The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.
But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.
As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.
Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.
But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.
If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.
Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.
But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.
Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.
It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.
The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.
If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.
If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.
As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.
On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.
Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Renault has revealed its plans for the forthcoming Formula 1 season at a launch event focused on unveiling the team’s 2018 challenger.
The RS18—besides the mandatory addition of the Halo—features several small aerodynamic evolutions from its predecessor, including a slimmer nose section and much tighter packaging around the rear of the engine.
The team’s livery has also been tweaked for 2018, with Renault’s traditional yellow featuring more sparingly along the leading edges of the car.
Speaking about Renault’s 2018 goals, technical chief Bob Bell highlighted improved reliability as one of the marque’s key targets:
“We need a strong reliability record,” Bell said. “That’s something we need to focus on. We need the car as reliable as we can make it.
“To improve reliability, we have to accept nothing less than perfection. Anything that ends up on the car needs to be designed and built to the highest standard; checked and rechecked as fit for purpose.
“All the issues that blighted us last year need to be eradicated by a fresh approach. That’s a huge challenge…and it’s the toughest task we face.”
Renault engine chief Remi Taffin echoed Bell, stating that having a reliable car will be the team’s “first priority”, especially with teams limited to just three power units per car in 2018.
As well as revealing its new car, Renault also announced as part of its season launch an updated Renault Sport Academy driver lineup.
With the team’s previous third driver Sergey Sirotkin moving on to a race seat at Williams, Renault has promoted British-Korean junior Jack Aitken to the vacant reserve driver role. The 22-year-old, who has been part of the RSA since 2016, will combine his expanded Renault role this year with a maiden F2 campaign with ART GP.
Aitken will be joined in Renault’s F1 stable by fellow F2 driver Artem Markelov. The 23-year-old Russian, who finished runner-up to Charles Leclerc in last year’s F2 championship, has been named Renault’s 2018 test and development driver.
While Formula 1 heads to the Far East this weekend, its main feeder series, the FIA Formula 2 Championship, breaks away to run its first and only standalone event of the season at the Circuito de Jerez for its penultimate event of the season. After a chaotic and confusing round in Monza, this weekend’s round at Jerez presents championship leader Charles Leclerc with his first real opportunity to wrap up the Formula 2 title. Such a feat which would make him the first rookie champion of a feeder series at this level since 2009 when Nico Hülkenberg won the GP2 series.
Leclerc’s outing in Monza saw him fail to score any points, after being taken out from the leading pack on the last lap of the feature race and failing to work his way back into the points on Sunday. Luckily for the Monegasque driver, his nearest rivals, Oliver Rowland and Artem Markelov, also failed to score big. This leaves him firmly at the top of the drivers’ standings with a healthy lead of fifty-nine points. Realistically, it would take a series of disasters to snatch the title away from the Ferrari junior driver, who looks poised to make the jump to Formula 1 next year, most likely with Sauber.
Whilst Rowland and Markelov have been busy fighting with Leclerc, Markelov’s Russian Time teammate Luca Ghiotto has been slowly racking up the points. After a fourth place and a win in his home race in Monza, he is now only two points behind his teammate and only nine behind the second placed Rowland. The Italian is in with a real chance of snatching away the runners up title in these last couple of rounds. Even a fourth place finish in the standings would mark his best result in single seater racing of this level.
After Antonio Fuoco’s win and third placed podium in Monza, the battle in the teams’ standings has closed up, with DAMS, Prema and Russian Time all in with a chance of taking home the big prize. Prema will be hoping that Monza turns out to be something of a turning point for Fuoco, who had previously failed to quite live up to expectations. But with a double podium performance under his belt, many will be hoping that Fuoco can now help Prema defend their team championship. And possibly even aid his teammate Leclerc in bringing home the driver’s title, provided that he can get in between the DAMS and Russian Time drivers.
The ever-changing line-up of the Formula 2 grid mixes things up again this weekend. Spanish driver Alex Palou, currently competing in Formula V8 3.5, joins Campos in place of Robert Visoiu for the rest of the season, who has left the team for personal reasons. Meanwhile, Rene Binder will become Rapax’s fifth driver of the season, replacing ex-F1 driver Robert Merhi for the round in Jerez this weekend. Rapax are yet to confirm whether Binder will remain in the team for the final round in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.
Binder will race alongside Louis Deletraz, who had his best weekend of the year in Monza, scoring points in both races, after switching seats with Nyck de Vries just before the round in Italy. The Swiss driver has been vocal about how he feels that Rapax is a better fit for him than Racing Engineering and the flashes of form we saw from him in Italy seems to confirm this, especially compared to his early season struggles. Though following up on that improved performance will be important in order to finish his year on a high and set himself up for what will hopefully be a second season in Formula 2 next year.
This weekend in Jerez also marks the second home race of the season for both Campos Racing and Racing Engineering. While Racing Engineering have found themselves able to compete at the front of the field in previous seasons, this year has marked something of a step backwards for the Spanish team. They will be hopeful that after a lengthy break between rounds, giving them time to properly adjust to their new line-up of de Vries and Gustav Malja, will help them recover to their full potential.
ART had a mixed weekend last time out, but there were clearly signs of lightning fast speed from the team who are currently dominating the GP3 championship. Whilst British-Thai driver Alexander Albon has struggled to retain his early season form since his injury prior to the Baku round, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita put on a positive performance for the French team in Monza. Matsushita even succeeded in becoming the first driver, with the obvious exception of Charles Leclerc, to claim an on track pole position this season. The Japanese driver is being touted as a contender for a possible drive at Toro Rosso next season, but it would take a stunning string of results to secure the necessary super license points. However, with such a potential reward waiting for him if he does manage to do this, he has nothing to lose this weekend.
All eyes will be on Charles Leclerc in Jerez to see if he can bring home the title, and his competitors Markelov and Rowland will know that this is one of their last chances to stop him. Although Leclerc has not scored a race win since the feature race in Silverstone, despite misfortune he is yet to show that he has any intention of slowing down or slipping up. But it would be premature to consider the Formula 2 title a done deal. As the last round in Monza proved, anything can happen in motorsport, and it usually does.
The dust has barely settled on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as the Formula 2 paddocks rocks up to the Temple of Speed – the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. The classic, high speed track with its long straights and tight chicanes always makes for exciting racing, with plenty of opportunities for overtaking around the three-and-a-half-mile circuit. It is also the home race for three of the teams, including front runners Prema Racing, as well as for drivers Antonio Fuoco and Luca Ghiotto.
It was a mixed weekend for Prema in Spa, their pace was exceptional and Fuoco seemed to be making steps forward in scoring his second podium of the season. But the disqualification of Charles Leclerc from the feature race was a blow they will want to recover from quickly, particularly since this is the second case where Leclerc has lost points due to a technical infringement. Given that both of their drivers are members of the Ferrari Driver Academy, they will be eager to impress the Tifosi, as well the heavy Ferrari presence over the race weekend. Baring any errors, there is no reason why the Monegasque cannot dominate in Italy as he has done in the past; having claimed pole at the track in 2016 during his triumphant GP3 campaign.
But Leclerc and Prema will not be the only team looking to recover from what was ultimately a disappointing weekend in Belgium. Both of the DAMS drivers were hit with trouble that saw them collecting results which are not reflective of their abilities. Neither Oliver Rowland nor Nicholas Latifi have performed exceptionally well at the track in the past, but it is vital for the Brit’s championship campaign that he perform well. A bad weekend could see Leclerc’s lead extend into the uncatchable territory.
Just a single point separates DAMS from Russian Time at the top of the team standings, after the latter scored three podiums in Spa, compared to the French team’s measly haul of just one point. Last year Russian Time had a reasonable outing at Monza, though it was not their current driver Artem Markelov who was bringing home the points and podiums. Ghiotto will be looking to perform better in front of his Italian fans, especially now he is driving for a more competitive team. His first race win of 2017 has evaded him as of yet, and a home crowd advantage might just be what he needs to get him there.
Like their fellow GP3 graduate, Antonio Fuoco, both Nyck de Vries, now of Racing Engineering, and ART’s Alexander Albon both stood on the iconic Monza podium in 2016, and will be surely looking to replicate those results this year. In Spa de Vries showed all the signs that his switch of team has not harmed his performance as he secured a second and a fifth place finish. But it is early days in his new partnership with the Spanish team and an adjustment period should be expected, however he has set the bar very high for their expectations.
Spa also seemed to indicate that Racing Engineering can recover their reputation as a top junior formula team, given their subpar performances in the early part of the season. Traditionally, the team has had strong line-ups which have always bolstered its standing in the team championship – running the likes of Lucas di Grassi and Alexander Rossi in previous GP2 seasons – so the addition of McLaren junior and F2 race winner Nyck de Vries can only be an asset for the team. Monza is their chance to prove that they can work their way up the standings and finish their season strongly.
Albon, meanwhile, has suffered a dip in form since his early points scoring run this season, something which is perhaps a consequence of the injury he picked up prior to the Baku round. Therefore, Monza may be a track he finds troublesome, if the shoulder injury is still an issue, given its heavy braking zones and its notoriously bumpy surface, but the British-Thai driver could do with a string of good results to reinvigorate his season.
The ART driver is not alone in this regard. Coming off the back of his first win, in not just Formula 2, but in any significant level of single seater racer, MP Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Camara has a huge task to follow up that achievement. Whilst it is somewhat unlikely that he will repeat his Belgian victory, given how unexpected it was, and the absence of front running drivers, it does give the youngest driver on the grid something to build upon. For the Brazilian who was dropped by Red Bull’s junior programme there is a point to prove as well, but memories in motorsport are very short indeed, and his triumph in Spa will be quickly forgotten if he cannot perform well at Monza.
There is no reason to suggest that if Charles Leclerc has a trouble free weekend then he will manage to extend his lead at the top of the standings. But, of course, that is easy said than done, and the Ferrari junior driver has suffered from his fair share of bad luck so far this season. Therefore, it is in the hands of his competitors to stop his championship campaign from becoming a runaway train.
When Formula 2 returns after the summer break, it enters its final quarter, where the 2017 title will be decided once and for all. It will take a comeback of epic proportions from Oliver Rowland or Artem Markelov to catch Charles Leclerc, but it is far from impossible. The break presents a perfect opportunity to reinvigorate their championship campaigns, and neither is the kind of driver to go down without a fight.
The eighth round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship takes place at the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite of many of the drivers thanks to its incredibly fast, twisting layout. It also marks the first weekend of the second double header of races in F2 this season, with the ninth round at Monza coming just a week later. The pressure is on to deliver, with time fast running out.
The Formula 2 grid lining up in Belgium will look a little different to the one viewers have grown accustomed to. Rookies Louis Deletraz and Nyck de Vries are swapping seats from round eight onwards, with the Swiss driver making the switch to Rapax and the Dutchman joining Racing Enigeering. Though the mechanics behind such a move are unknown to us, it is surprising, considering Racing Engineering’s poor form this year, and de Vries’ relative success with Rapax. Deletraz will not partner Rapax regular, Sergio Canamasas in Spa, but rather ex-Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi, who will be filling in for his fellow Spainaird, who is missing the round due to personal issues.
As ever, all eyes will be on Charles Leclerc, who will hope to do a repeat of his result at the track in GP3 last year, when he successfully converted pole position into a feature race win. And with rumours growing that he is poised to take one of the Sauber seats in Formula 1 next year, the expectations will be higher than ever that he continues the dominant form that he has been showing all year. After the stripping of his pole in Budapest, he will be looking to get his record back on track, and his team, Prema, will be looking for him to do so as well to help them close the gap to DAMS in the team standings.
His teammate, Antonio Fuoco will also be hoping to draw on his experience from GP3 to help him improve upon his, at best, shaky form of 2017. He, like Nyck de Vries, qualified well in 2016, and scored one podium over the weekend, picking up a strong haul of points. But for their fellow GP3 graduate, ART’s Alexander Albon, a repeat of last year is far from what he needs, after a poor qualifying saw him pick up only two points over the whole weekend. The Thai driver has looked reliable throughout his rookie season, but has thus far fallen just short of doing something remarkable to turn heads in his direction, Spa represents the latest in a dwindling number of opportunities for him to pull that off.
Albon’s teammate, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita had an ultimately forgettable outing in Belgium last year. However, Matsushita is having one of his better seasons, taking the most recent race win in the sprint race in Hungary. He is a driver, while too far down the standings to actually feature in the title battle, could prove to play a part in the championship outcome if it all comes together for him.
Pertamina Arden’s Norman Nato is another example of a driver who could spoil the fun for the championship leaders. While Arden have struggled at times this year, Nato undoubtedly possesses the ability to win races and score podiums, it is just a matter of have a consistent weekend. That is also the problem for his teammate Sean Gelael, who sits in seventeenth in the driver standings, compared to Nato’s seventh. His season has been plagued with bad luck, but he has also failed to take advantage of fortune when it has come his way. In Spa he will most likely be a driver who occupies the lower points paying positions, rather than a contender for pole or a win.
Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja was one of six drivers who occupied the GP2 podium in Belgium last year, taking second in the sprint race. But, the Spanish team is not at the level they were last year, and while the Swedish driver has scored a podium already this season, Racing Engineering need to conquer their set up demons if Malja, or newcomer Nyck de Vries are to deliver this weekend. It is a similar story for teams such as Campos Racing and MP Motorsport. All three teams tend to run at the back of the field, and though some of their drivers, such as Malja, but also Jordan King (MP Motorsport), have the ability to score points, they are not going to be running with the likes of DAMS, Prema or Russian Time.
Trident, who currently take the record for fielding the most drivers this season, seem to have finalised their line-up for the remainder of 2017, with Santino Ferucci graduating from GP3. The Haas development driver scored points in his debut in Hungary, but in Spa he has a chance to prove whether or not this was simply a case of beginner’s luck, or proving that he has what it takes to step up. Consistency in their line-up will likely help the entire team, and maybe help lift them from last in the team standings.
As they are most weekends, DAMS and Russian Time will be the teams looking to cause trouble for Leclerc. But for Russian Time to get back on terms with their nearest rivals, they need Artem Markelov to recover well from his poor weekend in Hungary – marred by his crash in the feature race. His teammate Luca Ghiotto, meanwhile, needs an upturn in his qualifying performance to deliver the results his race pace warrants. He remains the only driver in the top five not to score a race win in 2017.
Neither team seem quite able to match his and Prema’s one lap pace in qualifying, though DAMS has been steadily improving in this aspect all season, so it would be unfair to count them out just yet. While it is Latifi who is hitting his best form this season, it is his teammate Rowland who needs to deliver in Spa if he wants to stay in the hunt. The Brit cannot afford to let Leclerc extend his lead much further, or he will quickly become impossible to catch and the championship will be over before Formula 2 ever reaches Abu Dhabi.
It could be very easy to write off the 2017 Formula 2 season as something of a one horse race. But with twelve different podium finishers, and every team scoring points, it has been anything but. While Charles Leclerc may be grabbing all the headlines, it would be unfair to overlook some of the other drivers and teams who have been performing well this season. However, for every driver exceeding expectations, there have been those who have failed to deliver.
Perhaps an unexpected stand out star has been DAMS driver, Nicholas Latifi, who recently tested for Renault at the mid-season Formula 1 test at the Hungaroring. For the majority of his single seater career the Canadian has flown under the radar, performing well enough to pick up a few points here and there, but never delivering any results that made him stand out. This season has been something of a breakthrough for Latifi, picking up a win and five podium finishes on his way to a fourth place in the driver standings. What is perhaps most impressive about Latifi’s season so far is that prior to the 2017 season, few had him pegged as a race winner, and expected his teammate Oliver Rowland to comfortably out perform him.
Whilst they may have been somewhat eclipsed by star of the season Charles Leclerc, his fellow GP3 graduates have certainly than measured up to their more experienced competitors. ART’s Alexander Albon has acclimatised to the series well, showing consistency by scoring points in every round but Silverstone – with the exception of Baku, which he missed due to injury. The Thai driver needs to score more podiums to get on terms with his teammate, but considering it is his first season, he has surpassed expectations. Similarly, Nyck de Vries – who partnered Albon and Leclerc last year – started his season looking a little shaky, tyre management in particular being an issue, but has worked his way into his stride too, even earning himself a sprint race victory. If their respective teams can continue their form in 2018, and provided that both drivers stay in Formula 2, then it would not be surprising to see them as contenders for the championship next year.
In terms of team performances, DAMS and Russian Time have been far above the rest of the field in terms of consistent results and good performances from both of their drivers. They probably have the two strongest line-ups, but it looks set to be a two horse fight for the team title this year. Despite Leclerc’s best efforts, Prema will struggle to stay on terms with their two rivals. Though the Italian team currently sits ahead of Russian Time in the standings, that is more to do with the below-average outing the Russian team had in Hungary. It is a particular impressive resurgence for DAMS who have struggled in GP2 since they won both the driver and the team title in 2014.
While not as consistent as their more successful counterparts, some credit has to be given to Pertamina Arden, who scored their first race win at this level since 2012, courtesy of Norman Nato. It is encouraging stuff for a team who have struggled badly in recent years. The team benefitted from an overhaul at the start of the season, and they will be pleased to see their hard work yielding the results they desire.
While he currently trails both Rowland and Leclerc, what is most impressive about Artem Markelov this season is how much he has improved since just 2016. The Russian used to be a driver synonymous with inconsistency, quick but always hampered by his overly aggressive driving style and tendency to lose his head. But this year he has been vocal about his focus on working to calm himself down and think about the long game, and it shows. Save for his failed overtake on Oliver Rowland in Hungary, his previous flashes of brilliance have turned into a fully fledged championship campaign, and has put him at the front of the field at this level for the first time in his career.
Above all, however, 2017 has been a story of one man; Charles Leclerc. The nineteen-year-old Monegasque driver as dominated qualifying and the feature races, and leads the championship standings by a very healthy margin of fifty points, displaying immense speed and mental strength along the way. With only four rounds and eight races left to run, you would be hard pressed to find someone willing to bet against him taking home the title in November – though he is on track to seal the deal well before the final round in Abu Dhabi.
It may be a little harsh to consider Oliver Rowland‘s performance in Formula 2 underwhelming, but by the standards he set himself at the beginning of the season, it is just that. While none would claim he doesn’t have the talent or the speed to claim the title, the twenty-four-year-old has been outshone by Leclerc – though his performance was somewhat unexpected. As someone who stressed the importance of bringing home the F2 title in order to progress up the single seater ladder, to be trailing by fifty points at this stage in the season makes his task very difficult indeed.
Since their entry into GP2 in 2005, Racing Engineering had developed a reputation of a team guaranteed to give their drivers the tools necessary to perform at the top end of the field. But last year’s runners up currently sit in eighth in the team standings, with only twenty-nine points to their name. The Spanish team, and their drivers – Gustav Malja and Louis Deletraz – have been vocal about their struggles with set up and pace. While it is too late to rescue their form from previous seasons, the team can hope to use the summer break to finish their season in a better place than they are currently.
If Antonio Fuoco’s teammate was anyone other than Charles Leclerc, then maybe his struggles this season would not be so glaringly obvious. Despite pulling out some promising qualifying performances, and scoring one podium in Austria, he has floundered while his fellow Ferrari Academy Driver has dominated the field. Regardless of how well his teammate is performing, he has not been as impressive as his fellow GP3 graduates – who, while struggling at first, have started to replicate their form from previous years. Just last year, Fuoco was involved in the GP3 title fight, driving for a team not as strong as his rivals’, but a mistake-ridden run and lack of pace has seen him nearer the back of the grid.
The summer break offers a chance for recuperation and can provide a blank slate for some drivers and teams, and there is every chance for them to put to bed the demons of the first half of the season, and turn things around. Equally, there is nothing to say that those who are on top right now will necessarily remain so.
From the newest track on the calendar, Formula 2 travels to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg – one of the more classic motorsport circuits. The Austrian track is used by a multitude of categories, so even those drivers who are new to the championship will likely have raced there earlier in their career. The 4.3km circuit has delivered some classic races in the past, though last year in GP2 it was characterised by the bizarre set of results owing to the two wet races.
2016 saw Mitch Evans—now racing for Jaguar in Formula E—and Jordan King take the two victories of the weekend, but the running was by no means predictable. The feature race was run in the kind of changeable conditions that are often seen at the Red Bull Ring, and saw many of the championship frontrunners crashing out, including 2017 contender Artem Markelov. And with a sprint race featuring torrential downpours, they were an unpredictable set of races. There is every chance that either Saturday or Sunday will be struck by adverse weather conditions, but as the first race weekend in a double header, getting good results will be crucial in gaining momentum to carry drivers over into Silverstone.
Charles Leclerc still leads the driver’s standings by a comfortable margin of 42 points, and it would take a lot of bad luck for the Prema driver—and a perfect weekend from second place Oliver Rowland—to threaten his first place position this weekend at least. The more interesting battle is between second and third place, between DAMS’ Rowland and the much improved Artem Markelov of Russian Time.
But Markelov’s teammate Luca Ghiotto is in hot pursuit, only twenty points behind, and vocal about his intentions to challenge for the title in 2017. While he may be some way off the leader, it is a long season that is yet to reach its halfway mark. If Ghiotto can keep up his consistent points scoring performances (Ghiotto has scored in all but one of his races this season) then he is well placed to bide his time and hope to capitalise on the mistakes of his rivals.
Russian Time still lead the teams’ standings, as they have done for much of the 2017 season so far. But after a string of promising performances from Canadian Nicholas Latifi, DAMS now trail them by only three points. Ghiotto had an unfortunate outing in Baku, his weekend very much hampered by his shunt in qualifying, but the team still managed to score eighteen points thanks to Markelov. The Russian seems to have lost his all-or-nothing attitude of previous seasons, and will be hoping to do better than the no-points weekend he suffered in Austria last year.
DAMS on the other hand will be aiming for more consistency within their driver pairing to ease the threat from their rivals Russian Time. While both teams have a strong set of drivers, all of whom seem to be having their best seasons to date in 2017, Rowland and Latifi of DAMS seem to be taking it in turns to have winning weekends. While Rowland left Baku with a disappointing haul of points, Latifi probably left feeling rather satisfied after his double podium weekend.What DAMS really need from Austria and Silverstone is for both of their drivers to deliver in one weekend to consolidate their position on the top of the team standings.
Baku finally saw Campos Racing lift themselves from the bottom of the team standings, after circumstances played into Ralph Boschung’s hands and he succeeded in scoring five points over the two races; that relegates Trident to tenth. While none of the veteran Campos or Trident drivers performed well in Austria last year, Boschung, who was driving in GP3 in 2016, won the sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, also managing to secure the fastest lap of that race as well.
It was Racing Engineering who came away from Baku without scoring a single point, a continuation of what has been a very mixed season for the Spanish team. Rookie Louis Deletraz has seemingly struggled to settle into the series, something which has been a problem for many drivers in the past. Even Malja, who has scored a podium this year along with three other points finishes, seems to have trouble getting a handle on his machinery. It is difficult to say whether it is a problem stemming mostly from the car as neither driver has the consistency to suggest otherwise. Deletraz has performed well at Spielberg in the past, earning a second place there in 2016 while he was competing in Formula Renault V8 3.5 and winning at the track in 2015. But it would take his best weekend in 2017 so far to replicate that kind of form.
MP Motorsport driver Jordan King scored his first GP2 win at the Red Bull Ring last year, which he managed to follow up with a win in the Silverstone sprint race as well. With those two rounds coming back to back in 2017, a repeat of those feats would help him rise above his current ninth place in the drivers’ standings. It would also go some way to alleviate the disappointment of his disqualification from the sprint race in Baku, which brought his tally of consecutive points scoring finishes to an end.
Both Rapax and Arden made positive steps forward in Baku. Rapax, through their ever-improving rookie Nyck de Vries, finally managed to convert their impressive one lap pace into a feature race podium. If Rapax can continue to deliver the qualifying performances of recent rounds, then Austria presents an opportunity to prove they can reproduce the feature race result from Azerbaijan.
It was Arden who made the real breakthrough however, scoring that all important race win for Norman Nato in the sprint race. The victory was an important step for both the team and the Frenchman, who has been chasing results reflective of his ability since Bahrain. Like 2016 GP2 champion, Pierre Gasly, who only started really performing after his victory in Silverstone, the win could prove to be boost he needs to start challenging the likes of Leclerc, Rowland and Markelov.
Charles Leclerc’s near perfect weekend in Azerbaijan won Prema a massive 43 points, helping their battle in the team standings, where they sit in third place. But it will not have escaped their notice that once again, none of their points were scored by Antonio Fuoco. Though the Italian did perform well in qualifying, his chances of a decent result were dashed when he crashed out in the feature race, making it a struggle to recover on Sunday. Approaching the halfway point in the season, pressure will be mounting on Fuoco to perform.
While some consideration should be put towards the fact that he is only in his first season of Formula 2, the remarkable performance of his teammate—also in his rookie season—puts the two drivers in stark contrast.
While Leclerc can afford to relax considering the size of his lead, if he can continue his streak of pole positions in Austria then he will overtake Stoffel Vandoorne’s record of consecutive pole positions in one season. But it is the results that all too often come with those stellar qualifying performances that Leclerc will wish to carry with him. If he can maintain his momentum, then it won’t be long until he becomes uncatchable.
The Red Bull Ring is a track that Leclerc himself cites as one of his favourites, and if he hasn’t lost any form since Baku then most would agree that he is favourite to win at least one of the races this weekend. But riding on the back of his first win, Nato will also be dangerous, and those who have been strong all season—Rowland, Markelov and Ghiotto—will almost definitely be quick.