F2: Monaco Preview

2016 GP2 Series Round 2
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 28 May 2016.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix), takes the chequered flag
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _R6T6685

The Monaco Grand Prix represents the jewel in the crown of any racing series that visits the iconic track, and nowhere is this truer than for the third round of the 2017 Formula 2 championship.

With only a limited number of series using the track, it will be a lot of drivers’ first time racing at the principality. As a street circuit, it presents a vastly different challenge to the previous two rounds, and it will prove to be a true test of the drivers’ car control and skill. Flat out racing will inevitably lead to mistakes on the tight, twisting Monegasque streets, and more measured driving will be yield the best results.

As it is with any category, Monaco has a habit of shaking up the established order, as proven by Markelov’s shock win here in the GP2 feature race last year, so there is no guarantee that the teams who were stronger in the previous rounds will continue to dominate here. For example, Prema who were so strong last season, and whose 2016 lineup of Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi came to fight it out for the GP2 title failed to score any points in either races last year.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Artem Markelov (RUS, RUSSIAN TIME) in the pits during the practice session
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL2_9446

Artem Markelov will no doubt draw confidence from his performance in Monte Carlo last year, and it may help him pick his championship challenge back up from his average weekend in Barcelona. His teammate Luca Ghiotto currently sits a comfortable third place in the championship, one place above his Russian teammate, after another podium in Spain.

But Russian Time will need a strong showing from both its drivers to have the edge on the other teams in the incredibly close battle at the top of the standings. While Russian Time are in third with seventy-two points, Prema and DAMS both have seventy-five, the Italian outfit taking first place on the virtue of having more race wins.

Prema’s man of the moment Charles Leclerc will be searching for a little bit of hometown glory this weekend when he gets to compete at his home grand prix for the first time. The Monaco native has been anything but shy about how much he is looking forward to racing on the streets he grew up on, and considering that he is currently leading the drivers’ standings, he is well placed to give his fellow countrymen something to cheer about.

With Monaco being a difficult track to overtake on, Leclerc’s teammate Antonio Fuoco will be hoping that if he can produce a qualifying performance like the one he had in Bahrain, then his results will start reflecting the potential of both himself and the car. After this weekend, over a quarter of the F2 season will have been completed, and if Fuoco cannot begin to match the pace of his teammate, he risks falling to the wayside almost entirely.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Antonio Fuoco (ITA, PREMA Racing) next to Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL1_9133

Monaco also presents a chance for redemption for Frenchman Norman Nato who has been plagued with inconsistency and bad luck since his podium in the first race in Bahrain. His Arden teammate Sean Gelael will also need a better run of things this weekend. With the track levelling the playing field somewhat, though the Arden machinery has not looked up to scratch thus far, as long as they avoid any serious incidents, racing at Monaco presents an opportunity to rise above their current standing.

DAMS succeeded in scoring three podiums when F2 visited Spain, but Nicholas Latifi, after throwing away an almost certain win in the Barcelona sprint race, will be a man in search of redemption. Considering the fact that he failed to finish either race last year when GP2 came to Monaco, his track record suggests that he will have to dig deep in order to perform.

His teammate Rowland is better placed to do well, having secured one of his three podiums from 2016 in the principality. His aim will surely be the close the gap to Leclerc, who currently sits twenty-six points in front of him.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I7139

Experience will most likely play a large role in determining the running order this weekend, as the rookie entrants into Formula 2 gain confidence around the notoriously difficult track. No team, except Prema, has a line-up consisting entirely of rookies, so it will be expected that the those who have already driven a season of GP2 will outperform their teammates.

Still, there is a chance that rookies such as ART’s Alexander Albon and Rapax’s Nyck de Vries, who have been quick so far, could pull something special out of the bag. De Vries’ chances still very much depend on his ability to manage his tyres, which prevented him from securing results which match his qualifying pace. If experience is key here, then no one should have better chances that Johnny Cecotto of Rapax who has competed in no less than eight seasons of GP2, but that would take a very different kind of performance from the Venezuelan, who has failed to score any points this season.

Albon’s teammate, Nobuharu Matsushita, who achieved sprint race victory in Barcelona also managed to win in Monaco in GP2 last year—his only win of the 2016 season. If he can carry the momentum with him from Spain, then there is every chance that he can repeat past successes.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I0189

It is also worth keeping an eye on MP Motorsport’s Jordan King and Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja, both of whom have had promising starts to the season, but probably need a podium or a win to give them the traction to mount a championship challenge. The experience of both drivers will bode well here however. Their rookie teammates, Sergio Sette Camara (MP Motorsport) and Louis Deletraz (Racing Engineering), have failed to score points so far this season, and they would be forgiven for failing to do so at Monaco. Yet the unpredictable nature of the track could give them that small bit of luck needed to make their mark on the series.

Trident’s drivers Nabil Jeffri and Sergio Canamassas have also failed to take home any points from their team in 2017. Jeffri’s record at this circuit will not inspire any hope in his team, but Canamassas has scored a second and a third place in Monaco during his GP2 career. Though given his reputation and how easy it is to cause a pileup on this narrow track, people will probably be expecting the Spaniard to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Campos Racing, the other team who have failed to secure any points to their name, bring the unknown variable of a new line up to Monte Carlo. While they retain Ralph Boschung, Robert Visoiu joins the team, making it their third different line up in three rounds. Visoiu returns to this level of racing after a year out from motorsport and looks set to stay for the rest of the season.

If there is anything to remember about Monaco it is that for a series such as Formula 2, where the field is so closely matched, that it is near impossible to accurately predict who will triumph on this illustrious circuit. The drivers who have been performing well so far in 2017, such as Leclerc, Rowland, Markelov and Ghiotto are of course worth keeping an eye on. But there is no guarantee that Monaco will follow the script that has been laid out thus far.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

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