F2 Sochi: Piastri wins feature and extends championship lead

Oscar Piastri won the Sochi Formula 2 feature race with a dominant performance over Theo Pourchaire who finished second. Jehan Daruvala rounded out the podium with the rest of the top four in the championship standings finishing one behind the other in fourth, fifth and sixth, setting up a tight fight in the final leg of the championship.

The feature race was only the second of this unusual weekend. After a huge crash in the sprint race yesterday Felipe Drugovich was declared unfit for this race. He is OK but the chief medical officer was not happy for him to compete in the race today.

Piastri had the best start of anyone, pulling out a gap immediately on Daruvala who bogged down off the line and lost two places down into fourth. The virtual safety car came out before the end of lap 1 with contact between Bent Viscaal and Roy Nissany in Turn 3 leaving Viscaal’s car stranded. Nissany was given a 5 second time penalty for his part which he served during his pitstop.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

As Juri Vips came into the pits he suffered a problem and on the way out couldn’t get it resolved. This meant he had to stop on track but managed to park in a good place and no flags were needed. This brought in the first of the mandatory pitstops early on lap 8 for Daruvala and Robert Shwartzman. Both had quick stops but with a lot of traffic in the pit lane they struggled to get out of the box.

Piastri pitted just one lap later leaving Pourchaire, Guanyu Zhou and Dan Ticktum at the front of the pack. A radio message from Ticktum to say ‘let me chase him’ as he was only a couple of tenths off Zhou. Importantly, he made a great move on track around Turn 6 and then came out in front once they went in for tyres.

With warmer tyres, Piastri manage to get past Pourchaire who had come out from the pitstops in front. However, once Pourchaire’s tyres were warmed up he was on a charge, consistently getting fastest laps in an attempt to get back to the top. On lap 15 both drivers were behind Nissany on the alternative strategy. Piastri got past quickly, but Pourchaire took an extra lap, which meant that Piastri open up a gap on Pourchaire.

With work to do, Daruvala was closing the gap on Ralph Boschung in the last 8 laps. By lap 23 Boschung was feeling the pressure and had a huge left front lock up down the back straight, sending him wide and allowing Daruvala to make an easy move back into third.

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Boschung lost out again with no grip left as Shwartzman took advantage of the mistake and dropped Boschung down to fifth. Just three laps later that lock up came back to bite Boschung. The tyre began to fall apart, and a puncture meant he had to retire from the race with just two laps left.

Importantly for the championship Ticktum was able to keep Zhou behind him, despite only a three tenth gap between them for several laps, and they finished fifth and sixth respectively. However, championship leader Piastri extended his lead with a dominant win. Pourchaire finished with a strong performance in P2 and Daruvala made up for his poor start, finishing on the final step of the podium.

For the championship, Shwartzman finished in fourth, gaining points on Ticktum and Zhou but still significantly behind Piastri. Pourchaire with that second is now just nine points behind Shwartzman in the standings in fifth.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA F2)

F3 Sochi: Doohan seals Trident teams’ title with contentious feature win

Jack Doohan took his fourth win of the season in the Sochi feature race and helped Trident to snatch the Formula 3 teams’ championship away from Prema, albeit by ignoring team orders in his battle with Clement Novalak.

Doohan and Novalak started alongside each other on the front row, and although Novalak got a quick launch to challenge Doohan into Turn 2, Doohan was able to hold his lead from pole position. Behind them Jonathan Hoggard kept third place while Frederik Vesti dropped from fourth to sixth behind Juan Manuel Correa and Lorenzo Colombo.

Vesti soon took those places back however, repassing Colombo by the end of the first lap and Correa on lap 3. On lap 5 he then caught and passed Hoggard’s Jenzer to bring himself up into the podium positions with just over three seconds separating him from the Tridents out front.

Jonathan Hoggard, Jenzer (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Colombo and Correa continued to fall back through the field after those opening laps. Colombo dropped to ninth place after running wide while being passed by Vesti, and was then bumped out of the points altogether by Oliver Rasmussen by the end of lap 1. Meanwhile Correa lost fifth and sixth to Logan Sargeant and Jak Crawford, although he managed to hold seventh by seeing off the new F3 champion Dennis Hauger.

Hauger continued to pressure Correa for seventh, closely pursued himself by Victor Martins. Their battle came to a head on lap 7 as the three of them ran side by side through Turn 7. Correa came out ahead as Martins ran wide, but Hauger was spun around by Rasmussen who tried to take advantage of the melee.

Hauger dropped to the back of the field while Rasmussen and Martins both ended up outside the points. Arthur Leclerc benefited from the incident to sneak through and take seventh from Correa, while Ayumu Iwasa and Alex Smolyar were promoted into the points.

Arthur Leclerc, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

At the front of the field Doohan and Novalak were separated by just a few tenths of a second as they fought for the lead. Novalak set the pace early on with the fastest lap and ran just two tenths behind Doohan by lap 7. On lap 9 Novalak tried a move around the outside of Turn 2 for the lead, but he ran deep into the corner and was forced to slot back into second.

While Doohan and Novalak battled, Vesti was closing in fast on the pair of them. By lap 10 he’d halved his gap to 1.5 seconds behind the Tridents, while Novalak was being visibly held up by Doohan who was sliding through the hard right-handers.

With Vesti coming up fast behind them and the team needing to protect the win to take the teams’ title, Trident instructed Doohan to let Novalak through as he appeared to be the faster driver. But unsurprisingly with a win on the line Doohan didn’t let his teammate past, even though that allowed Vesti to close to just half a second by lap 15.

Trident were spared some anxiety a lap later when Vesti ran wide and dropped out of DRS range of Novalak. But Doohan also ran wide on the same lap which gave Novalak a run on his teammate down the straight at the start of lap 17. Novalak initially got ahead through Turn 2, but Doohan used the corner to set up the inside line into Turn 3 and retake the lead.

Clement Novalak, Trident (Rudy Carezzevoli, Getty Images / FIA F3)

To make matters worse for Novalak he then lost grip in Doohan’s wake and not only dropped out of DRS range of Doohan, but into Vesti’s clutches. Vesti was just a tenth behind Novalak heading through the middle sector while Novalak was warned about weaving in his defence.

When they got to the DRS straight out of Turn 10 Vesti had little trouble pulling alongside and passing Novalak for second. But despite his earlier speed, Vesti’s brief but close battle with Novalak had given Doohan the opportunity to open up a slight lead with two laps remaining, and he ended up crossing the line with two seconds in hand.

Vesti held onto second while Novalak completed the podium in third, but despite losing the 1–2 Trident were still able to take the teams’ title by six points from Prema. Sargeant completed a quiet race in fourth ahead of Crawford and Hoggard, while Leclerc finished seventh and Martins, Iwasa and Olli Caldwell rounded out the points.

Winning the race meant that Doohan keeps his second place in the championship, while Novalak finishes the season in third place ahead of Vesti and Martins.

Frederik Vesti, ART (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA F3)

F2 Sochi: Ticktum dominates sprint race in tricky damp conditions

Dan Ticktum took his second win of the season in the Sochi F2 sprint race, surviving the difficult conditions while drivers behind him fell afoul of the damp track in an assortment of incidents.

The race got off to a dramatic start before the grid had even formed, as first Guanyu Zhou spun on the lap to the grid and stalled his engine, then his teammate Felipe Drugovich spun into the wall and wrecked his car. As a result neither UNI-Virtuosi was able to take the race start.

With the track still wet in places the race began with a rolling start after two formation laps behind the safety car. Ticktum made the most of that rolling start to get a good gap over second-placed Juri Vips across the line, while Christian Lundgaard was the only driver in the field able to pull off a lap 1 overtake as he passed Marcus Armstrong for tenth.

Although Ticktum got the jump on Vips at the start, Vips responded through the opening lap to be just two tenths behind the Carlin at the start of lap 2. But Ticktum then put in his own answer with a fastest lap to open the gap up again, which began a game of trading lap times between the two of them.

Just a few tenths behind Ticktum and Vips, Liam Lawson was defending third place from Robert Shwartzman. Shwartzman appeared to have the better pace than Lawson and looked at a move out of Turn 3 on lap 3, but with the track still wet outside the racing line he couldn’t get alongside the Hitech. Shwartzman then ran wide through Turn 18 and lost several tenths to Lawson.

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

On lap 4 Bent Viscaal spun out at the Turn 15/16 chicane and brought out the Virtual Safety Car. When it was withdrawn on lap 6 Oscar Piastri tried to overtake Jehan Daruvala for eighth place, but he immediately lost tyre temperature when he moved out to the wetter part of the track and instead fell to 12th behind Lundgaard, Armstrong and Richard Verschoor.

The VSC then made an immediate reappearance when Lawson, lacking brake temperature from the first VSC, couldn’t get his car stopped heading into Turn 13 and damaged his left rear suspension on the exit wall. With Lawson out, Shwartzman moved up to third place ahead of Jake Hughes, Ralph Boschung, Theo Pourchaire and Daruvala.

Once again, the VSC restart caught out several drivers. Shwartzman ran wide through Turn 10 with cold tyres and was passed down the straight by Hughes, although Shwartzman was able to regroup and take back third into Turn 13. Meanwhile Boschung was slow to react and was passed by both Daruvala and Pourchaire, with Daruvala coming out on top in fifth.

Daruvala then set the fastest lap shortly after and joined the battle for third at just half a tenth off Hughes and Shwartzman. But despite his speed he also couldn’t find a way past, and on lap 15 Daruvala then spun at Turn 15 and dropped all the way down to 12th place.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Back at the front Ticktum had come out best over Vips in both of the VSC restarts and had a four-second lead by the start of lap 10. Vips started to come back at the Carlin with a series of fastest laps and brought the gap down to 2.5 seconds by lap 13.

But Vips also ran wide several times as he struggled to keep temperature in his brakes and tyres, and so he was never able to get on the back of Ticktum. He managed to close to within two seconds on lap 16, but with only two laps remaining there wasn’t enough time to challenge for the lead.

After Vips had a few more offs in the final laps, Ticktum crossed the line to take victory with 4.5 seconds in hand over the Hitech while Shwartzman finished third.

Hughes took his first F2 points with fourth place ahead of Pourchaire, who also recorded the fastest lap late on for an extra two points. Boschung survived a pair of lockups late in the race to finish in sixth place over Lundgaard, and Verschoor come home in eighth to deny Piastri the final point.

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

F3 Sochi: Hauger seals title at first chance as Sargeant wins Race 1

Dennis Hauger clinched the 2021 Formula 3 title with a podium finish in the opening Sochi sprint race, which was won by Logan Sargeant for his first victory of the season and Charouz Racing System’s first victory in the series.

Sargeant started the race from second on the reverse grid alongside Victor Martins but seized the lead around the outside of Turn 2. Meanwhile Hauger tried to take third place from Jak Crawford, but after backing out he was forced to defend against Caio Collet in fifth and Alex Smolyar in sixth instead.

But although Hauger’s start didn’t go to plan, things were much worse for his title rival Jack Doohan. Starting from 12th on the reverse grid after claiming pole for the feature race, Doohan found himself caught up in the middle of the pack and bounced onto the kerbs at Turn 2, which dropped him down to 17th in the order.

Logan Sargeant, Charouz (Rudy Carezzevoli, Getty Images / FIA F3)

With Doohan out of the points and Hauger only needing six points to claim the title he didn’t need to make up any more places in the race. But despite that, Hauger continued pushing forward and putting the pressure on Crawford in third.

On lap 4 Hauger forced Crawford to take a deep defensive line through Turn 2 and used the opportunity to line up a move through Turn 3, putting himself into the podium positions. He then set the fastest lap and started cutting into Martins’ gap in second.

By lap 7 Hauger had gotten within four tenths of Martins and tried the same Turn 2 setup as he had on Crawford three laps earlier. But Martins was able to better hold off Hauger through Turn 3 and used Hauger’s championship considerations to force the Prema to back out.

But despite coming out on top in that battle, Martins couldn’t keep Hauger behind for much longer. On lap 10 Hauger ran within a tenth of Martins as he set up a move, which he then completed to take second a lap later.

With Sargeant little more than three seconds up the road, Hauger set off with the win in his sights. But with half the race done he started to struggle with his rear tyres losing temperature, and found Martins and Collet in fourth filling his mirrors. Meanwhile Clement Novalak, who had taken the fastest lap from Hauger, was rapidly closing on all three of them.

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Dan Istitene, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Sargeant ran wide on lap 14 and lost seven tenths from his lead, but Hauger wasn’t able to take advantage of the mistake as he had Martins just two tenths behind him. But before Martins could capitalise on Hauger’s tyres and reclaim second, the virtual safety car was brought out when Tijmen van der Helm retired on the side of the road with an engine failure.

When the VSC was withdrawn a lap later Hauger was able to get the better restart to pull out of DRS range of Martins, while Sargeant was just under two seconds ahead of him. Hauger continued to cut that gap as Sargeant’s own tyres fell off, and he closed to within DRS range of the Charouz on the final lap.

Going through the DRS zone after Turn 10, Hauger closed to four tenths behind Sargeant, but with the title in his hands he held back rather than making a lunge into Turn 13. Sargeant crossed the line just ahead of Hauger, and Martins finished third for his sixth podium of the year.

Novalak come through to take fourth from Collet in the final laps. Lorenzo Colombo took sixth for Campos ahead of Arthur Leclerc, Frederik Vesti, Juan Manuel Correa and Ayumu Iwasa. Crawford fell through the top ten in the latter stages of the race to finish 11th, while Doohan came home in 15th.

F3 Sochi preview: title beckons for Hauger in Sochi finale

Formula 3 returns to action this weekend for the final time this season, as Russia’s Sochi Autodrom plays host to the championship showdown between Prema’s Dennis Hauger and Trident’s Jack Doohan.

That title fight is now Hauger’s to lose. With four wins, eight podiums and two pole positions to his name so far, Hauger comes to Sochi with a 43-point advantage over Doohan, with 65 points still left to play for this weekend.

That advantage means that Hauger can clinch the title after Saturday’s second sprint race, provided he doesn’t concede any more than 13 points to Doohan across the two sprint races. And even if Doohan still has a chance going into Sunday’s feature race, he’ll be aiming for almost every point available for victory, pole and the fastest lap unless Hauger’s Saturday really falls apart.

Jack Doohan, Trident (Red Bull Content Pool)

Doohan needs a lot of things to go his way if he’s going to snatch the title from Hauger. But pressure can play a big part in title showdowns, even for drivers who have otherwise been as composed all year as Hauger.

If Doohan can start applying that pressure early, such as by taking pole or closing the gap in the first sprint race, then he can start using that to try and force a mistake from Hauger when it really matters.

Neither driver has raced at the Sochi Autodrom so far in their careers, so both will be learning the circuit fresh this weekend. With only one practice session, whoever can hit the ground running fastest will have a big advantage over the weekend’s three races.

Fight for third as tight as ever

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

It may just be Hauger and Doohan battling for the F3 title this weekend, but there is still an equally intense fight for third place in the championship yet to be resolved — and a four-way fight at that.

Clement Novalak is currently leading that quartet on 122 points after his double podium result at Zandvoort. The Trident driver has shown impressive consistency all year long to reach this position in the championship, with points finishes in all but one of the last nine races — although what’s arguably more impressive is that he is the only driver of these four still yet to win this season.

Just behind Novalak are Victor Martins and Frederik Vesti, both level on 117 points and each with a win to their name. Martins’ victory came in the second Zandvoort sprint race and was the peak of a brilliant bounce back after a disappointing run leading into the summer break. He seems to be riding on a second wind right now, which is the perfect momentum to have running into the season finale.

But Vesti is almost in the opposite situation. He showed great pace early in the season and is still the only driver outside of Hauger and Doohan to take a feature race win this year, but as Novalak and Martins hit their stride Vesti dropped back from the front of the championship.

Frederik Vesti, ART (Dan Istitene , Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Vesti was back on the podium at Zandvoort — his first since his feature race win at the Red Bull Ring — so hopefully that will give him the boost he needs to end his season on the form it started.

And lastly there’s Alex Smolyar, who is 15 points behind Novalak in sixth despite having more wins than both Martins and Vesti and more podiums than Novalak. But he’s also missed the points on six occasions and consistency has been his main weakness this year.

However, Smolyar is the only one of this pack of drivers with any racing experience of the Sochi Autodrom, and his last visit during his 2017 SMP F4 days resulted in a double podium. That will surely give Smolyar confidence as he comes into the weekend needing a great result to overhaul the drivers ahead of him.

F2 Monza: Piastri survives Ticktum charge to win feature race thriller

Championship leader Oscar Piastri took his second win of the season after converting pole position in the Monza feature race, while Dan Ticktum and Carlin provided a late-race threat with a fortuitous tyre gamble.

Piastri got away well from pole to hold the lead into Turn 1, but had to watch his main championship rival Guanyu Zhou assume second place by passing Jehan Daruvala off the line. Daruvala struggled for traction at the start and lost another place to Liam Lawson, while Felipe Drugovich pressured him for fourth throughout the opening lap.

The race was neutralised soon after when Guilherme Samaia spun out of the race at the second Lesmo and brought out the safety car. On the restart on lap 5 Piastri managed to break the tow on the rundown to Rettifilo to see off Zhou, while Zhou then came under attack from a rapid Lawson and lost second place into the Roggia chicane.

Piastri, Lawson and Zhou spent the opening laps more or less matching each other’s pace, with the gap between the three of them never more than 1.5 seconds. On lap 5 Piastri set the fastest lap but wasn’t able to definitively break clear of DRS range from Lawson.

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

On lap 8 Juri Vips, who was running seventh between Theo Pourchaire and Ticktum, slowed suddenly with a mechanical failure in the middle of the Roggia chicane. That caught out Ticktum who made contact with the rear of the Hitech, although he escaped with no significant damage to his own car.

The safety car was brought out again while Vips’ car was cleared away, and the leaders took that opportunity to make their mandatory pit stop from softs to mediums. But Piastri, Lawson and Zhou were followed into the pits by everyone apart from Ticktum, Marino Sato, Christian Lundgaard, Marcus Armstrong and Alessio Deledda, who had started the race on mediums instead.

Sato then dropped out of the race with a mechanical problem of his own, which meant that Piastri rejoined the race in fifth place behind Deledda. Lawson lost out in the pitlane scramble and not only came out behind Zhou but also Daruvala.

At the restart on lap 11 Piastri immediately set about clearing Deledda to get back towards the front. Meanwhile Daruvala found a new turn of pace on his medium tyres and began battling with Zhou for net second.

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

Daruvala got ahead of Zhou at the Roggia chicane but completed the move off track and was ordered to give the place back. He did so on the main straight, but used the momentum to immediately repass Zhou into Rettifilo. But as they came to Roggia again, Zhou went around the outside and reclaimed the position from the Carlin.

By lap 13 Piastri, Zhou and Daruvala had got past Deledda and set about clearing Armstrong as well. Deledda fell back to ninth by the end of the lap, then at the start of lap 14 he made contact with Enzo Fittipaldi at Rettifilo. That allowed Fittipaldi and Robert Shwartzman through, but Drugovich lost out avoiding the HWA and dropped to P12.

Drugovich then dropped out of the midfield battle altogether thanks to a miscommunication with his team. He’d asked his engineer on the radio to check if his front wing was damaged in the incident, but his engineer thought he was reporting wing damage and called him in to pit for repairs — when Drugovich left the pits after the confusion he was in P18 and last.

At the front of the field, Piastri passed fellow Alpine junior Lundgaard for second place on lap 15 and only had Ticktum 1.5 seconds up the road. From the pace of Lundgaard, Armstrong and Deledda it was clear that the worn mediums had run their course, but Carlin kept Ticktum out in front to gamble on another safety car in the final phase of the race.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F2)

Piastri kept closing in, bringing the gap to half a second by lap 18. But Ticktum’s gamble paid off a few laps later when Lawson stopped on the main straight after his fire extinguisher went off and the safety car was deployed. Ticktum immediately pitted for softs and rejoined the race in P12, while Piastri led from Zhou, Pourchaire, Daruvala and Shwartzman.

The race restarted on lap 25, with six laps to go. While Piastri locked up heading to Rettifilo and had to get on the defensive to keep Zhou behind, Ticktum immediately began clearing the cars ahead with his fresh soft tyres. The Carlin driver had a hairy moment at Roggia when he was tapped off the road by Ralph Boschung and narrowly avoided collecting Roy Nissany, but he regrouped to hold seventh place by the end of the lap.

Over the next few laps Ticktum continued to improve with uncontested moves on Nissany, Shwartzman and Daruvala, then on the penultimate lap he passed Pourchaire into Rettifilo for third place. With half a second between him and Zhou and only another eight tenths to Piastri up the road, it seemed inevitable that Ticktum and Piastri would be fighting for the lead on the final tour.

But shortly after Ticktum got past Pourchaire, Bent Viscaal and David Beckmann came together at Rettifilo further down the pack and brought out yet another safety car. With just under two laps left to run, the race was completed under the safety car and Ticktum was forced to settle for third place behind winner Piastri and Zhou in second.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Pourchaire finished fourth ahead of Daruvala and Shwartzman. Richard Verschoor took seventh place from Lirim Zendelli, who made a two-stop strategy work to give MP Motorsport a double points finish, and Nissany and Armstrong rounded out the final points positions for DAMS.

With Piastri and Zhou finishing first and second, they remain in the same positions in the championship standings with 15 points separating them. Shwartzman remains third, albeit 21 points behind Zhou and 36 adrift of the lead.

Formula 2 returns on 25–26 September at the Sochi Autodrom in support of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

F2 Monza: Daruvala dominates second sprint race

Carlin’s Jehan Daruvala took his first win of the season in the second Formula 2 sprint race at Monza, leaving the field behind him with a dominant drive from the front.

Daruvala started from second on the reverse grid beside the Campos of David Beckmann, who also started Race 1 from reverse pole. And like in Race 1, Beckmann was forced into defending straight away as Daruvala got the quicker launch and took the inside line into the Rettifilo chicane.

Daruvala came out of the chicane ahead of Beckmann and set off in the lead of the race. Behind them, Bent Viscaal moved up to third by passing Juri Vips.

With the slipstream and DRS posing such a danger at Monza, Daruvala set about pulling an early lead over Beckmann with several fastest laps. He was helped by Beckmann having to switch from chasing the Carlin to defending from Viscaal, who had managed to stay within a few tenths of second place and was on the attack.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F2)

At the back of the points positions, championship leader Oscar Piastri and Race 1 winner Theo Pourchaire were locked in a fierce battle over seventh place. Piastri had started there but Pourchaire nipped past up the inside of the Rettifilo on lap 3 and saw off Piastri’s attempts to fight back through Curva Grande and the Roggia chicane.

Piastri set the fastest lap on lap 6 as he tried to reel Pourchaire back in. But despite being close enough to try moves into Rettifilo and Roggia, Pourchaire was always able to defend the inside line.

Piastri’s teammate Robert Shwartzman was also making his way up the order in the middle phase of the race. After losing fifth place to Liam Lawson at the start, Shwartzman regained the position at the Rettifilo on lap 8. He then started hassling Vips in the second Hitech, who was struggling to keep his tyres alive in fourth.

Shwartzman sized up Vips through Curva Grande on lap 11 and took fourth place up the inside of Roggia. Vips then lost out to his teammate Lawson at the Ascari chicane and dropped to sixth.

A few laps later Piastri succeeded in retaking seventh place from Pourchaire with a move up the inside of the Rettifilo. That left Pourchaire vulnerable to Guanyu Zhou in ninth, who had closed up behind them as they battled lap after lap.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Rudy Carezzevoli, Getty Images / FIA F2)

Zhou tried several times to pass Pourchaire through the Rettifilo and Roggia chicanes, but each time Pourchaire hugged the inside line and Zhou was unable to complete a move around the outside. But on lap 17 Zhou forced Pourchaire into braking too late at Rettifilo, and took eighth place as Pourchaire locked up and went down the escape road.

Back at the front, Daruvala had pulled more than five seconds clear of Beckmann by lap 17, while Beckmann was still dealing with Viscaal just a few tenths behind him. But on lap 19 Viscaal was able to do what Zhou did to Pourchaire and pressure Beckmann into locking up at the first corner, opening the door to second place.

Nursing a flat spot, Beckmann fell back into the clutches of Shwartzman and Lawson in the final laps. With just three tenths separating them at start of lap 20, Beckmann fell from third to fifth as Shwartzman passed him into Ascari and Lawson got by through the Parabolica.

Shwartzman therefore completed the podium behind Viscaal and runaway winner Daruvala. Lawson finished fourth ahead of Beckmann and Vips, and the two championship contenders Piastri and Zhou took the final points in seventh and eighth respectively.

F2 Monza: Pourchaire storms past Vips for sprint win

Theo Pourchaire took his second win of the season in the opening Monza sprint race, putting in a lightning performance to overhaul longtime leader Juri Vips.

Vips jumped into the lead at the start of the race, passing reverse polesitter David Beckmann on the run down to the Rettifilo chicane. Beckmann then came close to losing second to Dan Ticktum as well, but was able to regroup himself through Curva Grande to hold the place.

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

Ticktum then found himself under pressure from Pourchaire through the rest of the opening lap. Pourchaire was close enough to dive to the inside of Ticktum into Rettifilo at the start of the second lap, but he braked too late and went down the escape road. At the same time Ticktum spun on the chicane’s kerb and stalled the car, and was clipped by Felipe Drugovich and Ralph Boschung who both damaged their front wings and had to pit.

The safety car was brought out for Ticktum’s stranded Carlin, with Vips leading from Beckman, Pourchaire and Liam Lawson. At the restart on lap 5 Lawson moved to the inside of Pourchaire into Rettifilo but got caught out by Pourchaire’s defence and damaged his front wing.

The racing only lasted for a few corners after the safety car restart, as Drugovich spun off at Ascari on cold tyres and brought out a virtual safety car. When the VSC ended on lap 7 Robert Shwartzman took advantage of the timing to pull alongside his teammate Oscar Piastri through the Lesmos and muscle his way up to sixth. Piastri ran wide into the gravel at Lesmo 2, losing another place to Roy Nissany.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F2)

At the front, Pourchaire set the fastest lap on lap 8 and started mounting an attack on Beckmann’s second place. Beckmann defended the inside line into Rettifilo at the start of lap 9, but on the next time around Pourchaire pressured Beckmann into locking up at the chicane and he took second place as Beckmann ran down the escape road.

With flat-spotted tyres Beckmann then began falling back through the pack. On the same lap after losing second, Beckmann was bumped off the podium altogether by Guanyu Zhou who moved up into third. But he was saved from losing any more places straight away when Nissany spun out through Ascari and brought out yet another safety car.

At the restart on lap 14 Beckmann lost fourth place to Shwartzman, while Pourchaire immediately started shaping up for a move on Vips in the lead. He was unable to get past into Rettifilo at the first opportunity, but on the next lap around Pourchaire moved to the inside and decisively took first place away from Vips.

Once out front Pourchaire’s pace carried him to a lead of well over a second, while Vips fell back to defending from Zhou in third. Zhou tried several times to get past the Hitech, first through Curva Grande and Roggia on lap 15 then again at Rettifilo and Roggia on the following two laps.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Vips was able to hold the inside line each time, but on lap 18 he locked up into Rettifilo and not only let Zhou through into second but dropped back to fifth behind Shwartzman and Christian Lundgaard.

Vips then found himself in the same position Beckmann had been in earlier. Over the next few laps he was passed by Piastri, Lawson and Bent Viscaal to fall to the back of the points after leading for 14 laps.

With Zhou being held behind Vips for several laps before moving into second, Pourchaire was able to sprint clear of the pack to take the chequered flag by almost six seconds in the end. Shwartzman was third on the road behind Zhou, but a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage off-track at the start dropped him off the podium and gave third place to Lundgaard.

Piastri finished fourth, meaning he retains the championship lead by five points despite Zhou’s podium. Lawson was fifth, Shwartzman’s penalty dropped him to sixth, and Viscaal and Vips rounded out the last two points positions. Beckmann finished the race in tenth, meaning he will still the second sprint race from reverse pole this afternoon.

F2 Monza preview: F1 seat on the line as title fight resumes

Formula 2 returns from its extended summer break this weekend, taking to the iconic Temple of Speed at Monza for Round 5 of the championship.

When F2 was last on track at Silverstone in July, Guanyu Zhou took his third win of the season in the feature race but it was Oscar Piastri who left as the new championship leader. Coming to Monza Piastri has five points in hand over Zhou and just two non-scores to his name compared to Zhou’s five.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Michael Regan, Getty Images / FIA F2)

Zhou will be racing for more than just championship points and pride this weekend, though. After a run of major changes in the F1 driver market over the last few weeks, Zhou has emerged as one of the leading contenders to join Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo in 2022.

Zhou doesn’t need to win the F2 title to qualify for a super licence. But returning himself to the lead of the championship would do a lot to impress Alfa Romeo at this crucial time, especially when his two chief rivals for the seat are former F2 champion Nyck de Vries and GP2 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi.

Whether the prospect of landing an Alfa Romeo seat comes as extra motivation or unwelcome pressure remains to be seen. But what Zhou can depend on coming to Monza is his record so far this season — that is, the most wins of anyone and the joint-most podiums as well.

His strength throughout his time in F2 has always been his qualifying performances. That’s an area where he has the upper hand over Piastri, although Piastri has demonstrated incredible racecraft this year to make up for not always starting near the front. And with Monza being a track where overtaking is much easier than usual, that sets up a fascinating state of play for the next instalment of their title fight.

Still all to play for in the top eight

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Although Piastri and Zhou have become the clear title favourites, it’s still way too early to say that the battle will just be between them. After all, we’ve only had four rounds so far, with Monza, Sochi, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi still to go.

That means there are still plenty of drivers right behind Piastri and Zhou that are far from being written off just yet. Robert Shwartzman for one is just 12 points behind Zhou and 17 behind his teammate Piastri, with two wins under his belt. Monza is a track the Russian knows well, having won there in his title-winning F3 season, and he’ll be going all out to perform well on his Ferrari academy’s home turf.

Juri Vips is another F1 junior looking to kick off well in the second half. After a slow start with no points in Bahrain, Vips has since gone on a run of nine races in the points — the longest streak so far this year — including two wins in Baku. Vips has F2 experience at Monza, having raced there for DAMS last year in place of the injured Sean Gelael, so can hit the ground running this weekend.

The same could also be said of Vips’ Hitech and Red Bull academy teammate Liam Lawson, who won the opening race of the season but now sits eighth in the standings after being disqualified from his second win in the Monaco sprint race. Lawson’s currently lighting up the DTM series, running second in the standings with three wins, and will be fired up to restore himself to contention in F2 as well.

Zhou’s not the only one out to impress Alfa

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Clive Rose, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

And then there’s Theo Pourchaire. After a mighty start to the year that included pole and victory at Monaco, Pourchaire has dropped back from the title fight since — not helped by that Baku crash that led to a broken wrist. After Silverstone he has 65 points on the board, putting him 20 points behind Vips and 43 behind Piastri.

But anyone who watched Pourchaire’s 2020 F3 season will know how well he comes on in the latter stage of a campaign. Last year he went from being an outside contender in Piastri’s fight with Logan Sargeant, to almost snatching the title away from both of them in the final round. And it was at Monza, where he took a pair of second places to begin a run of four podium finishes, that Pourchaire really launched himself into the equation.

It will be a tall order for Pourchaire to repeat that performance in F2. But as a Sauber academy driver he’s vying for that same Alfa Romeo seat as Zhou, and by most accounts is the team’s preferred choice for the future if he can prove himself in F2. With an F1 seat dangling before him and a lot of potential still to be seen, Pourchaire will surely be one to watch this weekend.

F3 Zandvoort: Hauger storms to feature race win

Dennis Hauger claimed his fourth win of the season in the Zandvoort feature race with a lights-to-flag performance that left the rest of the field in his wake.

Hauger seemed to get a slow launch from pole position and had to make a quick defensive move to cut off second-placed David Schumacher into the first corner. But far from being unsettled, Hauger immediately worked to pull away from Schumacher as the Trident came under attack from Victor Martins in third.

As Hauger led the field away, his championship campaign got another boost as his main rival Jack Doohan was tapped from behind by Jak Crawford in Turn 3. Doohan avoided the wall but dropped to sixth behind Clement Novalak and Alex Smolyar.

After only a handful of laps Hauger had already pulled clear of DRS threat from Schumacher, who was driving on his mirrors as Martins put the pressure on for second. With two tenths between them at the start of lap 5 Martins looked to the inside of Schumacher at Turn 1 but was just too far back to pull fully alongside.

David Schumacher, Trident (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F3)

Martins tried the move again on lap 9 but with the same result. As he was forced to back out, Novalak came into play behind them and was told by Trident to go on the attack. But Novalak wasn’t any more able than Martins to make an overtake stick, while Smolyar and Doohan joined the DRS train behind him.

With six laps to go Hauger had sprung more than four seconds clear of the pack led by Schumacher. His lead was almost erased when Juan Manuel Correa further down the field forced Matteo Nannini off into the gravel at Turn 1, but Nannini was able to keep his car going and return to the track to avoid bringing out the safety car.

As the laps counted down Schumacher looked to have second place under control. But on lap 22 Martins launched a move up the inside of the Turn 3 banking and clipped Schumacher’s left rear, spinning the Trident into the barrier and out of the race. Martins was immediately handed a ten-second penalty for causing a collision, while Novalak and Smolyar came through to inherit the two podium positions.

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA F3)

With Hauger out in front those podium positions remained the same for the final two laps. Doohan returned to fourth place after the incident with Martins and Schumacher. Caio Collet finished fifth ahead of Logan Sargeant, Crawford, Frederik Vesti and Arthur Leclerc, while Martins dropped to tenth place after his penalty.

Hauger’s pole position, win and fastest lap gives him a 43-point lead over Doohan heading into the final round in Sochi on 25–26 September. Novalak’s podium moves him up into third in the standings, with Martins and Vesti just behind and level on 117 points.