F2 Sakhir: Zhou storms to victory in frantic feature race

Guanyu Zhou took the final win of Formula 2’s Sakhir weekend, in a feature race dominated by changing tyre performance and a dramatic late collision for title hopeful Oscar Piastri.

Zhou started the race from pole, but it was anything but an easy drive from the front for the Alpine junior. He was slow away off the line and lost the lead to Christian Lundgaard at Turn 1, then dropped to third behind teammate Felipe Drugovich at Turn 4.

After a brief safety car in the early laps when Roy Nissany was spun out by Robert Shwartzman, Zhou then found himself under pressure from Piastri. The Prema driver, who had started on softs as opposed to Zhou’s hard tyres, picked off Zhou for third on lap 4 and set off after Drugovich and Lundgaard, while Zhou lost another position to Marcus Armstrong on lap 8.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

By lap 12 Piastri had passed Drugovich and closed within half a second of Lundgaard, before overtaking the ART for the lead at the start of the following lap. By then the pit window was open and Lundgaard become the first to stop for hards at the end of lap 13, followed by Drugovich on lap 14 and Piastri himself on lap 16. Meanwhile, Zhou made his stop for soft tyres on the alternate strategy on lap 15, and came out of the pits just behind Drugovich.

Another safety car was deployed in the middle of the pit phase when Gianluca Petecof’s cockpit fire extinguisher went off and forced him to retire. The timing of this second safety car benefited Armstrong and Richard Verschoor, who had been shuffled to the head of the field and were able to stop while the pack was slowed down. Armstrong came out of the pits still in the lead, while Verschoor emerged in third between Piastri and Lundgaard.

At the restart on lap 19 however Armstrong immediately fell back, as Piastri and Verschoor both passed him for first and second respectively. Lundgaard also struggled for pace and lost fourth to Drugovich at Turn 4, then fifth to Zhou at Turn 10. Drugovich and Zhou then toppled Armstrong from third on lap 20, before Zhou overtook his teammate for the podium position a lap later.

Felipe Drugovich, UNI-Virtuosi (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

As Zhou returned to the podium positions, Verschoor took the lead from Piastri on lap 20 and set about building a two-second gap as his softs had more initial pace than Piastri’s hards. That pace deficit allowed Zhou — as well as Dan Ticktum and Liam Lawson, who were also charging through on softs — to close up to Piastri and challenge him for second.

Zhou took the position from Piastri on lap 23 and started reeling in Verschoor, who was struggling as his softs then started losing grip. But despite being on the same compound, Zhou was able to keep his tyres in better condition than the MP Motorsport ahead and he took the lead of the race at Turn 4 on lap 28.

As Zhou then leaped clear in the lead, Ticktum started challenging Piastri for third as the Prema couldn’t find pace on the hard tyres. After being rebuffed at the inside of Turn 1 and the outside of Turn 4 on lap 29, Ticktum was much closer at the start of lap 30. He pulled to the inside and got momentarily ahead, before the two cars made contact and Piastri was spun into a stall and out of the race.

Ticktum continued on in third, and after a brief virtual safety car to recover Piastri he improved to second with a pass on Verschoor. Lawson also overtook Verschoor on the final lap to take his second podium finish of the weekend.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Verschoor was able to hold onto fourth at the flag ahead of Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala. Shwartzman recovered from a drive-through penalty for hitting Nissany at the start to take seventh and the fastest lap, while Theo Pourchaire, Drugovich and Matteo Nannini rounded out the final points positions.

Zhou now leaves Bahrain in the lead of the championship by 11 points from Liam Lawson, and Piastri drops to fourth behind Daruvala. Carlin now lead the teams’ standings on 47 points, ahead of UNI-Virtuosi (43) and Prema (37).

Formula 2 returns on 20–23 May in support of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

F2 Sakhir: Piastri snatches last lap sprint race win from Zhou

Prema’s Oscar Piastri became Formula 2’s second rookie winner in as many races after a strategy gamble and a hectic race helped him to overhaul Guanyu Zhou on the final lap.

The race started with an incident at the first corner. As Juri Vips led away Lirim Zendelli and Zhou from pole, Robert Shwartzman hit Dan Ticktum at Turn 1 as he challenged for fourth place. Ticktum spun out and Shwartzman pulled over with terminal damage, and the safety car was deployed for the opening lap.

When the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 3, Zhou immediately took second from Zendelli. Once ahead, Zhou then started reeling in Vips, setting the fastest lap at the end of lap 4 and taking the lead from the Hitech on the following lap at Turn 4.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Meanwhile, Liam Lawson and Felipe Drugovich joined the podium battle. After moving past Piastri and Christian Lundgaard for fourth and fifth respectively at the restart, the pair then demoted Zendelli to fifth on lap 5 with Lawson ahead moving into the podium positions. Zendelli’s race then took another hit, as contact from Lundgaard at Turn 1 left the German with a puncture and dropped him to the back of the field.

At the front of the field, Zhou continued to stretch out a gap over Vips, and was running 2.5 seconds clear by lap 11. Behind them, Lawson and Drugovich were much closer in the battle for third, and on lap 15 Drugovich made a move to the inside of Turn 1. Lawson managed to hold off the Brazilian, but they were both passed instead by Lundgaard. Lawson and Drugovich continued battling through the next couple of corners, until they made contact at Turn 4 and Lawson was spun out of the race.

The safety car was deployed again while Lawson’s car was recovered, and Vips, Lundgaard and Piastri all took the opportunity to gamble on a switch to soft tyres. Despite dropping down the order, the trio had an immediate pace advantage over the rest of the field on hards or worn softs when the race resumed on lap 18.

After carving back through the field on the first green flag lap, Vips, Piastri and Lundgaard were back up to second, third and fourth respectively by the end of lap 19, and Vips had the gap to Zhou down to a second.

Juri Vips, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

But Vips’ hard work came undone just a few laps later when he lost power and started dropping through the field. Piastri assumed second and the pursuit of Zhou, and at the start of the final lap he and Lundgaard both lunged past their fellow Alpine junior at Turn 1.

As Zhou battled to repass Lundgaard, Piastri was free to pull away in the lead and take his first Formula 2 victory. Lundgaard finished second on the road, but a ten-second penalty for his collision with Zendelli dropped him back to ninth. Zhou therefore finished second, and Jehan Daruvala scored his second podium of the weekend in third.

Richard Verschoor finished fourth for MP Motorsport, ahead of Theo Pourchaire, David Beckmann, Marino Sato and Matteo Nannini.

UPDATE: Lundgaard’s second place finish was reinstated following the race, after the FIA confirmed he had already served his 10 second penalty during his pit stop. The updated result means that Zhou drops to third and Daruvala fourth, and Nannini loses his point as he drops to ninth,.

F2 Sakhir: Lawson dominates sprint race on debut

Hitech’s Liam Lawson opened his rookie Formula 2 season with a dominant win in the first Bahrain sprint race, holding the lead throughout after taking it at the start.

Lawson got a rapid start from third on the grid to get past fellow rookies David Beckmann and Theo Pourchaire, who started first. Pourchaire briefly dropped down to third behind Beckmann, but recovered by the end of the lap to retake second place. Just behind them, Jehan Daruvala jumped Oscar Piastri for fourth.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Lawson’s attempt to break clear of DRS range from Pourchaire was briefly halted on lap 3, when Marcus Armstrong’s DAMS stopped on track to bring out the virtual safety car. But by lap 6, Lawson pulled a second clear of Pourchaire for the first time and went on to build a gap in clean air.

As Pourchaire dropped back from the lead, he started coming under pressure from Daruvala, who’d passed Beckmann for third on lap 11. But on lap 13 Pourchaire suddenly slowed with a mechanical problem, gifting Daruvala second as he dropped out of the points and eventually stopped on track.

Now in pursuit of the lead, Daruvala looked to have much better tyres than Lawson. On his first lap in second, Daruvala took half a second out of the lead as his rival struggled for grip. Lawson then had a big lock up on lap 17, which brought Daruvala to within half a second of the Hitech.

But despite being in DRS range, Daruvala was ultimately unable to get close enough to Lawson to make a move for the lead. Lawson held on to win by 0.7 seconds over Daruvala, with Beckmann taking third on his F2 debut.

David Beckmann, Charouz (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

Robert Shwartzman took fourth ahead of Piastri, after battling through the field from his starting position of 11th. Christian Lundgaard and Guanyu Zhou were sixth and seventh, and Dan Ticktum took the final point in eighth after being demoted by a time penalty for spinning around Richard Verschoor early on.

Lirim Zendelli finished ninth but took two points for the fastest lap, and Juri Vips finished tenth to start on pole for the second sprint race.

F2 Bahrain preview: New season, new format, same goal

The Formula 2 grid will take to the track this weekend in Bahrain, for the opening round of the 2021 championship.

It only feels like yesterday that Mick Schumacher was crowned the 2020 F2 champion, but a lot has changed since the series left Bahrain last December. For starters, there’s a new race weekend format for the teams and drivers to get their heads around this year.

Instead of a Saturday feature race and Sunday sprint race, the F2 weekend will now feature three races — two sprint events on Saturday, and a feature before Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix. Friday qualifying will still determine the feature race grid, while the first sprint race grid will be set by reversing the top ten from qualifying. The starting positions for the second sprint race will then be a reverse of the first race’s top ten finishers.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

The weekend format might be different though, but for the eleven drivers returning to F2 this year, the goal of winning the championship and reaching F1 remains the same. And of those drivers, Robert Shwartzman is going to come to Bahrain with the most expectation on his shoulders.

In his rookie season last year, Shwartzman took the most wins of the field, helped Prema to the teams’ title, and was in championship contention himself for most of the season. He’s already proven he’s quick in Bahrain — one of his four wins last year came in the sprint race there — so Shwartzman will be the one with the target on his back in the opening round.

But there are plenty more drivers from the class of 2020 who will be out to prove this weekend that it’s not all about Shwartzman. Jehan Daruvala and Dan Ticktum have a great chance of opening the year with a win, as their Carlin team had rapid pace in Bahrain last year. Watch out for Marcus Armstrong too, who was also quick here last year and is starting a new partnership with DAMS.

And lastly, Felipe Drugovich will be a driver with plenty of attention on him in the opening round. After being one of last year’s revelations, the Brazilian has earned himself a move to UNI-Virtuosi alongside Guanyu Zhou and the perfect chance to prove he can challenge the likes of Shwartzman for the title.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Michael Regan, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / Courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

But while the returning field is strong, they’ll have a real fight on their hands to keep ahead of an equally impressive crop of rookies.

One of those new faces will be the 2020 Formula 3 champion and Alpine F1 junior Oscar Piastri. Coming into F2 with Prema, Piastri is expected to be a natural title contender this year — and if his F3 days are anything to go by, he won’t be taking any time at all to get his campaign underway.

Piastri isn’t the only rookie looking to impress an F1 academy, though. Hitech is fielding an all-Red Bull junior lineup this year with Juri Vips and Liam Lawson, both of whom were consistently rapid in pre-season testing.

A lot of the spotlight will fall on Vips after he made his F2 debut last year substituting for Sean Gelael in four rounds, and scored a podium at Mugello. But Lawson is no slouch either — he was a multiple race winner with Hitech in F3 last year, and is every bit as quick as Vips.

And then there’s Theo Pourchaire. Like Vips, Sauber F1 junior Pourchaire made his F2 debut in a handful of rounds last year — including Bahrain — before a full campaign for 2021. He came within three points of snatching the F3 title away from Piastri last year and has been widely tipped as a future F1 star. Driving for ART this year, he’ll be with a team capable of challenging for podiums and wins right from the off.

But as Drugovich showed last year, it’s not just the F1 juniors to watch for. Between Formula Regional European champion Gianluca Petecof, F3 race winners Lirim Zendelli, David Beckmann and Bent Viscaal, and F3 podium finishers Richard Verschoor and Matteo Nannini, there are plenty of lightning-fast rookies coming in under the radar this weekend.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

F1 testing: Bottas fastest on day 2 despite more Mercedes problems

Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.

Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.

Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.

Courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.

Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.

Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.

Courtesy of Alpine Racing Media

Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).

However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.

Day 2 classification:

Pos. Driver Team Time Laps
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.289 58
2 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +0.124 87
3 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +0.171 70
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +0.297 52
5 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +0.471 124
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.597 73
7 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1.383 132
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +1.393 117
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1.926 52
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +2.050 127
11 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +2.395 57
12 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2.594 88
13 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +2.783 56
14 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2.812 76
15 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +3.110 58
16 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +8.560 10

Mercedes unveils “old friend” W12

Mercedes has unveiled its new W12, the car with which it hopes to win an eighth consecutive pair of F1 titles in the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1

The Mercedes AMG F1 W12 keeps the black base livery introduced last year as part of the team’s anti-racism commitments, fading to silver on the engine cover. It also features much more prominent AMG branding across the car as per Mercedes’ plans to foreground its high-performance division within its F1 marketing.

The most visible changes to the design that’s carried over from 2020 are towards the rear, which is more tightly packaged around the engine. The front of the car is largely the same, which bucks the trend of the front-end development seen in the launches so far, but that could still change before testing next week.

Mercedes technical director James Allison called the W12 “an old friend in many ways”. However, he admitted that the launch spec of the car was missing some aero developments to the floor, which the team wanted to keep hidden from its rivals before testing.

Allison also said that AMG High Performance Powertrains have added more power to the engine for 2021. Beneath the chassis, the W12 features further improvements to the suspension and cooling systems.

Although the W12 is the clear title favourite for 2021, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff greeted the new challenger with his trademark scepticism. “Every year we reset our focus,” he said. “The scoreboard goes to zero and there’s always more performance to be found.

“It’s very natural to get used to success, and therefore not fight as hard for it. But this team has not shown any of that. I see the same fire, hunger and passion now as I did the first time I walked through the doors in 2013.”

Courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1

Pourchaire joins ART for full-time F2 move

ART have confirmed that Theo Pourchaire will reunite with the team for his full-time move to Formula 2 in 2021.

Sauber junior Pourchaire led ART’s Formula 3 charge in 2020. He took two wins early on in the season and the most podiums of anyone in the field, and came within three points of taking the title from Oscar Piastri at the Mugello finale.

Following his impressive F3 campaign, Pourchaire then stepped up to F2 with HWA in place of Giuliano Alesi for the final two rounds in Bahrain.

Theo Pourchaire, ART F3 (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I’m very happy to be able to continue with ART Grand Prix,” Pourchaire said. “This team gave me the opportunity to drive in F3 last year and now accompanies me to the gates of Formula 1, in F2.

“This year my aim does not change, I’m still aiming for the top. I feel perfectly ready for this new season.”

ART team principal Sébastien Philippe added: “Theo’s progress has been remarkable since his debut in motorsports. [In F3] he impressed the team by his evolution in a delicate context and with an extremely competitive field.

“Theo had nothing to gain by doing a second season in F3 and his move to F2 is the next logical step of our collaboration. The step is high, but between his talent, his determination and his thirst for learning, I’m sure he can make this transition a success.”

F2: Armstrong joins DAMS for 2021

DAMS have announced that Ferrari academy driver Marcus Armstrong will join the team for the 2021 Formula 2 campaign.

Armstrong made his F2 debut in 2020 with ART and scored podiums in the opening two rounds at the Red Bull Ring. After a difficult mid-season he returned to form by the end of the year, with points at Mugello, Sochi and Bahrain to end the season 13th in the standings. Armstrong then drove for DAMS in the post-season test at Bahrain.

Previously, Armstrong has been runner-up to Robert Shwartzman in the 2019 F3 championship, as well as 2017 Italian F4 champion and ADAC F4 runner-up.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I’m very excited to be joining DAMS,” Armstrong said. “It’s been a long time coming as there was a lot of interest in working together last season. DAMS has a massive history, especially in GP2 and F2 — it’s one of, if not the, best to be with.

“We are aiming for the title. By no means is it going to be easy with such fierce competition, but I feel that when I’m in the right environment with a great team I can really do special things.”

DAMS co-team owners Gregory and Oliver Driot added: “We are very happy to welcome Marcus to DAMS. We have been following his career and his performance for several years so we are glad to finally join forces for this season.”

DAMS is set for an all-new lineup for 2021, with Sean Gelael having already announced that he will not return to F2 for another season and Dan Ticktum set to join Jehan Daruvala at Carlin.

HWA announces F2 graduation for Nannini, Deledda

HWA Racelab have announced that they will field Formula 3 graduates Matteo Nannini and Alessio Deledda as their lineup for the 2021 Formula 2 season.

Nannini had already been announced as one of HWA’s F3 drivers for this year, having made the switch from Jenzer Motorsport for his sophomore season. The decision to split the 2021 feeder series calendars, which will see F2 and F3 run on separate Grand Prix weekends, means Nannini is able to contest both championships for the team.

After initially struggling to score points with the uncompetitive Jenzer team in F3 last year, Nannini had a breakthrough weekend in Barcelona with tenth place in the feature race and his maiden series podium in third in the sprint race.

Matteo Nannini, testing for Campos during the 2020 F3 post-season test (David Ramos / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Deledda joins F2 as a controversial signing. In November last year he drew attention for a trio of videos posted on his Instagram, appearing to show himself weaving through a motorway traffic jam at high speed, exceeding 300km/h on a motorway, and driving at 200km/h on another public road. He subsequently claimed the videos were actually of other drivers, which he was sharing to “raise awareness” of “similar acts of villainy” on the road.

Speaking about the driver announcement, HWA team principal Thomas Strick called Nannini a “young and talented driver”, saying that HWA decided to field him in both feeder series’ so that he could be “introduced more quickly to the high performance of a Formula 1 car, as the Formula 2 car comes far closer to matching this performance”.

Nannini said: “I am really looking forward to such a busy season! 45 races in 2021 are going to be demanding, but I feel ready and determined to grow as a driver. I know it will not be easy, but I am willing to learn as much as possible.”

F3: Vesti announced as Mercedes junior, joins ART for 2021

Formula 3 race winner Frederik Vesti has been announced as a new addition to the Mercedes junior driver academy, and as part of ART Grand Prix’s lineup for the 2021 F3 season.

Vesti finished fourth in last year’s F3 standings driving for Prema, having taken three feature race wins across the season—the most of any driver—and was a title contender until the final round. The year before, Vesti won the Formula Regional European Championship, also driving for Prema, with 13 wins from 24 rounds.

In joining ART as a Mercedes junior, Vesti follows in the footsteps of Esteban Ocon and George Russell, who both won the GP3 title with the French team and Mercedes backing in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Frederik Vesti, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

On becoming a Mercedes junior, Vesti said: “To now be working with Mercedes, the best team in the world, is a massive boost for my career and I am really looking forward to building a powerful relationship in the future.

“The collaboration between ART, Mercedes and me is the beginning of an incredibly exciting journey for me,” he added. “I’m convinced that will take me one step closer to my goal, which is to reach Formula 1.”

Mercedes Driver Development Advisor Gwen Lagrue said: “Fred’s commitment and dedication is something we love to see and hugely respect. We are happy to welcome him into the Mercedes family and look forward to seeing him fight for the title this season in FIA F3.”

ART team principal Sébastien Philippe added: “We know Frederik very well since he was one of our most formidable opponents last season in Formula 3, and we were eager to start our collaboration with him in Barcelona during the off-season testing. With Frederik, ART will try and win back the FIA F3 title.”

ART also announced on Tuesday that one of Vesti’s F3 teammates will be Aleksandr Smolyar, who will remain with the French team for his second season in 2020. Smolyar had a successful debut campaign with a pole position in Hungary and a podium in the Monza sprint race.

Aleksandr Smolyar, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)