remaining for softs. At one stage in the final 10 laps it looked like Trummer could have had a shot at victory if he had come in earlier. Trummer rejoined ninth but was absolutely flying, passing Felipe Nasr and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs on a thrilling final lap as he finished inches behind Takuya Izawa in seventh, a remarkable return given that he started the race in the pit lane.
Behind Vandoorne there was a battle for second and Leal made advantage of the soft tyres, passing Palmer with three laps to go and setting his sights on the race leader. But Vandoorne had built up quite a lead in front and was able to keep well clear, kicking off his GP2 career in fine style, while Palmer held off the fast charging Stefano Coletti to take the final spot on the podium. Arthur Pic and Izawa continued the day of impressive debuts as they finished fifth and sixth respectively. Nasr claimed reverse-grid pole for Sunday's sprint race as he came home in eighth, while Nathanael Berthon stopped on the last lap with an engine failure.