Preview: F2 in Barcelona

Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Tuesday 14 March 2017.
Nyck De Vries (NED, Rapax). Action.
Photo: Alastair Staley/FIA Formula 2
ref: Digital Image 580A0752

This weekend, Formula 2 heads to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for round two of the 2017 championship. It is a track all the drivers will be familiar with after the three days of pre-season testing there in March.

But considering Saturday’s feature race will only be the third race at this level for this season’s rookies, experience will likely still play a big part in determining the running order. If testing is any indication then this track should be one that suits Arden and ART, but as we saw in Bahrain, testing is not an infallible indicator of true pace.

If Prema can repeat the form that they found in Bahrain, then the 2016 champions will be a danger. While there are some question marks over their long run pace, the Italian outfit’s one lap speed is as impressive as it was last year. Out of the two Ferrari juniors, Leclerc was certainly the hero of the last round, and Fuoco has some catching up to do.

However, it is unlikely that the team will be able to repeat their bold strategy for the sprint race again, and with Leclerc obviously struggling to keep on top of the high tyre degradation, it would be unwise to assume they will leave Spain as the championship leaders. Going into the race weekend with Leclerc leading the drivers’ standings, it is undeniable that he has the pace to challenge the more experience drivers.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _J6I1710

Two other teams that are looking dangerous as we head to Catalonia are Pertamina Arden and Russian Time, the latter managing to score two podiums in Bahrain and currently sitting in first place in the team standings.

Compared to his 2016 form, Markelov is looking like a more mature driver, but only time will tell if he can maintain any kind of consistency, something that is vital if he is to mount a title challenge. Ghiotto was overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammate last round, but he is a highly capable driver, and the pairing could prove to be very beneficial for their team.

Though circumstance did not play into Arden’s favour in Bahrain, with Nato’s unlucky retirement in the sprint race, the Frenchman’s feature race performance was promising. Many have predicted that 2017 could be his year to finally seal the title, and all the signs are suggesting that it is possible.

Nato’s teammate Sean Gelael could not match his teammate last time out, and while he is partnering a highly rated driver, the disparity between the two cars suggests that he has not quite got on top of things yet. Barcelona will be his chance to prove he can measure up.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Norman Nato (FRA, Pertamina Arden)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _X0W4790

Sérgio Sette Câmara is another driver who will be hoping he can keep up with his teammate in Barcelona, after having failed to achieve the same results as his MP Motorsport teammate, Jordan King. Recently dropped from the Red Bull junior program, even after testing for them at Silverstone last summer, the young Brazilian is out to prove himself. Promisingly, he did manage to beat his teammate in the sprint race in Bahrain, but was wholly out-driven in the feature race.

This is somewhat unsurprising considering King hinted at the fact that he may have been sitting in an F1 seat this season, had the Manor Racing team not collapsed before the 2017 season had begun. Still, the team needs a string of more promising results if they want to compete amongst the best in the series.

Flying under the radar a little in Bahrain, but nevertheless delivering strong performances were DAMS. The 2014 GP2 champions will be hoping Barcelona provides them with the opportunity to mount their own title challenge. Their line-up of Oliver Rowland and Nicholas Latifi certainly looks strong on paper, but there is always a difference between potential and delivering on expectations.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I1690

ART will be hoping that they can convert their solid qualifying performances into race results this time out. Of course, thanks to the quite frankly bizarre incident in Bahrain qualifying between Malja and Jeffri, it is hard to gauge who truly has the one lap speed needed to secure pole, but ART did look quick.

Thai racer Alexander Albon is only in his first season at this level, and therefore should be given time to get up to speed. Matsushita on the other hand, has completed two seasons of GP2 and performed well in testing, even going quickest on the first day in Barcelona. If his luck is better this round then it is not unreasonable to assume that he will be able to challenge for at least a podium.

While most teams suffered from the disrupted qualifying in Bahrain, Rapax driver Nyck De Vries succeeded in being one of only two drivers able to get a second run in, earning him a P2 on the starting grid. But their race made it apparent that in Barcelona set up will be a main concern for the Italian team, with tyre degradation posing a serious problem in Bahrain. Fortunately, the temperatures will be markedly lower in Spain, which might do them some favours.

Campos Racing will be hoping for a better weekend for their first home grand prix this season after failing to score any points in Bahrain. Since re-joining GP2 in 2014, the team has struggled to repeat their successes of the past, and as of yet, nothing has suggested that 2017 will be any better for them.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Saturday 15 April 2017.
Ralph Boschung (SUI, Campos Racing) leads Gustav Malja (SWE, Racing Engineering)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _W6I0250

Trident and Racing Engineering are the other teams who have yet to score a point this season, though we are only entering the second round after all.

Racing Engineering definitely need a change in fortunes to turn things around. Had it not been for Gustav Malja’s shunt in qualifying and Delétraz’s stall on the grid, Bahrain might have been a very different weekend for them. They will be hoping to put the past from their mind, and start anew in Barcelona.

Trident also suffered from bad luck last round, not least from Jeffri’s qualifying, but even so it might take some work to secure a decent result. Last season in GP2 Jeffri only managed to score two points, and Canamasas has something of a reputation as a reckless, and sometimes dangerous, driver; but hailing from Barcelona itself, the Spaniard will be hoping to keep a handle on things in order to perform in his home race.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Nabil Jeffri (MAS, Trident)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I1730

With experience still paying dividends, drivers such as Nato, Rowland and Markelov are the obvious choices to watch, and it will be worth seeing if Markelov can find the consistency that has evaded him so far in his career. If so, he could turn his impressive tyre management and bursts of brilliance into a serious bid for the title this year.

Round two is still early to expect astounding things from the rookies of Formula 2. Yet, as Charles Leclerc proved in Bahrain, it would be short-sighted to overlook them entirely. With tyre degradation less of an issue at this cooler circuit, it may suit the nineteen-year-old from Monaco, but only by Sunday will we know whether or not he can retain his lead at the top of the championship standings.

If we manage to see a clean qualifying this round, then Barcelona will also provide us with insight into the true pace of the teams this season.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

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