The first race at Valencia's new street circuit threw up a major surprise finish when race leader Giorgio Pantano ran out of fuel almost within sight of the chequered flag, handing the win to a stunned Vitaly Petrov, who finished just ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, with title challenger Bruno Senna failing to take advantage of his rival's misfortune as he coasted across the line in ninth with an equally empty tank.
The Italian had the race in the palm of his hand, leading every lap apart from one after his pit stop after making a storming start and setting a string of fastest laps to pull away from the Russian, who was one of the few drivers who could just about match Pantano on pace. The last lap dramas meant heartbreak for the Racing Engineering team, who had already climbed the pit wall to cheer their man home before releasing that something had gone horribly wrong.
Pantano left his fellow front row starter Maldonado standing when the lights went out, taking full advantage of starting on the clean side of the circuit, with Petrov also easily dismissing the Venezuelan before the first corner for second on track, who was ahead of Grosjean, Zuber, Jérôme D'Ambrosio and Senna, who had gained a position at the start when he outdragged Sébastien Buemi. But behind them Ho-Pin Tung was pushed into the wall before bouncing across the track in front of Kamui Kobayashi, and inevitably the safety car was deployed.
Fast work by the marshals meant the race was live just one lap later, and with Petrov's mirrors full of Maldonado's car Pantano was able to build a good lead over the Russian, who nevertheless was looking unruffled by the Venezuelan's attentions. With the possibility of another safety car high most of the teams brought their drivers in early for their pitstops, and when they had shaken out Pantano was a few seconds clear of Petrov, with Maldonado pushing hard behind a fast stopping Grosjean, while Senna had also worked hard to get up to fifth place.
The tight, twisty nature of the circuit mitigated against overtaking, but the Maldonado / Grosjean battle finally boiled over when the pair collided at the final turn and Maldonado held the inside line, handing him the advantage on the long drag down to the first corner on lap 28, with many assuming we had seen the last dramatic moment of the race. But on the final lap, with temperatures soaring after the initial splash of rain on the first lap a number of drivers ran out of fuel, including both of the championship leaders.
The result was Petrov was the first man to greet the chequered flag, just 0.8 seconds ahead of Maldonado who himself was 4 seconds ahead of Grosjean, while Lucas di Grassi took advantage of the misfortune of others to move up to fourth place after he had slipped past D'Ambrosio a few laps earlier. Buemi finished sixth, with Andy Soucek and Luca Filippi right behind him to mop up the points, while Senna at least crossed the line, albeit in ninth and just outside of the points. To rub salt into the wound Pantano lost the point for fastest lap after failing to finish in the top ten, handing it instead to Maldonado.All of which means that the championship fight continues with Pantano on 67 points to 58 for Senna, with di Grassi moving up to 44 and Grosjean to 42 points, while Buemi and Maldonado also increase their totals to 37 and 35 respectively. And while Petrov was delighted to take the top step of the podium it was clear that he spared a thought for his former teammate and good friend Pantano, who had to watch the celebrations from below with his team rather than spraying the champagne from above them.