F2 Bahrain: veterans reign in the desert

TNicholas Latifi (CAN, DAMS), celebrates in Parc Ferme. 

The first round of the Formula 2 season is already over after a weekend with a lots of on track action but not many surprises. Reliability issues from last year seem to have been solved, so there will be drivers’ talent and not their luck that will decide who earns success this year.

It was a strong start to the weekend for Dams with Sergio Sette Câmara and Nicholas Latifi setting the pace comfortably ahead of Trident’s Ralph Boschung during free practice session. Even though, qualifying would go a bit different. Callum Ilott lost his car in turn seven and hit the barrier bringing out the red flag with 12 minutes into the session. Once the track was cleared, some of the front runners decided to go out immediately so as to avoid traffic.

After an early second attempt, Latifi was leading the session ahead of Jack Aitken and Sette Câmara. It was looking good for them as nobody seemed to improve massively, but a very last minute lap from Luca Ghiotto, Louis Delétraz and Nyck De Vries placed them in the top three. The Italian, who crossed the line once the checkered flag had already fallen, took pole position in UNI Virtuosi debut and the first one of his three-year Formula 2 career.

Dorian Boccolacci (FRA, CAMPOS RACING) and Giuliano Alesi (FRA, TRIDENT)

If we look at the race from the start, it was Louis Delétraz who led in the early stages after overtaking Ghiotto in the start. The Italian had reported clutch problems during the formation lap and as a consequence of them he lost some places in the getaway, although he would recover throughout the race with some good moves like the one on Matsushita after three corners side by side. Tyre struggles began quite early considering that everyone was on medium tyres. Delétraz lost the lead in favor of Latifi and others like De Vries decided to pit despite the fact that they should go on softs until the end. Once everyone had stopped the Dutch took the lead but it didn’t last long.

Laps were counting down and tyre degradation made the early stoppers go down in the order, while the ones who had managed their tyres better established themselves on top. Latifi proved his experience winning the race comfortably ahead of Ghiotto and Sette Câmara, confirming Dams strong pace that had been already shown in practice. The surprise came at fourth as newcomer Anthoine Hubert got really close to a podium finish after starting from eleventh place. Even if he didn’t pull off any spectacular moves, the GP3 Series Champion kept very consistent pace through the whole race that rewarded him with 12 precious points.

The rest of the points positions for Saturday’s race were filled as it follows: Delétraz, De Vries, Aitken, Schumacher, Matsushita and Zhou. At the back Tatiana Calderón was able to cross the line on thirteenth after being nineteenth in the grid which shows that Arden’s race pace is much better then their qualifying performance.

31 Mar 2019 11:40

Mick Schumacher (DEU, PREMA RACING) 

On Sunday’s sprint race things weren’t much different. It was Mick Schumacher who started on pole after finishing eighth the day before and led the opening laps, but by lap four we already had Saturday’s top three setting the pace. Again tyre degradation played a key role and some decided to come in. Ghiotto pitted from the lead while both Dams cars stayed out on track. As the race went on, the drivers who had pitted started their comebacks through the field while the guys who didn’t change tyres were losing two or three seconds per lap. The one-stop strategy paid off for Ghiotto who was able to retake the lead with two laps two go, in the same way Charles Leclerc did in 2017.

The other two guys standing on the podium were Sette Câmara in second place and Latifi in third. Both drove solid races but that wasn’t enough to stop Ghiotto on fresher tyres. Guanyu Zhou was the man who ended behind the top guns. UNI Virtuosi’s rookie had a remarkable race from tenth on the grid to end ahead of Formula 2 veteran Louis Delétraz. Mick Schumacher came on sixth holding De Vries and Jordan King for a double points finish in his Formula 2 debut. The son of the seven-times Formula One World Champion hasn’t probably met the expectations of many but he definitely showed some speed and delivered a drive without mistakes in the whole weekend.

After all, it appears to be Dams and UNI Virtuosi the teams that have stronger cars and drivers. However, we should bear in mind that this was only the first round, so the rookies may still need some time to adapt to their new wagons and some veterans will probably do better in places where the weather isn’t that hot. Next round at Baku on 26-28 April will tell us if we are going to see more drivers in the mix or if it is all going to be about this weekend’s top three.

images courtesy of F2 media

Formula 2: 2019 Season Preview

The 2019 Formula 2 season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain with some new faces on the grid and a lot of surprises after an unusually unpredictable silly season. Normally, it is possible to figure out who is going to be where after the post-season test in Abu Dhabi, but this time what deals seemed to be done in December changed completely in January.

Some big names from last year are missing. Lando Norris and Alex Albon followed the 2018 champion George Russell in securing a Formula One seat, while Artem Markelov, who has become a fan favourite throughout the years, joined the Super Formula field in Japan. These departures could lead to a discussion on whether the talent in the grid has decreased, but we have to bear in mind that excellent drivers will make their debut in Bahrain even if they are not so well-known.

Anthoine Hubert (BWT Arden) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship

Among the youngsters approaching their first Formula 2 weekend we have last year’s GP3 Series top three. The champion Anthoine Hubert will enter the championship with BWT Arden in association with Mercedes’ feeder categories brand HWA despite the fact that he is a member of Renault Sport Academy. Nikita Mazepin, who has already tested in Formula 1 with Force India, will take part in the series with last year’s champions ART, and Ferrari Driver Academy member Callum Ilott will compete for the renamed Sauber Junior Team by Charouz. Even if they have proved their talent in the past, none of them are expected to be in the hunt for the big trophy after pre-season testing results, but for sure they will put on a good show and aim for podiums, even victories.

On the contrary, there is one man who is expected to fight for the championship from the beginning: Mick Schumacher. The son of the Formula One legend Michael Schumacher will drive for Prema, a team who won twice since they entered in 2016. Mick must not crack under pressure and confirm the speed showed last year in an outstanding second-half of the season which crowned him as FIA F3 European Champion. If he delivers, a seat in the 2020 Formula One grid is almost guaranteed for him.

Furthermore, Tatiana Calderón will be the first woman to race in the GP2 Series/FIA F2 since they started back in 2005. Partnering Hubert in BWT Arden, the Alfa Romeo Racing test driver will try to keep her momentum going to continue taking points as she did in the last five GP3 races.

Louis Deletraz (Carlin) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship

Looking now at the battle for the championship, four F2 veterans are expected to fight the already mentioned Mick Schumacher. They are Nyck de Vries (ART), Sérgio Sette Câmara (DAMS), Luca Ghiotto (UNI Virtuosi Racing) and Louis Delétraz (Carlin). All of them were pace-setters in testing and are capable of performing at any track—only reliability issues or race incidents would prevent them from having a chance to become champions.

We should also keep and eye on Jack Aitken. If it is true that he struggled a lot during his maiden season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him challenging for race wins throughout the year. However, the fact that he drives for Campos Racing may keep him away from the championship battle.

Regarding this first weekend in Bahrain, it may bring some surprises given that qualifying conditions are not the same as race ones. Qualifying is scheduled in the night while races are in the afternoon when temperatures are their highest. Tyre degradation is set to play a very important role, allowing different strategies as we already saw in the past. In 2017, Charles Leclerc decided to pit during the sprint race when he started to suffer with his tyres and he was able to make an impressive comeback overtaking 14 cars to win the race on the last lap. Will we see something like that again this year? We will know on Sunday!

Giuliano Alesi (Trident) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship

Will it be the end for Williams Racing?

When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.

The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.

It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: George Russell, Williams FW42 during the Barcelona February testing II at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 26, 2019 in Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.

Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.

Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.

Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.

Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.

Featured image courtesy of  Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images