Pastor Maldonado put one hand onto the 2010 GP2 Series champion's trophy despite failing to finish a chaotic feature race at Monza today, while ART's Sam Bird took a commanding race win.
Bird's role in the afternoon was relatively straightforward; the Briton capitalising on his front row start to pass polesitter and ART team-mate Jules Bianchi at the first corner, and cruising away unthreatened.
But behind him, the opening laps were messy. Arden's Rodolfo Gonzalez set the tone by crashing while warming his tyres on the installation lap, and Luca Filippi continued the theme on the opening lap by outbraking himself at the second chicane and collecting Giedo van der Garde, who was spun into Dani Clos. All three retired.
The incident prompted a safety car, but no sooner had it returned to the pits at the end of the second lap than it was needed again.
Maldonado had launched himself off the back of Romain Grosjean at the first corner on the restart, triggering an accident that resulted in Jerome D'Ambrosio tagging the rear of Bianchi, and Marcus Ericsson, Brendon Hartley and Luiz Razia getting tangled further back.
The latter three retired immediately, but remarkably everyone else was able to continue, albeit with an obviously damaged car in Maldonado's case.
His concerns were eliminated on the lap five restart when his only title rival Sergio Perez became involved in a crash with Michael Herck that put both out on the spot, meaning that the Mexican needs to win tomorrow's sprint race and score fastest lap, with Maldonado scoring no points, to keep the final, minuscule flicker of the title battle alive for the final round.
As it stands though, it is all but certain that Maldonado will formally wrap things up tomorrow.
After the drama of the first seven laps, things settled down into something more sedate. Bianchi passed Oliver Turvey to reclaim second, leaving Turvey to hang on for third and complete the podium, while another strong drive by Christian Vietoris left the Racing Engineering rookie in fourth ahead of D'Ambrosio.
Trident's hopes of locking out the front row for tomorrow's race were thwarted by Ocean's Fabio Leimer retiring late in the race and promoting Adrian Zaugg and Edoardo Piscopo up to sixth and seventh, with Max Chilton claiming the final point and pole for the sprint race.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Sam Bird ART 49m27.229s 2. Jules Bianchi ART + 8.585s 3. Oliver Turvey iSport + 17.168s 4. Christian Vietoris Racing Engineering + 18.249s 5. Jerome D'Ambrosio DAMS + 19.361s 6. Adrian Zaugg Trident + 21.189s 7. Edoardo Piscopo Trident + 24.618s 8. Max Chilton Ocean + 28.662s 9. Davide Valsecchi iSport + 46.833s 10. Fabrizio Crestani DPR + 47.773s 11. Charles Pic Arden + 50.494s 12. Alvaro Parente Coloni + 59.930s 13. Romain Grosjean DAMS + 1 lap Retirements: Fabio Leimer Ocean 23 laps Pastor Maldonado Rapax 7 laps Sergio Perez Barwa Addax 5 laps Michael Herck DPR 5 laps Marcus Ericsson Super Nova 3 laps Luiz Razia Rapax 3 laps Brendon Hartley Coloni 2 laps Dani Clos Racing Engineering 0 laps Luca Filippi Super Nova 0 laps Giedo van der Garde Barwa Addax 0 laps Rodolfo Gonzalez Arden 0 laps