F2 Bahrain: Pourchaire takes victory in a race of pit stop errors

ART’s Theo Pourchaire won the first feature race of the Formula 2 season in Bahrain, in a race that was turned on its head several times by disastrous pit stops.

Pourchaire started the race from second place alongside polesitter Jack Doohan, but both drivers had major wheelspin off the line as they struggled to fire up their hard tyres. As Doohan and Pourchaire were slow away, Juri Vips and Ralph Boschung shot through into first and second by Turn 1, while Liam Lawson jumped Pourchaire for fourth place.

The racing only lasted for a few corners before Frederik Vesti’s ART spun out of the race and the safety car was deployed. At the end of the first lap Vips led from Boschung, Doohan, Lawson and Pourchaire, while Calan Williams, Marcus Armstrong and Richard Verschoor had all managed to leap into the top 10 with their faster soft tyres at the start.

When the safety car came in at the end of lap 4 Vips kept the lead but Doohan took second place away from Boschung. The Swiss driver tried to retake the position coming out of Turn 1 but that only opened the door for Pourchaire to sneak past for third. Boschung then came under attack from Lawson, who moved up into fourth at the start of lap 6.

Liam Lawson, Carlin (Bryn Lennon, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

At the front of the field Vips spent the opening laps building a healthy gap over Doohan and Pourchaire. By lap 6 he was already two seconds clear, which then became six seconds by the time he came in for his pit stop on lap 13. But in the pits a stuck wheel nut wiped his advantage out completely, and when Vips rejoined the track with soft tyres he was not only behind Doohan and Pourchaire but also Lawson and Boschung.

Doohan made his own stop a lap after Vips. While his change to soft tyres was problem-free, he ended up exiting the pits alongside Pourchaire who had made up time by stopping a lap earlier. As they came through Turn 1 the two cars made contact, which left Doohan with a broken front wing and needing to stop a second time for repairs.

After all the pit stops had shaken out on lap 19, Pourchaire led from Felipe Drugovich, who had made an aggressive early stop for softs on lap 9. Lawson was running third ahead of Boschung and Vips, and Doohan was at the back of the field following his second stop for a new front wing.

As the race entered its final 10 laps, Drugovich’s early stop strategy began to hurt him as his soft tyres started to fade. Lawson passed him for second on lap 22 and Vips – who had set the fastest lap after clearing Boschung’s Campos – followed through for third shortly after. Drugovich then fell back behind Boschung and Armstrong as well.

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

At the front Pourchaire still had two seconds in hand over Lawson and Vips, and the gap remained steady for several laps. But on lap 27 Richard Verschoor was spun around at Turn 1 by Roy Nissany as they battled just outside the points and the safety car was deployed once again.

That triggered a flurry of pit stops for drivers at the tail end of the points, including Calan Williams, Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala. But in the flurry to get everyone back out on track, both Hauger and Williams were released without their front left tyres properly attached, and Williams ended up blocking the pitlane as his car partially spun when the wheel came off. As a result the cars in the pitlane had to weave around the Trident to rejoin the track, while the pit entry was closed to everyone else.

The race was eventually restarted on lap 31, but with the time allocation for the race exceeded that became the final lap. Pourchaire bolted early out of the final corner to get clear of Lawson going down to Turn 1, and Lawson’s spent soft tyres meant he was unable to challenge for the lead. The top three remained the same across the line, with Pourchaire winning ahead of Lawson and Vips.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Boschung came home in fourth place, matching his result from yesterday’s sprint race, ahead of Armstrong and Drugovich in fifth and sixth. Logan Sargeant finished seventh, and Nissany, Jake Hughes and Doohan rounded out the points.

After the feature race Pourchaire leads the championship with 25 points, with Lawson second on 24 and Vips third on 18. The teams’ championship however is led by Lawson’s Carlin team on 33 points, five ahead of Hitech.

F2 Bahrain: Verschoor takes controlled victory in opening sprint race

Trident’s Richard Verschoor took the first win of the Formula 2 season in the Bahrain sprint race, after pouncing on the lead early on and controlling the race from then on.

Verschoor started from second place on the reverse grid, alongside polesitter Felipe Drugovich. But when the lights went out Drugovich was bogged down off the line and Verschoor immediately assumed the lead heading down to Turn 1, while Jehan Daruvala and Ralph Boschung filtered into second and third.

Drugovich slipped back into the midfield pack as he recovered from his slow start, eventually stabilising in sixth place behind Liam Lawson in fourth and Jake Hughes in fifth. At the start of the second lap Drugovich passed Hughes for fifth place. Their battle down to Turn 1 opened the door for Theo Pourchaire, Jack Doohan and Juri Vips, who all passed Hughes over the course of the lap to demote the Van Amersfoort driver down to eighth.

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport (Clive Mason, Getty Images / FIA F2)

Hughes’ struggles then continued as he tried to fight back but ended up making contact with Marcus Armstrong and spinning the Hitech around. That brought out the safety car as Armstrong was unable to get going again.

Behind the safety car Drugovich, who had fallen behind Pourchaire, reported that Pourchaire’s car was dropping oil on the track. At the restart on lap 6 Pourchaire then fell down through the order with a mechanical failure and was forced to retire. Meanwhile Lawson darted to the inside of Daruvala at Turn 1, but Daruvala was able to hold off the Carlin to keep third place.

After fending off Lawson, Daruvala started to reel in Boschung as the Swiss driver’s tyres fell away from him. On lap 15 the gap between the two was just a few tenths, and Boschung had little grip to defend second place as Daruvala made his move into Turn 1 on the following lap.

Boschung was able to briefly reclaim second place on lap 17 after a virtual safety car period brought on by Hughes stopping on track. But that only lasted a lap until Daruvala was back in front of the Campos, and on lap 21 Lawson demoted Boschung another place as he took third at Turn 1.

Liam Lawson, Carlin (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

As the battle over second, third and fourth unfolded behind him, Verschoor continued unchallenged in the lead. By the time the final lap came around he had a 2.3 second gap over Daruvala, and crossed the line to comfortably take his second victory in F2.

Boschung finished the race in fourth behind Lawson, and ahead of Drugovich in fifth. Logan Sargeant made his way into the points in the closing stages to take sixth place for Carlin, and Vips and Ayumu Iwasa rounded out the points in seventh and eighth.

F3 Bahrain: Hadjar takes opening victory as Bearman penalised across the line

Isack Hadjar took victory for Hitech in the opening Formula 3 race of the season in Bahrain, after initial winner Oliver Bearman was handed a time penalty at the chequered flag.

Bearman started the race in second place behind the Carlin of reverse grid polesitter Zak O’Sullivan. At the race start Bearman went straight for the inside of Turn 1 to try and take the lead, but O’Sullivan managed to cover the Prema off and keep the lead for the opening lap.

Hadjar meanwhile started in fourth place behind David Vidales. After Vidales held Hadjar off into Turn 1, the Hitech driver then had to defend in a tight battle with Alex Smolyar and Zane Maloney early on.

Zane Maloney, Trident (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Hadjar moved up into the podium positions by passing Vidales at the end of the first lap. But coming onto the main straight, Vidales used the slipstream to pass Hadjar back for third while Maloney followed him through and demoted Hadjar to fifth.

However as the opening stages of the race unfolded, Vidales burned through his tyres quicker than the cars around him and dropped back from the leaders O’Sullivan and Bearman. On lap 3 he fell back to sixth as Maloney, Smolyar and Hadjar all passed the Campos, then eventually fell back into the clutches of Prema’s Arthur Leclerc as well.

As Maloney assumed third place, Bearman began to close on O’Sullivan for the lead. O’Sullivan had enjoyed a comfortable buffer of more than a second over the Prema in the early laps, but Bearman began to wear that down to half a second by lap 4. On lap 5, Bearman then made his move and took first place from the Carlin.

Oliver Bearman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Once in front, Bearman started to pull out a multiple second gap over O’Sullivan by the halfway stage, when O’Sullivan’s tyres began to fall away from him. By this point Hadjar was running in fourth place having despatched Smolyar, and was pursuing Maloney’s Trident for third.

By lap 15 Bearman was more than three seconds clear of O’Sullivan, while Maloney, Hadjar and Smolyar were swarming behind him. Maloney and Hadjar took advantage of O’Sullivan’s failing tyres to bump him off the podium shortly after, before Hadjar’s momentum then carried him past Maloney into second on lap 16.

With only a handful of laps remaining Bearman had a comfortable lead of 3.5 seconds, while Hadjar had lost too much time fighting past Smolyar, Maloney and O’Sullivan to make that up. But as Bearman continued pushing to build his gap even further, his engineer came on the radio to warn him about a string of track limits violations against his name.

Bearman initially crossed the line in first ahead of Hadjar, but while he and his team were celebrating on the radio he was handed a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits too many times. This dropped him to second behind Hadjar, handing Hitech the win.

 

Smolyar completed the podium in third place ahead of Maloney in fourth and Leclerc in fifth, and O’Sullivan came home in sixth in the end. Caio Collet took seventh for MP Motorsport, and Kaylen Frederick, Juan Manuel Correa and Vidales rounded out the final points positions.

F3 Bahrain preview: who can challenge the Trident/ Prema supremacy?

As the Formula 1 paddock descends on Bahrain’s International Circuit for the opening Grand Prix of the season, Formula 3 is also getting ready to launch its 2022 championship with a fresh format, plenty of new drivers and a title fight that’s anyone’s guess.

The title fight is the minimum for Trident and Prema

Oliver Bearman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Since the FIA F3 championship began in 2019, two teams and their drivers have dominated proceedings – Prema and Trident. The two Italian teams have claimed every drivers’ and teams’ title between them, and ended last season with their two lead drivers – Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan respectively – far ahead of the rest of the field in the championship standings.

With that record it’s a safe bet to assume those two teams will again be favourites this year, and they certainly have the driver talent to back that up.

Of the two Prema perhaps has the most instantly standout stable. Arthur Leclerc returns for a second season with the team, and although he had a lacklustre debut in 2021 he does come to this year off the back of a pretty dominant Formula Regional Asian title, also with Prema. He’s joined by another sophomore driver in Red Bull junior Jak Crawford, who finished on the podium with Hitech during his debut year and showed impressive pace along the way.

The final member of the Prema lineup is Oliver Bearman – Ferrari junior, and winner of the 2021 ADAC and Italian F4 championships. Although he’s going up against experienced teammates, Bearman’s recent titles and rise through the junior ranks mean he’ll be as much in the title hunt as anyone.

As for Trident, their lineup boasts a similar blend of experienced drivers and rookies. In the #1 car is Red Bull junior Jonny Edgar, who had a solid debut year in 2021 with Carlin, while Roman Stanek joins the team for his third season in F3.

Their teammate is rookie Zane Maloney, who comes with a British F4 title and race wins in Formula Regional European behind him. As one of the fastest drivers in pre-season testing in Bahrain, Maloney will certainly be a rookie to keep an eye on at the front of the field.

Zane Maloney, Trident (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Can anyone take the fight to the top teams?

Of course, Trident and Prema don’t have an exclusive hold over the title fight. They may have been top of the table in every F3 season so far, but there are eight other teams on the grid, with plenty of formidable talent spread throughout the field.

One name that jumps out is the newly-signed Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar. The Frenchman comes to F3 having finished fifth in Formula Regional European and third in Formula Regional Asian, but more importantly he topped two of the three days of pre-season testing. Hitech may have finished down the order last year, but it wasn’t that long ago they were winning races with Liam Lawson and Juri Vips at the helm.

Isack Hadjar, Hitech (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Speaking of Formula Regional European, the reigning champion Gregoire Saucy will make his debut this year with ART. Saucy also showed strong pace in pre-season testing and can surely be expected to be in the fight for poles, podiums and race wins in his debut year.

However, Saucy will have to come out swinging at ART to avoid being overshadowed by the team’s new signing Victor Martins. In his debut with MP Motorsport last year Martins was by far the field’s standout rookie, taking a win and five podiums and finishing fifth in the championship.

Although ART haven’t been able to challenge for the title in the FIA F3 era, with a driver like Martins in the car that could change this year.

Further down the grid Zak O’Sullivan leads an all-rookie lineup at Carlin. O’Sullivan’s short racing CV already includes last year’s GB3 title, the runner-up spot in British F4 and Ginetta Juniors and the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award, all of which has earned him a place in the Williams F1 Driver Academy.

With Carlin he’s unlikely to be in the title hunt, but given his calibre it would not be surprising to see him on the podium or even end Carlin’s hunt for a first win in FIA F3.

A new format for 2022

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

Last of all, F3 will see a revised format for this year. After running separately to Formula 2 last year, both feeder series’ are back on the same billing and each with one sprint race and one feature race instead of three races across the weekend.

F3’s sprint race will take place on Saturday and the feature race will be on Sunday before the Bahrain Grand Prix. The grid for both races will be set by qualifying on Friday, with the feature race decided by the full qualifying results and the sprint race by reversing the top 12.

The points on offer for pole position and the fastest lap have been halved to two and one point respectively. Points for the sprint race have also been reduced with the winner taking 10 points instead of 15, and the remainder of the top 10 scoring 9 points for second down to 1 point for 10th place.

The feature race points remain the same as before, meaning the winner will score 25 points following the system used for an F1 Grand Prix.

Formula 3’s first sprint race of the season begins on Saturday at 09:45 and the feature race will start on Sunday at 08:45.

F2 Bahrain preview: new faces, new challengers, new format

This weekend the 2022 Formula 2 championship gets underway in Bahrain, with plenty of new drivers and even a new team looking to open the season with a strong result.

The new weekend schedule

Liam Lawson, Carlin (Bryn Lennon, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

It’s not just the makeup of the grid that’s different this year – the format has also been tweaked for the new season. Last year F2 and Formula 3 ran on separate weekends with three races across Saturday and Sunday, but now they’re back on the same billing and returning to the familiar schedule of one sprint race and one feature race.

It’s not a complete return to the pre-2021 way, however. The sprint race remains on Saturday with the feature race taking place before Sunday’s F1 Bahrain Grand Prix. Qualifying on Friday will set the grid for Sunday’s feature race, while the starting order for Saturday’s sprint race will be decided by reversing the top 10 from qualifying.

The points system has also been tweaked for 2022. The number of points available for pole position and the fastest lap in each race has been halved for this year, meaning pole is now worth two points and the fastest lap is a single point. The points for the sprint race have been adjusted as well – the top eight still score, but victory will now award 10 points with 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 available for the remaining places.

The feature race keeps the same F1 points system as it has always used, with 25 points for the winner down to one point for tenth place.

Will experience lead the way?

Juri Vips, Hitech (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Heading into a new season of F2, the focus will always be on the returning drivers with experience behind them.

In 2022 only four drivers are still with the same team as last year: Juri Vips (Hitech), Theo Pourchaire (ART), Ralph Boschung (Campos) and Roy Nissany (DAMS). Of those Vips and Pourchaire will be expected to be in the title hunt as both are fighting to impress F1 teams, and both have good working relationships with their teams to build on after their successful debuts.

Liam Lawson is another driver who will be one to watch this season and this weekend in particular. After winning on his debut last year with Hitech, the New Zealand Red Bull junior moves to Carlin who finished third in the teams’ championship last year. As one of the winners from Bahrain last year, he should be a threat for the top spot in Sakhir again.

Another driver who will be interesting to watch after moving teams is Felipe Drugovich. The Brazilian has switched from UNI-Virtuosi to MP Motorsport for his third season, which theoretically would be a drop down the grid.

But it was with MP that Drugovich took three victories (including one in Bahrain) during his debut season in 2020. With a more comfortable environment he may return to fighting at the front of the field again this year.

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Fresh faces, big impact

As Oscar Piastri showed last season when he won the title at the first attempt, experience isn’t everything in F2 – and there’s a bumper crop of rookies joining the series for 2022 looking to follow in his footsteps.

Reigning champions Prema are no exception. With Piastri leaving the series, Prema have called up Red Bull junior and reigning Formula 3 champion Dennis Hauger to take his seat. Given his and his team’s recent success, Hauger is considered one of the favourites for the title this year.

Hauger won’t be without his competition though. His F3 title rival Jack Doohan is also joining the grid for a full campaign this year with the UNI-Virtuosi team. His team enjoyed recent championship challenges led by Callum Ilott and Guanyu Zhou, while Doohan himself already has some competitive F2 experience under his belt from running in the final two rounds last year. This is definitely a pairing to watch out for.

Jack Doohan, UNI-Virtuosi (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Further along the grid there are more impressive rookies joining the field. Logan Sargeant, Frederik Vesti and Clement Novalak will race with Carlin, ART and MP Motorsport respectively after earning plenty of plaudits in F3 in recent years. Meanwhile F3 race winners and podium finishers Olli Caldwell, Ayumu Iwasa, Enzo Fittipaldi and Calan Williams will represent Campos, DAMS, Charouz and Trident respectively, and former F1 eSports driver Cem Bolukbasi joins Charouz after a race-winning Euroformula Open campaign last year.

And last but not least, there is a new team on the grid in the form of Van Amersfoort Racing. The Dutch feeder series stalwarts are taking over HWA’s vacant entry, and for their first season will pair experienced F2 and F3 driver Jake Hughes with rookie Amaury Cordeel.

Racing gets underway this weekend with the F2 sprint race on Saturday at 16:40 UTC and the feature race on Sunday at 10:40 UTC.

F2 Bahrain: Shwartzman wins sprint race as Ilott crashes out of points

Robert Shwartzman took his fourth win of the season and first since Spa in the Bahrain sprint race, while Callum Ilott’s championship hopes took a big hit after a collision with Jehan Daruvala.

Shwartzman got a clean launch from reverse grid pole to hold the lead from Yuki Tsunoda, who jumped Marcus Armstrong for second off the line. Nikita Mazepin was slow away, allowing Daruvala and Mick Schumacher to take fourth and fifth respectively.

Tsunoda had strong pace to pressure Shwartzman through the opening sequence of corners, but before the end of the lap the Carlin driver picked up a right rear puncture and was forced to pit.

Without Tsunoda to defend from, Shwartzman was able to start putting in fastest laps and pull out a gap over Armstrong. Further back, Mazepin recovered from his slow start by taking fourth from Schumacher on lap 4, then demoting Daruvala off the podium a lap later.

Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images

Shwartzman had a gap of almost three seconds over Armstrong at the start of lap 6. But this was wiped out when Theo Pourchaire stopped on track after his fire extinguisher went off in the cockpit, and the safety car was deployed.

The race restarted on lap 7, with Mazepin putting immediate pressure on Armstrong and Schumacher battling to hold fifth over title rival Ilott.

Schumacher had a big lockup going into Turn 10 and looked to be heading off the track. Ilott took advantage of the error by diving to the inside of his rival, but ended up locking his own tyres and spearing into Daruvala ahead.

Daruvala retired on the spot while Ilott tumbled out of the points with damage to his front wing and nose. Schumacher managed to get away without any contact, although he lost position to Pedro Piquet, who navigated the incident to emerge in fourth before the virtual safety car was called.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 9 Armstrong reacted well to put pressure on Shwartzman, but was unable to make a move for the lead stick. Armstrong ended up losing second instead to Mazepin after locking up at T1, then was passed for third by Piquet on lap 12.

But although Mazepin had much more pace than Piquet and Armstrong behind him, he didn’t have enough to make any impact on Shwartzman’s lead. Having been able to conserve his tyres out front while Mazepin hurt his fighting through the field, Shwartzman continued to pull away over the second half of the race and took the chequered flag with five seconds in hand over Mazepin.

Nikita Mazepin (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Behind the podium battles Schumacher was running in fifth but didn’t have the tyre life to take any more advantage of Ilott dropping out of the points. On lap 15 he was dropped to sixth by Guanyu Zhou, then immediately came under fire from Christian Lundgaard.

Schumacher got some brief respite on lap 17 when an unsuccessful move from Lundgaard at Turn 4 left the Dane instead defending from Felipe Drugovich in eighth. But shortly after the trio were caught by Louis Deletraz, who had taken the chance to pit under the earlier safety car and had the advantage of much fresher tyres.

Over the next five laps, Deletraz picked off Drugovich, Lundgaard, Schumacher, Zhou and Armstrong to run fourth behind his Charouz teammate Piquet. This then became third on lap 22, when Piquet pulled to the side of the road with a mechanical problem.

Armstrong managed to hold on to fourth ahead of Zhou, while Lundgaard pipped Schumacher for sixth on the final lap and Drugovich took the final point in eighth.

Shwartzman’s win means the Russian moves to fourth in the championship and is still mathematically in contention for the title. With Ilott failing to score, Schumacher now has a 14-point lead over his nearest rival going into the final round next week.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Robert Shwartzman Prema Racing 15
2 Nikita Mazepin Hitech Grand Prix 12
3 Louis Deletraz (FL) Charouz Racing System 12
4 Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix 8
5 Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 6
6 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 4
7 Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 2
8 Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport 1
9 Roy Nissany Trident
10 Artem Markelov BWT HWA Racelab
11 Marino Sato Trident
12 Dan Ticktum DAMS
13 Giuliano Alesi MP Motorsport
14 Sean Gelael DAMS
15 Yuki Tsunoda Carlin
16 Callum Ilott UNI-Virtuosi Racing
Ret. Jack Aitken Campos Racing
Ret. Guilherme Samaia Campos Racing
Ret. Pedro Piquet Charouz Racing System
Ret. Luca Ghiotto Hitech Grand Prix
Ret. Jehan Daruvala Carlin
Ret. Theo Pourchaire BWT HWA Racelab

 

F2 Bahrain preview: title in Schumacher’s grasp

Formula 2 returns to the track this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit for the penultimate round of the 2020 championship.

It’s been a while since September 27th, when we last saw F2 action at the Sochi Autodrom. Guanyu Zhou left Russia an F2 winner at last, having taken victory from Nikita Mazepin in the curtailed sprint race, but it was championship leader Mick Schumacher who made the most of the weekend.

After taking his second win of the season in the feature race, Schumacher came back through the field on Sunday to finish third on the sprint race podium as well. As a result, Schumacher comes to Bahrain with a healthy 22-point lead over his nearest rival Callum Ilott.

In fact, Schumacher could wrap up the title this weekend, perhaps even as early as the feature race. With two rounds remaining, Schumacher would have to outscore Callum Ilott by 26 points across the weekend—a feature race win with either pole or the fastest lap would do it.

But although Schumacher has one hand on the championship trophy, the margin between him and Ilott is still close enough that it wouldn’t take much for the tables to turn. All Ilott needs is a pair of strong results and some bad luck for Schumacher, and we could be looking at a very different picture for next weekend’s Sakhir finale.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As ever in F2, there plenty more tight championship battles right through the field than just the one at the front.

Yuki Tsunoda is currently third in the championship but only seven points separate him from Mazepin in sixth. With Red Bull open about wanting Tsunoda to race in F1 with AlphaTauri next year, he’ll be wanting to open that gap a little more to make sure he scores the necessary super licence points.

Tsunoda’s Carlin team didn’t have the most competitive outing in Bahrain last year, with Louis Deletraz’s pair of fifth places their best result. However, the British team does know how to prepare a good car for the circuit, as was seen by Lando Norris and Sergio Sette Camara scoring a win and two podiums respectively in 2018.

Further back again, Felipe Drugovich will be one to keep an eye on this weekend. The Brazilian has been one of the surprise stars of the season, taking two sprint race wins and a pole at Silverstone, and he’ll be well aware that any more great results this weekend will be a big help as he looks for a 2021 seat further up the grid.

Finally, Bahrain will see Formula 3 driver Theo Pourchaire make his F2 debut with HWA. Pourchaire, who finished runner-up in this year’s F3 championship, will take over the #17 HWA from Jake Hughes, who raced at the last round in Sochi following Giuliano Alesis’s mid-season switch to MP Motorsport.

Alesi will continue with MP Motorsport this weekend, despite reports earlier this month that he was in danger of losing his seat and backing from the Ferrari Driver Academy.

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

Night begins to fall on 2020: Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

In a year that has not seen an awful lot of light either in Formula One or the outside world, darkness will soon descend on the 2020 season, with three night races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi closing out the championship.

And whilst the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships have already once again been grabbed with authority by Mercedes, it is the battles further down that, true to form, promise to be as eccentric as ever as we head to Sakhir.

Mercedes have sealed both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships for the seventh year running – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The 5.4 kilometre circuit has played host to 16 Formula one races since its inception in 2004, and was eventually rushed onto this year’s calendar after it had to miss out on its slot as the second race of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will play host to two consecutive race weekends, but not quite as we know it. While this weekend utilises the accustomed track, the following weekend will see the vastly shortened version take its place, with sub-one minute lap times predicted.

Such pace will not be afforded in the first of the two meets in the desert, meaning that Mercedes’ dominance could possibly be kerbed slightly.

If we remember back to last year, Charles Leclerc all but had the win in the bag before engine issues cost him the victory, and would have cost him a podium had it not been for a late safety car.

A cruel engine problem saw a victory-bound Charles Leclerc finish third last year – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

But this performance from Ferrari is as much a concern this year as it was promising last year. The Prancing Horses were really the only team able to touch Mercedes that weekend, with Red Bull struggling find podium-earning pace.

And Ferrari have been woeful this year; their pace has picked up since the beginning of the season in Austria, but no wins and just three podiums are a damming indictment on what has been an extremely one-sided affair for the titles.

As a result, we should not anticipate much of a challenge for the win, and Valtteri Bottas in particular will be hoping this is the case following one of the most disastrous days of his career last time out in Turkey. To compound his non-points finish, he had to watch his team mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to the championship and claim his seventh title.

Valtteri Bottas congratulates champion Lewis Hamilton after a horrible day at the office for the Finn – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

But it is the aforementioned midfield that will be catching the eye. Bahrain does seem to be able to promote some decent side-by side action down the main straight and up towards turn four, and drivers have shown plenty of times at this track that they are perfectly unafraid of an audacious overtaking attempt elsewhere too.

Sergio Perez’s phenomenal podium last time in Istanbul sees him an impressive fourth in the Drivers’ standings on exactly 100 points. He is three clear of Charles Leclerc, and you only have to count back another one point to find Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.

Sergio Perez (right) out of a drive for next year despite hauling his Racing Point car to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

Istanbul certainly aided the shaking-up of the order, making for what will be a scintillating final three rounds of the season. The close racing in Sakhir will be an excellent catalyst for the showdown for what will now be a coveted fourth spot.

With eighteen points between third-placed Racing Point and fifth-placed Renault in the Constructors’ standings too, prepare for three weekends of thrills and spills as the championship reaches its last chapter.

F1 completes 2020 schedule as Istanbul returns

Yes, you heard that correct! With its heavily revised schedule that stemmed from F1 having to suspend its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we now know for a fact that F1 will have a season containing 17 Grands Prix from July to December.

Along the way, we have unfortunately lost fan favourite events such as Baku, Suzuka and Interlagos, and the two new additions to the schedule Hanoi and Zandvoort. But in their place we’ve had some incredible tracks added in to more than make up for it. These being new circuits such as Mugello and Algarve, and returning beloved circuits such as Nürburgring and Imola. Well another much beloved circuit is making an unexpected return and that’s Istanbul Park – the home of the Turkish Grand Prix between 2005 and 2011.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – MAY 08: Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing holds off Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit on May 8, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber; Fernando Alonso // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI201412160311 // Usage for editorial use only //

With the announcement of the return to Turkey which will be on November 15th, also came the completion of the entire schedule. F1 will finish off the season with a triple header in the Middle East: two Grands Prix on the Bahrain International Circuit on November 29th and December 6th, then the ever beloved (I say with sarcasm) Yas Marina circuit will host the final GP on December 13th.

The second race in Bahrain however, does have an added variable. With the other two circuits to host two GP’s this year (Red Bull Ring and Silverstone), neither circuit was held on an alternative layout, but the two Bahrain races will not be on the same layout. For those of you who were watching F1 back in 2010, you’ll remember that Bahrain held the season opener and used a longer variant of the usual layout with a section between the typical turns four and five that extended out and fed back into the regular GP circuit.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

It wasn’t a beloved layout and they reverted back to the regular layout from 2012 onwards after the 2011 race had to be called off due to civil unrest. Rest assured, this second race in Bahrain isn’t going to be on what is dubbed the ‘Endurance’ layout, nor is it on the ‘Paddock’ layout that players of the most recent F1 games have grown accustomed to when racing the alternate Bahrain GP layout.

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday

The second Bahrain race will take place on the ‘Outer circuit’, which breaks away from the traditional Grand Prix circuit at turn four like the Endurance layout, but then takes a detour to what is normally turn 13, so it misses the entirety of the infield. Ross Brawn has gone on record stating that it’s perhaps the closest F1 will get to an oval, so expect the teams to be running a radically different downforce package to the race on the traditional GP loop.

Alright now that’s over with, let us wax lyrical about how amazing Istanbul Park is! F1 hasn’t been to the Turkish GP venue since 2011 but it still holds a special place in F1 fans’ hearts. The circuit has not got one bad corner, the peak of which comes at the quadruple apex turn eight which a lot of F1 fans are excited about considering the cornering speeds of the current era cars.

ISTANBUL (TURCHIA) 06/05/2011
© FOTO ERCOLE COLOMBO

Istanbul has always had a lack of attendees, the result of the organisers not seeing value in it after their stunt in 2006. They attempted to get the world to recognise a breakaway of the island of Cyprus as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” of which only Turkey recognises. This resulted in Cyprus filing a complaint and the FIA fined the organisers five million dollars.

Since losing the Grand Prix, the organisers have turned the circuit into an over-glorified car showroom, which just hurts to hear. it’s like using the Mona Lisa as a coaster for a hot drink mug. It had even lost its FIA Grade-1 rating which is why I wasn’t expecting it to be in the conversation to be hosting a Grand Prix on the revised schedule. But it has, and it is! Savour it everyone, potentially we may never see this circuit again.

Hopefully Codemasters can find a way to get all the new tracks into the next F1 game, even if it is later on as downloadable content.

That’s it, the 2020 Formula One World Championship will conclude on December 13th with the Abu Dhabi GP after 17 races. If only we could pick Istanbul up and drop it in France so the French could have a decent circuit to host their Grand Prix, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of you out there are looking forward to seeing the return of this beloved circuit.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

How to deal with an F1 heartbreak, Leclerc style

Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain hotel room ought to have been marked a no-go zone. It’s a testament to the Monegasque, humble and self-examining in his conduct, that it would be the first place he gives himself chance to vent. He navigated each interview with professionalism betraying his years, out of the car, onto the podium and back down the steps on his way to an apologetic Scuderia.

Never has it been as easy to forget, that this is a day on which a driver achieved their first podium in Formula 1, for the most historic racing team of all time. This should have been cause for celebration. Instead, Leclerc would be forgiven for wanting to slump in the corner of said room and attempt to retcon his most recent memory with force.

Having taken his first pole position, Leclerc was adamant both to his team and the breathtaken media that the job wasn’t over – “I am trying to stay as cool as possible, because there are no points for pole position”. He knew Sunday, his true date with destiny, awaited him. With a red tuxedo immaculate and a metaphorical tie millimetre-aligned, Leclerc spent 47 laps wooing to the utmost only to be stood up at the table in the night’s dying moments.

Ferrari Media

The term ‘bitter blow’ doesn’t do it justice. Leclerc was faultless, a messy first lap aside, on a day where the infectious seeds of inconsistency were sprouting up all across the grid. Mercedes had collapsed pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel relapsed into troubles of the recent past. Pierre Gasly was again cast in the sea of the midfield, and Red Bull were in no position to put up a fight. The only one who had both the machine, and the disposition to utilise it, was him.

But, as we know in F1, the Gods can strike at any time. Again, Leclerc was humble in his approach to the media after the race – “It happens, it’s part of motorsport”. The fabric of not only his successes, but his career and person, is a stoicism that affords clarity, and a rigid confidence in the ripples of outside influence evening themselves out over seasons and careers.

To make it big in racing, all drivers have to learn this the hard way. The biggest surprise is how Leclerc exudes this sense he was born with it. His ability to think long-term is an offshoot of his acceptance that outside variables can’t be changed, and as we’ve seen many a time through his interviews he likes to instead look inwards at every opportunity, and obsessively hold himself to account wherever he can. It’s beyond admirable.

Ferrari Media

It’s a sign of being in control, even when every single thing outside of your mind and body wants to break you down. That losing yourself is improbable, bordering on impossible, because there’s a foundation of introspection that can’t be shaken. Leclerc’s painfully emotional F2 win in Baku is proof of this; his father had passed away mere days ago, the pressure of his ‘next big thing’ tag was weighing down on him, and the race was as chaotic as they come. His focus that day was as though those issues were denied access into the confines of his cockpit.

He’d go on to suffer a troublesome first three races with Sauber, visibly struggling to tame an unpredictable car. Instead of looking to deflect, or simply carry on as normal, Leclerc opted instead to ask himself difficult questions, more so than with his team. He certainly helped Sauber develop the C37 into a midfield mainstay, but the hardest treatment was placed by himself, on himself. No one was willing to do it with a rookie who hadn’t even been driving poorly, but let it be known Leclerc holds himself to world-class standards.

And he does this because each and every time, it’s allowed him to blossom. Even when most other drivers want an arm around the shoulder from their team, and an easy time of it in the press pen, Leclerc doesn’t allow himself the satisfaction of such comforts until he’s improved in a way no one would even have noticed but himself. The mental solidity that takes, when locked in the furnace of Formula One, is unfathomable.

So if anyone can handle the pain of having the most glorious win of any driver’s career – a maiden victory with Scuderia Ferrari – kissed away into the wind, it is Leclerc. As much as we’d all understand if he locked himself away with a whisky bottle until the pain numbed, it is not, never has been and never will be his way of dealing with issues. Leclerc always bounces back, and every ounce of adversity only serves to make him stronger.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari media]

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