Formula 3 Euro Series points leader Jules Bianchi produced a measured performance to claim the spoils from a hectic first British F3 race at the Algarve circuit this morning.
Many drivers were caught out by a rapid light sequence at the start, but the French ART driver was not one of them and he vaulted past front row starters Renger van der Zande (Hitech) and Max Chilton (Carlin) to take an early lead.
Van der Zande held second, which became first when he outdragged Bianchi down the long start/finish straight on lap three, but Chilton plummeted down the order.
Bianchi's ART team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Manor Motorsport's Roberto Merhi also made rapid getaways. Bottas held third initially, while Merhi slid down the inside of championship leader Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin) to take fourth at Turn 5, only to disappear, complaining of gearbox problems, a few corners later.
After two days of sweltering running on a grippy track, the cooler conditions and a more slippery surface this morning unsettled most of the field. Reigning F3 Masters winner Bottas was next to go, spinning at the slow right hander at Turn 8 on lap three and getting collected by unfortunate series returnee Sam Bird (Fortec), who limped back to the pits and retired.
The field scattered and in the ensuing mayhem Hitech's Walter Grubmuller fell to the rear of the field after spinning in avoidance and Double R's Daisuke Nakajima ploughed into the accident unsighted.
A safety car was deployed for three laps to clear up the chaos, during which T-Sport's Adriano Buzaid was sent crabbing back to the pits after clattering into Henry Arundel's Carlin car.
When the restart came, Bianchi lurked menacingly but could not usurp van der Zande. The Dutchman traded fastest sector times with Bianchi, pulling out a 1s lead only to see it halved, and then restoring the same advantage again by the close of lap 12.
Just as the pair seemed set to declare stalemate, van der Zande picked up a slow puncture on the remainder of the debris from the Bottas accident. His pace fell away steadily in the latter stages as a result and he became a sitting duck for Bianchi, who drafted past on the start/finish straight with three laps left and drove on to victory.
Behind, Bianchi's Mexican team-mate Esteban Gutierrez completed an excellent drive and an ART one-two by picking off van der Zande in identical fashion on the following lap, while the Dutchman also lost the final podium place to Ricciardo in a drag race across the line on the final lap.
Double R's Carlos Huertas completed a mature drive to take fifth, while Chilton recovered from his poor start, avoided the Bottas mayhem and rounded out the top six after winning an early duel with Fortec's Riki Christodoulou.
ART's Adrien Tambay, Manor's Pedro Enrique and Welsh privateer Hywel Lloyd completed the top 10, while Grubmuller recovered to 12th behind Carlin's Philip Major.