F2 Italy: Aitken wins sprint race as De Vries extends title lead

Renault development driver Jack Aitken took his third win of the 2019 Formula 2 season in the Monza sprint race, while Nyck de Vries took another podium to extend his title lead.

Aitken started from reverse grid pole ahead of Giuliano Alesi and Jordan King and got away well from the line to hold the lead into Turn 1. Behind him King moved up to second, while Callum Ilott overtook a slow starting Sergio Sette Camara for fourth.

Sette Camara was then hit from behind by Luca Ghiotto into Turn 1, with the Italian damaging his front wing in the process.

King kept with Aitken throughout the opening laps, staying generally within a second of the Campos driver. With the tow helping King to close up on the straights, Aitken began weaving before the braking zones to try and drop King from his slipstream.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

On lap 7 King made a successful move for the lead, passing Aitken into the Rettifilo. Aitken tried to fight back at the Roggia chicane on the same lap but was forced wide, although on lap 9 Aitken repayed the favour by passing King into Turn 1.

As Aitken and King continued to battle throughout the lap, Ilott closed up behind them, having previously passed Alesi for third on lap 5.

On lap 11 the fight for the lead came to a head as King dove to the inside of Roggia. Aitken was forced to cut the chicane, but rejoined the track still in the lead as King missed the apex himself and surrendered second place to Ilott.

As was the case with King, Ilott then stayed with Aitken but was unable to get close enough for a move as Aitken continued weaving to break the tow. However, on lap 19 race control showed Aitken the black and white driving standards flag and ordered him to stop changing direction into the braking zones.

On the final lap, Ilott was finally able to draw close enough to challenge Aitken into Turn 1, but a massive lock up sent the Ferrari junior down the escape road and spinning out of the race. With Ilott out, Aitken took the chequered flag at the end of the lap with two seconds in hand over King.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

After charging to the feature race podium yesterday, championship leader Nyck de Vries took another strong result in the sprint race to boost his title lead yet further.

De Vries made steady progress in the first half of the race, moving up from sixth on the grid to follow closely behind the leading trio of Aitken, Ilott and King by lap 11. His hard work was almost undone on lap 18 when a lock up at Turn 1 dropped him behind Nobuharu Matsushita, but a 5-second time penalty for Matsushita ensured De Vries would finish ahead to inherit third place when Ilott span out.

De Vries also benefited from his main title rivals both enduring disappointing finishes outside the points. Nicholas Latifi, who spun on his way to the grid before the race, struggled for pace throughout and finished in tenth.

And after making contact with Sette Camara on the opening lap, Ghiotto hit the DAMS driver again on lap 7 and not only dislodged his front wing entirely but also gave Sette Camara a race-ending puncture which brought out a brief Virtual Safety Car. Ghiotto remained in the race, but finished last of all in 15th place.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Matsushita’s penalty dropped him to fifth in the end, behind Guanyu Zhou who started from the back of the grid after retiring from the feature race. Mick Schumacher finished sixth and gained an extra two points for the fastest lap, Alesi finished seventh, and Louis Deletraz took the final point in eighth.

After finishing third in both races of the weekend, De Vries leaves Monza with a 59-point advantage over Latifi, who in turn is only 11 points clear of Ghiotto. There are 96 points remaining over the final two rounds of the season.

Aitken’s sprint race win elevates him to fourth place in the standings, two points behind Ghiotto and two ahead of Sette Camara. Matsushita has overtaken Zhou for sixth following his feature race win on Saturday.

Anthoine Hubert: 1996–2019

BWT Arden and Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert has passed away at the age of 22 following a horrific crash during the F2 feature race in Belgium.

Hubert was caught up in an incident on the second lap of the race, triggered by Giuliano Alesi running wide and losing control at the top of Eau Rouge. After making contact with Alesi and the barriers, Hubert’s car was then struck at high speed by Juan Manuel Correa and sustained severe damage.

The FIA confirmed shortly afterwards in a statement on its website that Hubert had succumbed to his injuries and passed away at 18:35 local time. The FIA also said that Correa is currently in a stable situation and undergoing treatment at hospital, and that Alesi has been declared fit and released from the track medical centre.

Campos driver Marino Sato was also caught up in the incident, and fortunately was able to walk away. The F2 feature race was immediately suspended and will not be rerun.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Hubert had established himself as one of the leading figures in Formula 2 during his debut this season, taking two sprint race wins in Monaco and France alongside seven other points finishes. Supported by the Renault Sport Academy, he was in line for a top drive with either DAMS or ART next year.

Hubert began his racing career in karts at the age of twelve, and finished third in the 2011 and 2012 U18 CIK-FIA World Karting Championships. In 2013 he made his car-racing debut in the French F4 championship, which he won at his first attempt before stepping up to Formula Renault for the following year. In 2016, Hubert graduated to European Formula 3 and won his first race in the series at the Norisring.

For 2017 Hubert joined ART Grand Prix in the GP3 championship, and was an instant star. He took his first podium (second place) at the third round at Silverstone, and went on to claim a further three podiums at the Hungaroring, Monza and Jerez to finish the year fourth in the standings.

Remaining with ART for 2018, Hubert built on his debut season to conduct an impressive championship campaign. Two consecutive podiums at the opening round in Spain led to his first GP3 victory on home soil at Paul Ricard. Hubert then converted pole at Silverstone into his second feature race win, and went on a run of five podium finishes across Hungary, Belgium and Italy. Two further podiums in Russia and Abu Dhabi sealed the 2018 GP3 title for Hubert by 16 points over teammate Nikita Mazepin.

Anthoine Hubert was one of the leading lights of the junior categories and will be sorely missed in the Grand Prix paddock. ThePitCrewOnline extends its deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

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.

ThePitCrewOnline Exclusive: Ilott discusses teammate bond, jump to F2 and what lies ahead

Callum Ilott may have had a torrid time in the Monaco sprint race, forced into a retirement before the lights went out where he was set to start in P2, but he was still in high enough hopes to look forward to the next F2 race in Paul Ricard, while answering a few other questions.

Ilott is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and as such there have been questions as to the pressure that can put on a young driver. Ilott insisted it has instead been a positive boost: ‘Not really, I’d say more of a support mechanism because they prepare you well in all aspects, not just the driving, so I’d say that’s a confidence boost going into whatever you’re doing.

‘If there’s a problem, you work together to find a solution. There’s always pressure to perform, but I put as much pressure on myself as they do on the outside, so it doesn’t change much, I want to get as far in motorsport as possible and do as well as I can, and I don’t think anyone’s going to push me harder than myself to do that, so that’s the most pressure I receive and they’re there to help, to push me to help to improve me’

Ilott then talked about the differences the new F2 cars have, compared to the outgoing F3 machinery he’d driven in the past. ‘Firstly, 260hp for the old F3 car compared to around 600 for the F2 car, so quite a big step up from that, but I think the new F2 car is over 100 kilos heavier than the old F3 car, so that makes a difference in how it behaves and how agile it is.

‘The old F3 car had a lot of downforce, for the size of the car, I also think the Pirelli tyre’s a different tyre all round, they’re quite soft, so there’s a bit more grip from the tyre on a quali lap on an F2 car than the F3 car, but also when you’re doing the races in an F3 car you’re pushing 99, 100% all the time whereas in an F2 car you’ve gotta manage the tyres.

Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media
Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media

‘It’s different, the F3 car was always very lively, you had so many laps to get it as close to the edge as possible, whereas the F2 car, in quali you normally get 2, 3 laps maximum, which makes it quite hard to get into a rhythm, you just have to go out and nail it.

‘In the race, I would say the F2 is easier to overtake, which again is quite fun, but F3, if you were to make an overtake it had to be a proper one ─l to get past. It’s different for different reasons. I think I learned a lot from my F3 days, because 3 years of 30 races a year plus Macau, making it 32 plus testing you’re able to do in the winter. I got a lot of track time doing that, and a lot of laps at the limit which is good and prepared me for the rest.

Finally, when asked about his relationship with Charouz Sauber Junior Team teammate Juan Manuel Correa, Illot glowed about their productive and harmonic partnership. ‘It seems all good, we’ve both had our areas to work on and improve and we’re getting there. I’ve made a big rate of progression from the beginning of the season. We’re getting on really well, having a lot of fun, and it’s important because once you go up the teams are getting smaller, with F4 maybe having three teammates, F3 having another two and F2 having one.

‘It’s harder to have a good relationship with someone [in lower series], but we get along well and have a good laugh, and work to improve as a team when we need to, and work individually when we don’t.

‘A good result, I think the place I want to have a good race in is the feature race, I think Monaco was easily the place we could’ve done it after qualifying, so big shame for that, but these things happen, so make up for that at Paul Ricard. It’s quite a tough track in its own way, the last sector becomes very complex, it’s easy to lose tyres, in GP3 I should’ve been pole there, but I messed up at the last sector big time. It’s a track where I know I can be quick, the team went well there last year, so we’ll see what we can do, but we just need to make up a little bit for the points we’ve lost’

ThePitCrewOnline Exclusive: Juan Manuel Correa on the move to Europe, F2 and close racing

Juan Manuel Correa has found himself to be one of the star rookies in F2 this season, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. From settling into the European racing scene (and way of life), to his hopes for the current season and his highlights so far, Correa opens up about his experiences in the junior category.

Correa moved to Europe as a teenager, to finish his junior career in the European open-wheel scene. It was a big transition, I can’t say I’m still transitioning because I’ve been in Europe for the last five years, but it’s definitely a big transition, and a tougher one than most people can imagine, there’s been very few drivers who can make the switch, and be successful in both parts of the world.

‘It’s a mix between the level, I find it to be much higher over here in Europe. But in the lifestyle, the big change, not only your professional life but your social life. That was probably the hardest thing for me to get used to, living alone here in Europe, different culture than the US, it took me two or three years before I really felt comfortable in Europe. Now I feel much more at home, obviously I still consider Miami my real home but I feel good, that’s not an issue any more for me.

When asked about his aims for the rest of the F2 season, namely the championship, Correa expressed that was never expected to be in the script. ‘I would say my main objective is not to catch them in the championship, that’s not our objective. What I do still feel we can catch them in is results, if we come to the last three, four races of the year, and we’re able to fight with them on track for a position that’s really the goal, we should be very proud of it. It was obvious that these people would be fighting for the championship before the season started.

Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media
Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media

‘Some people have 3, 4, even 5 seasons of experience in this category, so it’s not realistic to fight with them in the championship, especially seeing now how strong of a start they’ve had, I’m not really looking at that. Is it possible? Anything’s possible, but that’s not even my aim right now.

Correa feels as though Charouz’s performance can be strong in Paul Ricard. ‘I would say yes, and not only at Paul Ricard, I think we’re missing some pieces to the puzzle, but once we sort that, like qualifying, we will be fighting for podiums for the rest of the season. Baku wasn’t a one-off thing, we’ve seen in Barcelona if I didn’t have the issue in the first race we would’ve been fighting for a top-eight finish, Monaco if I hadn’t had the crash I would have probably finished 5th or 6th, so it’s not like we’re having one-off performances, we just have to polish things during the weekend.

‘At the moment that is my priority, it’s a bit strange actually because we always have good race pace, free practice pace, but we struggle in the qualifying, whereas Callum doesn’t so at least we have him as a good reference, which definitely helps, but we need to get that sorted, and then the whole weekend becomes so much easier. You don’t need to risk on strategy on Race One, it becomes a lot smoother if you’re at the front.

On a lighter note, Correa ended with naming his favourite race battles so far. ‘That’s a tough one! I’ve had a lot of wheel-to-wheel action in all of the weekends, but I’d probably say now in Monaco, Race Two, that was a good one, I had a lot of fun that race, felt really good with the car, also Baku Race Two, defending so much the whole race was quite a handful but I would choose Monaco Race Two, that was a lot of fun.

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

Ilott given Barcelona F1 test debut with Alfa Romeo

Ferrari academy driver Callum Ilott will make his Formula One test debut in May with Alfa Romeo, at the in-season test following the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ilott will complete a day of running in the Alfa Romeo C38, and will be Ferrari’s second junior to get an F1 testing opportunity with the Swiss team following Mick Schumacher’s test debut in Bahrain next week. The Barcelona test will mark Ilott’s first on-track experience driving a F1 car.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur said: “We are very pleased to announce that Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott will each complete a rookie test day for Alfa Romeo Racing.

“It is in our DNA to spot and nurture young talents. Mick and Callum are perfect examples of determined and skilled racers who deserve to be given the chance to take the next steps in their careers.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto added that opportunities for F1 test experience for Ilott and Schumacher would be “very useful at this stage in their career”. Ilott tweeted that it was a “really proud moment” to be selected by Alfa Romeo.

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

F2 Bahrain: Norris takes an early championship lead while Markelov steals the show

The 2018 Formula 2 championship kicked off in Bahrain this weekend, with a typically dramatic pair of races, giving us an insight into the brand new car and engine introduced this season, and our first chance to see how the 2018 grid stacks up against one another.

In a turn of events that was unsurprising to some, but impressive nonetheless, F3 champion Lando Norris bagged pole position in only his second round of F2. He narrowly beat fellow Brit and reigning GP3 champion George Russell, who edged out DAMS driver Alexander Albon who lined up third on the grid. Albon was only confirmed for the single round in Bahrain in a seemingly last minute deal, but his impressive performance out-qualifying his more experienced teammate by over half a second surely warrants another chance. Albon’s teammate Canadian Nicholas Latifi was not the only experienced driver who had failed to put together a complete lap in Friday qualifying, title favourite and last year’s runner-up Artem Markelov could only do as well as seventeenth.

Markelov’s weekend would only go from bad to worse when he lined up on the grid for the feature race on Saturday only to stall and be forced to start from the pit lane. He wasn’t the only one, with ex-Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi also stalling, the first of several cases which prove that these new F2 cars are not the easiest machinery to get off the line.

Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images

It was a dream start for Lando Norris with some lightning quick reactions to get himself off the line, something which he will take a lot of confidence in given the starts were one of his few weaknesses during his 2017 F3 campaign. By contrast, Russell was slow to get moving and even impeded Prema driver Nyck de Vries who was starting behind him. It was not the start he needed if he wanted to get one back against Norris. Albon also found trouble in getting his car moving, and the two of them lost several places in the opening seconds of the race.

For Norris, from there it was a maturely handled race. His only hitch was a slow pit stop, but he had built himself a comfortable lead, so was able to retain this despite the hiccup. When the inevitable tyre degradation kicked in, as it always does around this track in the searing desert heat, he had enough of a cushion to be able to ease off slightly and bring his Carlin home safely. The dominant fashion in which he controlled the race was very reminiscent of some of current champion Charles Leclerc’s victories from last year.

Behind him was a much more chaotic story. While it was Norris’ race to control, it was Markelov’s show to steal. Despite starting from the very back of the field he used his uncanny ability to manage his tyres to pull off a whole host of his usual opportunistic overtakes. The rest of the grid wouldn’t let him make it look easy however, and some of the newer arrivals proved that they could fight just as hard. There was a thrilling moment when the Russian driver, Maximilian Günther and Jack Aitken attempted to go three wide into turn 1. But it was Markelov who bested them all in the end, fighting through almost the whole field to finish a fantastic third place.

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After his poor start George Russell and ART attempted an undercut to gain some time back, and he did manage to finish in fifth in the end, but the tyre degradation was too great for him to gain any significant time back. This was the drawback of the Mercedes junior driver attempting to stop so early. The Pirelli tyres run in Formula 2 are notoriously high degradation, especially on a track like Bahrain, and therefore usually difficult for rookie drivers to adapt to. It will not have been the result Russell was hoping for, especially after making his championship ambitions abundantly clear.

Carlin, a team returning after a year out in 2017, had one of the best results of the race. Alongside Norris’ win, Sergio Sette Câmara brought home a second place finish for the British team, giving them an impressive one-two on their return to the sport. The Brazilian driver was initially overtaken by de Vries in the early stages of the race, but ultimately managed to gain second place back. Where he really proved his worth was in his end of race scrap with Markelov as he fought to defend his second place from the charging Russian. They fought until the very last lap, but clever and aggressive defending was enough to for Câmara to maintain his position.

Albon managed to recover after his poor start and intermittent DRS problems to a respectable fourth place, followed by Russell, and de Vries in sixth who could not find a way to manage his degrading tyres. Sean Gelael, a much criticised and controversial driver, proved his stock by making a very impressive recovery from only qualifying nineteenth to finish seventh. It was rookie Maximilian Günther who finished in eighth to claim reverse grid pole for Sunday’s sprint race, while Jack Aitken and Ralph Boschung took the last points paying positions.

In Sunday’s sprint race, there was yet more drama at the very beginning of the race. Gelael, with the potential for a solid result from his starting position of P2 stalled on the formation lap and was forced to start from the pit lane. There was just more trouble to come. Upon the race start three cars stalled again, failing to get off the grid entirely and they were pushed to the pit lane where they could join the race, albeit a way behind the pack. Two of the stallers were ART pair George Russell and Jack Aitken, with Haas junior driver Santino Ferrucci also failing to get away. Impressively, the other cars managed to avoid the stationary vehicles and everyone got away unscathed.

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The best start in this race was bagged by Nyck de Vries who was starting from third. He overtook pole sitter Günther to claim the lead of the race, while the young German was also overtaken by Markelov who had a storming start from sixth on the grid, the Carlin pair following him to slot into fourth and fifth.

Everyone’s eyes were on tyre degradation throughout the 23 lap race. All drivers had started on the medium tyres, which in theory have long lasting wear. But ever year Formula 2 comes to Bahrain even the most experienced drivers find it difficult to make them last well. Many had speculated whether any of the drivers would attempt to do what Charles Leclerc did last year in the sprint race but taking an unprecedented pit stop and using his fresher tyres to fight back to claim victory. A pit stop is not mandatory in a sprint race, and at almost any circuit other than Bahrain it would not even be considered during a sprint race. But Leclerc had proven last year that it could have its advantages.

In the end it was Prema who attempted to repeat their exploits of the previous year when they pitted de Vries from the lead on lap nine. He had a sizeable lead of around three seconds, but it was very early in the race to expect him to make his new tyres last until the end. It could be argued that it was not a gamble for the win, but an attempt at damage control, as de Vries is not famed for strong tyre management.

His stop meant that Markelov inherited the lead of the race, Günther moved up into second and Câmara took third. Câmara was under pressure from his teammate Norris for some time, but an engine misfire midway through the race sent the Mclaren reserve driver tumbling back a handful of places, and most likely cost him a potential podium. The best the youngest driver on the grid could do was fourth place.

De Vries was rapid after his switch onto softer tyres, and for a while it looked as though he might be able to recover to the podium. But as the laps wore on, his tyres began to degrade again. He still managed to finish in fifth, which is arguably better than he would have done had he not pitted.

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Ahead of him Markelov once again deployed his tyre management skills to hold a lead over Günther who was being put under pressure from the Carlin pair. The Arden driver was struggling to work out how to best manage his tyres, expected perhaps after he made the switch from Formula 3 where drivers are able to push their tyres a lot harder with a lot less degradation. But he showed great composure in holding off both Câmara and Norris, and by the end of the race he was even able to close the gap to Markelov in front.

Behind the Carlin pair and de Vries in fifth, Luca Ghiotto made a quiet recovery from twelfth to finish sixth, while Ralph Boschung rounded off a solid double points scoring weekend by finishing seventh. Rookie and Honda junior driver Nirei Fukuzumi claimed the last point in eighth place.

Norris leaves Bahrain as championship leader, and it was undoubtedly a dream start for the young Brit, as he certainly seemed to have the edge over many of the other rookies. At the moment it seems as though Markelov, who provided most of the thrills of the weekend, is his closest competitor. This should be expected from a driver entering his fifth season at this level, but that is not to take away from the skill and speed he displayed this weekend. Günther is perhaps a surprise as the second rookie in the standings at the moment, taking the points over higher rated drivers like Russell, Aitken and Haas junior driver Arjun Maini. But his rivals would do well to remember that he was more than capable of taking the fight to Norris on his day during Formula 3 last year.

Bahrain is a difficult track to open the season on, especially for those unused to the Pirelli tyres. And it is clear that teams are still trying to work out how to optimise the performance in these new cars, particularly in terms of start procedure. But after a calendar reshuffle this year, the next challenge Formula 2 faces are the streets of the Baku City Circuit, no mean feat given the utter madness it usually delivers.