Alexander Rossi keeps his championship hopes alive with a win in a race strewn with confusion and incidents, with Pierre Gasly matching his best GP2 finish in second and championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne setting the fastest lap on his way to third. Pole sitter Alex Lynn made a perilous mistake while miles ahead in the lead in the race that was cut short from 28 laps to 15 after Jordan King hit the barriers heavily, prompting a delay for extensive repairs, and the rapidly impending sunset approached.
As the lights went out, Alex Lynn made a lightning getaway, unlike Vandoorne who dropped down to 5th behind the fast starting French duo of Pic and Gasly. Arthur Pic attempted a brave move around the outside of Rossi, but was unable to complete it after clattering over the kerb on the exit.
Also running wide at Turn 3 was Artem Markelov, who as a result hit the barrier whilst rejoining after speeding through the run off area, ripping a tyre from his car. The stray Pirelli careered across the track, and in their efforts to avoid it Canamasas and Stockinger collided into each other and the TechPro barrier, stopping just behind the stricken Markelov.
The Turn 3 drama didn’t end there though, as Jordan King, who’d made contact in the first corner, locked up under braking with his damaged front wing providing him with no downforce. The Brit headed straight into the barrier, punching through the TechPro and briefly lifting in the air before thudding back down to a stop. The excessive damage done to the barrier led to the safety car appearing, and not long after the race being red flagged.
With the marshals performing an excellent job of getting the track back in shape, the cars lined up in the pitlane. Clear that it was going to be a while before all cars had been removed and the barrier repaired, the stewards were left with the unenviable decision of deciding when and if the race was going to restart. Many, including drivers, voiced their concerns of the setting sun – the awful light conditions during GP3 practice yesterday having caused an outcry from the motorsport community given the circuit is not floodlit – as within an hour the circuit would be dark. After a good 20 minutes wait, it was decided that there would be 15 laps more racing, which would bring the race to an end just minutes before the sun disappeared over the horizon.
When the action did get underway again it was behind the safety car for one lap, giving the drivers minimal time to get themselves up to temperature before Lynn launched ahead on the restart. The main question raised at the shortened race distance was whether the drivers still had to conduct their mandatory pit stop. For those on medium tyres, the lack of temperature at the restart meant they found themselves having to defend. What it also meant was that after the pit stop, they’d find themselves on the faster, but not as long lasting, soft compound.
It was quickly confirmed that a pit stop was still necessary, and race leader Lynn was the first to head to the pits. Despite a fumble on the front right, Lynn was able to retain the net lead when his teammate and Rossi pitted just after. Emerging together, the two Alexanders were side by side going into the first corner. Rossi emerging from the pits had track position, but Lynn’s warmed tyres from his out lap gave him the advantage he needed to keep ahead.
For a few laps the order remained stable, only drivers pitting altering the standings. Just when the race looked decided, double waved yellows captured everyone’s attention. Alex Lynn was stopped at the side of the track, car in tatters after hitting the wall on the exit of Turn 13. This freed Rossi, Gasly and Vandoorne who fought closely until the end of the race. With the win unattainable, Vandoorne was instructed to push for fastest lap and the two extra points that came with it. As the chequered flag fell, it was Rossi on his return to the series after his Formula 1 adventure who crossed the line first, Gasly following and Vandoorne, who had set the fastest lap, in third.