F2 Austria: Drugovich dominates chaotic sprint race

Felipe Drugovich dominated Sunday’s sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, leading from pole to take his maiden Formula 2 victory.

The MP Motorsport rookie got a clean getaway from reverse grid pole to set up an early lead from Louis Deletraz on the front row. Behind them third place changed multiple times over the first lap as Giuliano Alesi came under pressure from Dan Ticktum, Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong all at once.

The battle was resolved by the end of the first lap when Alesi pulled off to the side of the track with flames pouring from the rear of his HWA. The safety car was brought out to recover Alesi, with Armstrong assuming third over Ticktum and Shwartzman.

Alesi’s car was quickly cleared but the safety car was redeployed multiple times in the following laps. First when Sean Gelael ground to a halt, again when Luca Ghiotto was spun out of the race by Jehan Daruvala, and for the final time on lap 15 when Armstrong lost drive and stopped on track, handing third place to Ticktum.

Dan Ticktum, DAMS (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

When the safety car pulled in for the last time on lap 16 Drugovich rapidly pulled away from Deletraz and was out of range by the time DRS was enabled. Behind them, Ticktum managed to drop Shwartzman and open a gap to protect third place from the Prema.

The podium positions remained unchanged for the final 12 laps of the race, with Drugovich winning by 2.3s from Deletraz and Ticktum. Shwartzman finished fourth ahead of ART’s Christian Lundgaard.

Nobuharu Matsushita took sixth place after a long battle with Mick Schumacher, who made early progress from P11 on the grid but couldn’t find a way to continue past Matsushita. Jack Aitken took the final point of the day in eighth.

At the end of the first F2 round of the season, Callum Ilott leads the championship with 27 points, four ahead of Shwartzman with Drugovich a further two points back. ART heads the teams’ championship by five points from UNI-Virtuosi, with MP Motorsport in third.

F2 returns next weekend at the Red Bull Ring again, supporting the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images

F2 Austria: Ilott takes maiden F2 win after trouble for Zhou

Callum Ilott took his first Formula 2 victory at the Red Bull Ring feature race, after his teammate Guanyu Zhou dropped out of the lead with technical problems.

Ilott and polesitter Zhou dominated the early stages of the race together with Prema’s Mick Schumacher, who leapt up into third place at the start after passing star of qualifying Felipe Drugovich.

The two UNI-Virtuosi drivers traded the lead throughout the first corners of the race, before Zhou managed to make a move stick and set about breaking the DRS range back to Ilott. But Zhou lost the position again after his pit stop, when Ilott and then Schumacher were able to perform the undercut and emerge in the net lead of the race.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

With more heat in his tyres, Zhou managed to repass Ilott and Schumacher on their out laps, while Ilott overhauled Schumacher to resume net second behind Zhou.

But on lap 26 Zhou slowed with a sudden loss of power and dropped down the order. Ilott resumed the lead ahead of Schumacher, with ART’s Marcus Armstrong, who had climbed through the field on the alternate strategy, assuming third place.

While Zhou returned to the pits there were problems too for HWA’s Artem Markelov, who came to a halt on the circuit and brought out the safety car for two laps.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

Ilott held the lead at the safety car restart, and was gifted a reprieve when Schumacher ran off the circuit and through the gravel trap, dropping down to P13.

With Schumacher out of contention as well, Ilott held several seconds in hand over second-placed Armstrong, with Robert Shwartzman promoted to third. This gap only increased as Armstrong and Shwartzman battled hard over the podium positions, allowing Ilott to go from 4.8s ahead on lap 36 to more than 8s by the chequered flag.

Despite having an apparent pace advantage, Shwartzman was unable to get past Armstrong and finished in third behind the ART. Armstrong’s teammate Christian Lundgaard finished fourth after seeing off a late challenge from Dan Ticktum, while Giuliano Alesi made the alternate strategy work to take sixth from 18th on the grid.

Louis Deletraz took seventh for Charouz and Drugovich held on to eighth place to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow on his F2 debut. Nobuharu Matsushita, another alternate strategy runner, finished in ninth and Roy Nissany took the final point in tenth.

Along with Markelov, Sean Gelael and Marino Sato also retired from the race, while Luca Ghiotto failed to start because of a technical problem. Schumacher eventually finished just outside the points in P11, while Zhou finished down in P17.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

F2 Austria preview: rise of the new guard

The 2020 Formula 2 season gets underway this weekend with the first of a double-header at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.

The F2 grid in Spielberg will be full of returning faces. Series stalwarts Artem Markelov, Sean Gelael, Jack Aitken, Louis Deletraz, Nobuharu Matsushita, Roy Nissany and Luca Ghiotto are all back, as are Guanyu Zhou, Callum Ilott, Giuliano Alesi, Mick Schumacher, Marino Sato and Nikita Mazepin, who made their debuts last year.

Alongside them are nine rookie drivers, six of whom come from Formula 1 junior programmes. These are: Renault’s Christian Lundgaard (ART), Williams’ Dan Ticktum (DAMS), Ferrari’s Marcus Armstrong (ART) and Robert Shwartzman (Prema), and Red Bull’s Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala (both at Carlin).

The remaining three rookies are Guilherme Samaia (Campos), Pedro Piquet (Charouz) and Felipe Drugovich (MP Motorsport).

Jehan Daruvala and Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

In such an unusual season, it’s hard to predict the pecking order coming into the first round of the championship.

Of the returning drivers, Aitken, Markelov, Ghiotto, Matsushita and Schumacher all have race-winning pedigree at this level. Aitken is perhaps best-placed to fight at the front as he remains with Campos this year, although none of the others (Markelov least of all) should be discounted from pulling off a surprise charge to the top step.

Looking at the top teams is usually a safe bet coming into a new season. UNI-Virtuosi had a strong showing in Austria last year with podiums in both races, and have a talented lineup in Zhou and Ilott who are both gunning for their first F2 victory.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

ART can always be relied on to run at the front. And although the French team has an all-rookie lineup, both Lundgaard and Armstrong were race-winners in Formula 3 last year and could both be credible threats to F2’s old guard.

And then there’s Prema. Schumacher is expected to make a big step forward after a sedate debut last year, so shouldn’t be ruled out of contention just because of his 2019 results. And of course he’s partnered by reigning F3 champion Shwartzman, who has plenty of speed and race craft to make an immediate impression on his F2 debut.

As ever, it’s going to be a fascinating opening round for F2 as we wait to see how the field shakes out for the season ahead.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

Hitech given late entry to 2020 F2 season

Hitech Grand Prix has been awarded a late entry to the 2020 Formula 2 season, adding the series to its growing junior formula portfolio.

Their entry, which comes with less than six weeks to go until pre-season testing in Bahrain in March, takes the 2020 F2 grid up to 11 teams. Hitech has not yet announced either of its drivers, although it is reportedly set to sign Nikita Mazepin alongside either Luca Ghiotto or Sergio Sette Camara.

Last year Hitech finished second in the FIA F3 teams’ championship with Juri Vips, Leo Pulcini and Ye Yifei. The team will return to the series this year, alongside the 2019–20 F3 Asian Championship.

2020 will be Hitech’s first appearance in F1’s feeder series since they partnered with Piquet Sports to enter the 2004 and 2005 GP2 seasons.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Hitech owner Oliver Oakes said: “Stepping up to F2 was always something we were aspiring towards, once we had established ourselves in the new era of Formula 3.

“With the new 18-inch rims coming to F2 in 2020 it made entering now much more necessary than at the end of 2020 where we would be a year behind the learning process.

“Of course, joining the grid this late means we are slightly up against it, but at Hitech we like a challenge! I believe in our group and I am really excited for the first event in March at Bahrain.”

F2 CEO Bruno Michel said that he is pleased to add a team of Hitech’s “prowess” to the grid, and added: “Hitech Grand Prix enjoyed a strong Formula 3 season in 2019 and I know that although they are joining late, they will be able to adapt quickly to Formula 2.”

Belgian GP: Anthoine Hubert’s death in Belgium reminds us that these drivers are gladiators. Let’s show them some respect

Anthoine Hubert’s death at the age of this weekend in that ill-fated F2 Belgian Feature race shocked the motorsport world.

Not since 2014 has a Formula One race weekend seen an accident that would claim a driver’s life when Jules Bianchi hit that tractor at Suzuka in awful conditions.

Not since Ayrton Senna in 1994 has a Formula One driver died at the circuit.

This weekend, a paddock lost a competitor. Drivers lost a friend. And a family are contemplating their son’s death.

The racing public and the wider world forget just what risks these men and women take for their thrill, and our entertainment.

Conveniently, we forget about the warning on the back of every single ticket to a motorsport event anywhere in the world about motorsport being dangerous.

“Well yeah it is, but there’s so many safety measures now, they’ll all be fine. There’s almost no risk.” That phrase is flippantly thrown out everywhere you go.

Wrong.

The sheer fact of the matter is, no matter how many measures you take, driver cars at speeds of well over 100 miles an hour will always be inherently dangerous.

Experts and the powers that be are always, and will always look to learn lessons from relatively minor accidents, to shunts such as Robert Wickens’ at Pocono last year in Indycars, right through to Billy Monger’s freak accident at Donington Park in British F4 in 2017 and Bianchi’s accident in Japan.

Charles Leclerc, a man who has now lost two close friends to racing-related accidents following Hubert’s passing, showed why Halo despite its aesthetic challenges is a necessity at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

A year on, Pierre Gasly told Leclerc to win a race for their fallen friend.

Lewis Hamilton, one of hundreds of racing figures to pay tribute to Hubert following Saturday’s tragic events, also outlined those foolhardy attitudes from many not sitting in the cockpit.

Hamilton also crashed in Free Practice on Saturday, to raucous cheers from the grandstand above.

Indeed, for a far from small minority, viewership of Formula One has no longer become about supporting their favourites, but about hoping their rival, the enemy, hits mechanical failures, or spins, or crashes.

There is among some a hope that Vettel/Hamilton etc do not complete the 190-odd miles that entails a Grand Prix distance.

It could be naivety stemming from the fact the drivers walk away from the heaviest of shunts nine times out of ten. It could be tribalism, as there is for some, nothing more important than the enemy suffering at the track in one shape or another. It’s likely a mixture of both.

It’s unlikely that much change of any form will come out of Hubert’s accident. It happened at a part of the circuit that is the fastest, the scenery around it is a forest and so the tyre wall cannot be moved further back to allow larger run-off area – indeed the gravel removed long ago would probably have helped matters.

The layout through Eau Rouge and Radillon will not change, and no changes to the cars are likely to have made much of a difference to this outcome. The powers that be will simply include this is another incident to note and examine.

While they are no longer sitting on the mobile bombs that those in the 1970s were driving, what Hubert’s death should highlight is that the driver across any forms of motorsport that risk their lives for the entertainment of the public are still modern-day heroes.

To be able to compartmentalise an event like this and go out to do it all over again not even on day after a horrifically sad event such as this puts them above mere mortals like you or I.

It is therefore time for certain sections of the viewing public to realise this, to remember and understand exactly what is unfolding before their eyes or on their screens, and show more respect to those gladiators.

Because that is what they are.

FIA F2: Belgium preview

The three week summer break is over, and this weekend FIA Formula 2 returns for round 9 at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

At the last round in Hungary, Nicholas Latifi struck back at title rival Nyck de Vries with victory in the feature race—his first win since Spain in May. However, with 30 points still the difference between them in De Vries’ favour, Latifi will need another strong result here at Spa if he’s to swing the momentum back towards him for the final four rounds of the season.

Luca Ghiotto dropped back from the title contenders in Hungary, and now sits fourth in the standings behind DAMS’ Sergio Sette Camara. With Jack Aitken only one point behind him, Ghiotto will be looking for a strong return from the summer break to reassert himself at the top.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There will also be plenty of drivers to watch outside of the main title contenders. Carlin’s Nobuharu Matsushita—who won the feature race in Austria and finished on the podium again in Hungary—has said he is still hoping to earn an F1 promotion via his Honda academy links, but he will need to put in the results to get there. The Japanese driver needs to be at least fourth in the standings to earn his superlicence, which means overcoming the 50-point gap to Ghiotto.

Guanyu Zhou comes to Spa as the season’s best rookie in P6 with 107 points. But although he’s enjoyed a successful F2 debut with three podiums and pole position at Silverstone, the UNI-Virtuosi driver still has yet to claim his first win in the series.

Zhou’s closest competition for “best rookie” is fellow Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert. Although Hubert is 30 points adrift of Zhou, he has picked up two sprint race victories for BWT Arden this season and will be hungry for more in the final rounds as he chases a drive with DAMS or ART for next year.

And finally, Mick Schumacher won’t be able to avoid the spotlight this weekend following his first F2 victory in the Hungary sprint race. His fans will be hoping that win proves a breakthrough result after a sobering start to his F2 debut, especially with Spa and Monza being tracks Schumacher knows from his European F3 days.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Meet the 2019 Red Bull Junior Team

While Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have grabbed the headlines this summer, there’s more to the Red Bull driver programme than just their Formula 1 stable. We take a look at each of their upcoming young talents, from karting all the way to the F1 feeder series’.

Juri Vips

Juri Vips celebrating victory at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Juri Vips is perhaps the closest Red Bull junior to Formula One right now. The 19-year-old Estonian joined the programme ahead of last year’s Macau Grand Prix, after becoming an F4 champion in 2017 and finishing fourth in the 2018 European F3 series. He is currently driving for Hitech in FIA F3, and is running second with two victories to his name.

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio OWard racing Super Formula at Motegi (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull’s newest signing is Patricio O’Ward, winner of the 2017 WeatherTech Sportscar and 2018 Indy Lights championships. O’Ward has had a mixed 2019 so far, racing a part-time IndyCar entry with Carlin after losing his initial Harding Steinbrenner Racing drive due to sponsorship issues. With Red Bull backing he has since made appearances in F2 for MP Motorsport and Super Formula with Team Mugen.

Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda driving for Jenzer at the Hungaroring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

2018 Japanese F4 champion Yuki Tsunoda joined the Red Bull programme through his links with the Honda Formula Dream Project. Red Bull currently has the 19-year-old racing on the F1 support bill in FIA F3 with Jenzer Motorsport. Tsunoda is also driving for Team Motopark in the Euroformula Open series, where he is running fourth in the standings with one win.

Lucas Auer

Lucas Auer on his way to third at SUGO (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

24-year-old Austrian Lucas Auer is another one of Red Bull’s new 2019 signings. Auer has flirted with the pinnacle of motorsport already, having challenged for titles in Formula 3 and DTM and tested Force India’s F1 car in 2017. He has joined O’Ward in Super Formula for this year, and took his first podium of the series at Sportsland SUGO.

Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson in the FIA F3 paddock (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

New Zealander Liam Lawson joined Red Bull this year just a few days after his 17th birthday—and after securing the Toyota Racing Series title over Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong. Lawson has continued to race Armstrong in FIA F3 this year, driving for MP Motorsport. He is also placed third in Euroformula Open with two victories to his name.

Jack Doohan

Jack Doohan at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Jack Doohan has joined fellow Red Bull juniors Lawson and Tsunoda in this year’s Euroformula Open Championship. He is currently seventh in the standings with two second places and six other points finishes. Doohan has also taken multiple victories driving for Hitech in Asian F3 this year.

Dennis Hauger

Dennis Hauger celebrating victory in ADAC F4 (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

After a successful Formula 4 debut last year, Red Bull has rewarded 16-year-old Dennis Hauger with a dual programme in Italian F4 and ADAC F4 for 2019. Driving for Van Amersfoort Racing in both series’, the Norwegian driver has taken six wins and seven pole positions altogether this year and is currently second in the Italian standings.

Jonny Edgar

Jonny Edgar driving in the Italian F4 Championship (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

15-year-old British driver Jonny Edgar has stepped up to his first season of racing cars this year, driving for Jenzer Motorsport in the Italian F4 Championship. He is currently 13th in the standings after six points finishes, the best of which so far is a fifth place at the Hungaroring. Like Hauger, he is also entered in the ADAC F4 series.

Harry Thompson

Harry Thompson in the 2018 WSK Final Cup (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Having only turned 15 earlier this month, Harry Thompson is the youngest current member of the Red Bull Junior Team. After being named FIA Karting Rookie of the Year in 2018, Thompson is continuing his karting career this year in both European and British championships.

Hubert hooks up Monaco F2 sprint win

Anthoine Hubert became the first rookie of F2’s field to snatch victory in the 2019 championship, but was made to work for it on the tricky streets of Monaco by Louis Deletraz, who set up a nail-biting photo finish. Guanyu Zhou rounded off the podium and made it a day to remember for a pair of Renault junior drivers.

Hubert started the race much as he finished it, competent but under pressure. The same can’t be said of Mahaveer Raghunathan, who cut across the pit lane exit and gained four places, only to (quite deservedly) be given a 10-second time penalty. Zhou, meanwhile, went around the outside of Artem Markelov for third, and Ralph Boschung worked his way up into P7.

Luca Ghiotto caused the first accident of the day, making contact with the sidepod of Tatiana Calderon at Mirabeau and sending the Colombian into the wall. After the stricken Arden was removed from the track, Ghiotto too found his day ruined when he crashed with Raghunathan into Loews corner, ending both their races.

Boschung was forced into retirement shortly after, while Nobuharu Matsushita climbed to 9th and feature race winner Nyck De Vries into P6. Sean Gelael added a large dose of spice to proceedings with a forceful double-punt on Giuliano Alesi, the second contact forcing the Italian out of the race.

The front four drivers began to pull away from fifth-place Dorian Boccolacci, to the tune of over ten seconds, while Deletraz continued to hound and press Hubert into a possible mistake up front. The chance would ultimately not come, however close he made it across the line – Hubert was on the right side of a photo finish and recorded his maiden F2 win.

Nicholas Latifi just managed to cling on to his title lead by a point from De Vries, with the fastest lap putting him on 95 points. Ghiotto finds himself third on 67 points, while Jack Aitken and Guanyu Zhou have 62 and 54 respectively. DAMS leads the teams’ table with 147 points, while Virtuosi Racing remain second on 121 points.

 

[Featured image courtesy of Joe Portlock/FIA F2]

Aitken survives the carnage in Baku’s feature race

Struck with the same fever that’s become all too typical of Baku, the carnage we all bay for was present in the F2 feature race. Jack Aitken was the one to prevail amidst a tornado of carnage. Nyck De Vries and Jordan King joined him on the podium, a product of their experienced heads.

Chaos was an ever-present, even from the start. Mick Schumacher steamed into Turn 1 with an unfruitful late-braking move, and Giuliano Alesi hit his Trident teammate Ralph Boschung, bringing a permanent end to Alesi’s race and badly compromising Boschung.

The start of the 2019 Formula 2 feature race at Baku. Image courtesy of FiaFormula2

A safety car was brought out, which allowed De Vries to cement a lead he had taken from experienced driver Nobuharu Matsushita and gave him hope he would be the one to prevail among the carnage.

De Vries was in fine form after the restart, building up a six-second lead on the pack, but Matsushita’s car gave up on him and left the Japanese driver with scant reward for his fine qualifying performance.

Not long after, the pitstops started to come to the fore, with Tatiana Calderon the only one to stay out and attempt the alternate strategy – the same move in Bahrain a month prior worked to her advantage.

De Vries suffered a slow stop, and although it could have been much worse, the fact it allowed Aitken to get a run on him and pass into Turn 2 was a bitter blow. He also fell behind Nicolas Latifi, but that didn’t last long – he was soon back past the title contender.

The second restart, after Schumacher dropped his Prema out of Turn 16 and into retirement, was where the real carnage happened. Sergio Sette Camara was sent into a spin by Luca Ghiotto as the cars were weaving, while Louis Deletraz bashed into the wall as a result of avoiding contact, with Aitken bunching up the field until the last possible metre of track.

Jack Aitken, winner of the Formula F2, Baku 2019 race. Image courtesy of FiaFormula2

This kept the safety car out for another two laps, and when it did finally pull in Anthoine Hubert took to the Turn 1 escape road and lost his shot at big points, while Mahaveer Raghunathan was unable to hold on to tenth due to the Frenchman reeling him in, to the tune of 5 seconds a lap.

Other retirements were Calderon and Callum Ilott, and notable points finishers were Sean Gelael, who recovered well after his qualifying exclusion, Juan Manuel Correa, and Latifi, coming in sixth, seventh and fourth respectively after penalties.

Mick Schumacher to make F1 test debut in Bahrain

Mick Schumacher will drive for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in the upcoming in-season test in Bahrain, after this weekend’s Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit.

Joe Portlock / FIA F2 Championship

The 19-year-old son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher will compete in the F2 championship this season, with the Prema team.

His career started in karting in 2011, where he did not race under his real surname, and he had the nickname ‘Mick Junior’.

Schumacher moved to the ADAC Formula 4 championship, in 2015, after testing the single-seater in 2014. His tenure with the Jenzer Motorsport outfit saw him take one win in 22 races, and 10th in the drivers’ standings.

In 2017, Mick made the next step in his career, driving in European Formula 3, with Prema. After a sub-par season, claiming just one podium, Schumacher pushed through and, in 2018, he drove phenomenally, clinching the title with 8 wins and 7 pole positions.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Late in 2018, it was announced that he will graduate to the F2 championship with Prema, and early in 2019 Scuderia Ferrari took him under its wing, adding him to its Young Driver Academy.

This gives him the opportunity to drive Ferrari’s SF90 and Alfa Romeo’s C38 next week, in the young drivers’ test in Bahrain.

That will be the first time the Schumacher name will appear in an F1 session since his father’s retirement at the end of 2012.