Formula 2’s super licence points overhaul; the wrong answer to the right question?

Ever since the GP2 series became the FIA Formula 2 Championship earlier in the year, much work has been done to try mould the series to fit the vision of the FIA. And the latest announcement is that the FIA are looking to make Formula 2 “almost compulsory” for young drivers looking to make it to Formula 1, through the reallocation of the points required to obtain an FIA super licence.

Currently, a driver needs forty points (accumulated within the past three seasons) to obtain a super licence. Through the regulations in place, the top three placed drivers in F2 are awarded the whole forty points, along with the winners of European Formula 3, Formula E, the LMP1 class in the World Endurance Championship, and the IndyCar Series. Technically, this means drivers can skip Formula 2 all together, and young drivers can enter Formula 1 from lower junior categories such as Formula 3 – which we saw in the cases of Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll.

This kind of rapid career progression, often labelled as ‘skipping’ series, has been widely criticised by some who see it as a way for well funded youngsters to find a place in Formula 1 before they are quite ready for the jump. Though this was an issue that was supposed to be avoided by the introduction of the new super licence system in 2016, brought in as a direct response to the seventeen-year-old Verstappen’s arrival on the 2015 F1 grid, the FIA has decided that a reshuffle of the points system is needed to help improve the junior single seater ladder.

Photo: Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Formula 2’s technical director Didier Perrin told Motorsport.com that while F2 wouldn’t “be mandatory in theory…it will be the preferred path to F1”. And though no specific plans or numbers have been revealed, his words clearly indicate that F2 will be given more weigh in the super license system, particularly above Formula 3. The desired effect is clearly a boost to the profile of the Formula 2 Championship, but there has also been a suggestion that Formula 1 wants to create a structure similar to the one in place in MotoGP, where the series is supported by the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. The success created in MotoGP makes the prospect attractive to the Formula 1 bosses, and it is easy to see the benefits.

With Formula 2’s place in the single seater ladder intended to be above Formula 3, it seems only logical that its winners should be awarded more super licence points, and perhaps an oversight that it was ever given the same amount in the first place. With Formula 1 teams able to overlook the category, much has been made of the fact that many recent stand out performers and even winners of GP2 have failed to get a look in at the top tier. While drivers from Formula 3, Formula V8 3.5 (formerly known as Formula Renault 3.5) and DTM were being called up by the big names in Formula 1, those competing in what was supposed to be top junior single seater series were left languishing. Recent graduates have been forced to look elsewhere.

Another benefit, and what is clearly the main intention behind the move, is to prevent the kind of criticism being directed towards F1 that the promotion of Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll inspired. While both drivers acclimated to Formula 1, and have since proven their worth, the moves were met by concerns about their age and experience. Stroll’s early performance in particular, seemed to prove these doubts, and though he has since overcome these troubles, many would still argue that he would have benefitted from a few more seasons in junior formula. By making a season in Formula 2 the preferred route, then future Verstappens and Strolls will have to wait a little longer before making their top tier debut, and inexperienced drivers will be discouraged from moving too fast.

Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, for all these good intentions. There is the argument that this reallocation of the super license points doesn’t address the real problems with the single seater ladder.

Whilst Formula 2 would not be harmed by additional exposure or sponsorship, and an influx of more top young talent. The reason for the lack of graduates from the series to Formula 1 lies not in the series itself, but rather in the absence of available seats in F1. It is all very well encouraging drivers to take their career through F2, but when the rare opportunities for a Formula 1 drive do present themselves, then drivers and teams will not want to wait around until they have satisfied the FIA by climbing the career ladder just the way they laid out.

But perhaps the most glaring issue with Formula 2 and single seater series like it is cost. With a season in Formula 2 can cost anywhere between 1.5 to 2 million euros, for those young drivers who lack substantial backing, it becomes an increasingly unviable option. If the emphasis is placed on Formula 2, then these drivers who cannot afford to race a full season in a front running F2 team run the risk of being overlooked – just as the stars of the series were in the past. It is no good trying to elevate a series without first making it more accessible for hopeful young drivers.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Those drivers who find it necessary to take less traditional routes in their motorsport careers could find themselves ignored if the super licence points do not aid racers who choose to take this path.

While the FIA may want to replicate the Moto2/3 system in single seater racing, this is not a realistic goal with the current costs involved. The price of one seat in Formula 2 would probably be enough to fund an entire team in Moto2 for a whole season. While the FIA have outlined curbing expenses as one of their aims for the future development of F1, it seems pointless trying to bring in small fixes and solutions when the real problem is so much bigger.

The problem the FIA is trying to address, and the improvement of junior series are valid and worthy goals. But what they are suggesting is ultimately a temporary solution to a much wider problem. F1’s new owners have highlighted the growing cost of the sport as an issue, and it is one that needs tackling across single seater racing, or they run the risk of finding that the pool of young talent has run dry when those elusive Formula 1 seats finally do open up.

F2 Monza: Home heroes shine, as misfortune puts championship battle on hold

Formula 2’s visit to Italy threw up more than a few surprises over the course of the weekend, with a frenetic set of races that saw us leave Monza with the gap between first and second in the championship somehow still at fifty-nine points.

Charles Leclerc’s on track pole position streak finally came to an end when ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita posted the fastest time in a disrupted session on Friday afternoon, while the championship leader sat all the way down in seventh place. It was a mighty recovery for the Japanese driver, who crashed out of the last race in Spa in spectacular style. It also meant that it was something of a shaken up grid that started Saturday’s feature race, with none of the championship front runners even on the front row.

On Saturday it wasn’t even a simple case of the drivers turning up and racing. Thanks to the torrential downpour that led to the cancellation of the GP3 race and the long delay in Formula 1 qualifying, the Formula 2 feature race started around two hours late. The wet conditions also led to the field circulating behind the safety car for six laps, with an extra formation lap added when Santino Ferrucci stalled just as the race was finally about to get underway.

As expected, given the conditions, it was a messy start with contact between the leading cars at the first corner, but Racing Engineering’s Nyck de Vries managed to take the lead from Matsushita. After his disappointing qualifying, Leclerc improved almost immediately to third and into the podium places, which much of the field scrapping behind him as the cars battled through the wet tarmac, a fight saw ART’s Alexander Albon spin and end up at the back of the field.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Poor visibility from the fountains of spray being kicked up by the cars didn’t stop Leclerc taking second from Matsushita around the final corner of the track. But it was his fellow championship contender, Oliver Rowland, who made up the most amount of places in the opening laps, improving to fifth from thirteenth on the grid by the end of lap 3.

Quickly, Leclerc was gaining on de Vries, circulating comfortably quicker than the McLaren junior as all the drivers learnt how to navigate the difficult conditions. Rowland looked imperiously quick as he moved off the racing line to overtake the experienced Roberto Merhi, moving past Matsuhita barely a lap later. This was a tactic many of the other drivers began to emulate in a bid to find more grip and speed.

De Vries managed to keep a cool head under the pressure being mounted on him by Leclerc, showing that his new stint at Racing Engineering is a far more better fit for him. The majority of the top ten waited until a few laps from the end to pit, with Leclerc making his stop on lap 18 of 23, with de Vries and Rowland coming in a lap later and both of them managing to maintain position.

But the race was by no means decided then, Leclerc wasn’t giving up the chase and disaster struck Rowland on lap 19 when one of his tyres came loose, ending what would have been a truly storming race for the British driver. His abandoned DAMS brought out the safety car with just a handful of laps remaining.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Racing resumed on lap 21 with a lightning fast restart from the leader de Vries and Leclerc, who pulled away from the now third placed Luca Ghiotto. A mistake by Leclerc at the first corner forced him to cut the chicane and subsequently give the position he gained, which opened the door for Ghiotto who flew into the lead of his home race with only a lap and a half to go. De Vries fought back aggressively with the two cars running side by side down the start/finish straight as they started the final lap of the race. An error under breaking from Ghiotto saw him cut the first chicane but crucially maintain the lead – a mistake that would come back to haunt him later.

Meanwhile Leclerc tried to make the pass on de Vries, narrowly avoiding a collision with Matsushita, only to be forced wide and off the track by the Dutchman. The clumsy move saw Leclerc finish last and de Vries retire with a puncture from the contact. De Vries would later be penalised for the move but the time penalty made little difference to Leclerc and Prema, who were understandably furious about the incident.

It wasn’t all disappointment for Prema however, as their other driver Antonio Fuoco fought his way through to second, making it an Italian 1-2 at Monza, and securing his third podium of the season. ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita finished in third, making up for his poor start from pole, with Nicholas Latifi coming in an impressive fourth place after starting fourteenth. Alexander Albon, who was running dead last on the first lap was another driver who made a strong recovery to finish fifth, followed by Sean Gelael, Sergio Sette Camara and Louis Deletraz in eighth with his best finish of the season so far. Gustav Malja and Artem Markelov picked up the final points of the race.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

But it wasn’t all over yet. In a déjà vu moment similar to the events of Spa one week ago, late into Saturday night it was announced that race winner and home hero Luca Ghiotto had been handed a five second time penalty, stripping him of his victory, and pushing him off the podium entirely, making his final finishing position fourth place. It meant his countryman and Prema driver, Antonio Fuoco collected his first race win of the season, and whose performance proved that his early bad run was not indicative of his talents. Nobuharu Matsushita, therefore, received second place, whilst Nicholas Latifi moved onto the podium to take third.

Alexander Albon, who had finished fifth on track was also given a ten second time penalty for his collision with Norman Nato, which demoted him from the points and into fourteenth place.

The last lap drama of Saturday’s race saw the grid for the sprint race look a little different than we might expect. Without the treacherous conditions of Saturday, Sean Gelael and Louis Deletraz were able to get flying starts, overtaking the reverse grid pole sitter Gustav Malja. The Indonesian driver managed to fight his way into the lead; unfamiliar territory for the Arden driver who is yet to finish higher than fifth place this season.

The sprint race was all about recovery for Rowland and Leclerc, who started near the back of the field and set about trying to cut their way through the field. But they weren’t the only drivers who had a point to prove. Ghiotto was vocal about how disappointed he was to lose his first race win of the season, and was clearly determined to make amends on Sunday.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Most of the field were bunched together, with the drivers in the podium positions constantly swapping and changing in the first few laps, as Gelael lost his lead to Deletraz and began to slip down the order. Within just seven laps, Ghiotto was back in the podium positions with an uncompromising couple of moves on Gelael and Sette Camara.

Monza is a track renowned for generating massive slipstreams, which, while aiding overtaking, leaves advancing drivers vulnerable to attack from behind. Rapax’s Louis Deletraz learnt this the hard way as he fought to keep the lead from the charging Luca Ghiotto, which he eventually lost on lap 11. Ghiotto was being followed by Sette Camara, but it would be hard to deny the Italian driver the race win which had been taken away from him the day before. The young Brazilian was driving well to prove that his sprint race win in Belgium was not just a case of good fortune, but raw speed and ability.

The close running made a collision seem inevitable, and many of the drivers did pick up damage over the course of the race, including Leclerc, who had worked his way up to ninth but struggled to make it much further with a broken front wing.

Antonio Fuoco was on a mission to secure his first double podium of the season, his speed showing just how confident he is around Monza, especially as he overtook Deletraz with ease for third place.

Luca Ghiotto’s dominant race win was never in doubt this time, and the Italian could feel vindicated that he had driven out of his skin to secure a victory he believed he deserved. It was a mature drive from Sette Camara to take second place, and a strong showing from Fuoco to take third, pleasing the crowd of fans who were cheering on the Ferrari junior driver at Monza. Louis Deletraz’s fourth place was his best finish of the season, and rounded off a much stronger weekend for the Swiss driver, who had floundered a little up until this point. Roberto Merhi, Sean Gelael, Matsushita and Alexander Albon – who made a good recovery from fourteenth on the grid – occupied the final points paying positions, while the championship leaders Leclerc, Rowland and Markelov all finished empty handed.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula 2.

The Italians were undoubtedly the stars of the weekend, and whether it was a case of home turf advantage, both Ghiotto and Fuoco proved that they shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of their teammates. Ghiotto’s performance, including a much needed first race win, has placed him in the picture of the championship fight, as he is now only two points behind his teammate Markelov, and just nine behind Rowland.

The main fight in the driver standings remains unchanged, with Leclerc and Rowland feeling the brunt of bad luck once again and failing to score at all. With his fifty-nine-point lead, if Leclerc can steer clear of trouble in Jerez in a month’s time, then it is possible that he could wrap up the championship in Spain. But the drama and unpredictability of the season so far means that as likely as this might seem, it is far from guaranteed.

Formula 2 unveils new car for 2018

On Thursday afternoon at Monza it was time for the FIA to reveal the package that will be run in the newly branded Formula 2 season in 2018, which took the place of the GP2 series this year. Currently, Formula 2 runs a chassis and engine package that was introduced in 2011, and with the overhaul of the junior single seater ladder by both the FIA and Liberty Media, now is naturally the right time to upgrade the series’ machinery.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

The chassis will still be supplied by Dallara, and the new V6 turbo charged engine by Mecachrome. But perhaps the most obvious, and controversial, difference is the introduction of the halo cockpit protection device, which is being introduced in Formula 1 from 2018 as well. The aim with this new model was to ensure that racing will continue to be exciting, while still keeping costs down so as to make the series accessible.

Photo: Andrew Hone/FIA Formula 2

At the launch in the Monza paddock, Ross Brawn was keen to emphasise the desire to keep promoting and expanding  junior single seater racing. The ultimate goal is that fans can follow their favourite drivers from Formula 4 all the way to, hopefully, Formula 1. This new car is the first real taste of what Liberty Media and the FIA hope Formula 2, and other junior categories of motorsport, can become – a thrilling series in its own right and the perfect preparation for aspiring racing drivers.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

F2 Preview: Taking to the track at the Temple of Speed

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.

Photo: Alastair Staley/FIA Formula 2.

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

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.

F2 Spa: Double disqualification and a debut win in Belgium

In true Spa-Francorchamps fashion, Friday’s qualifying for this round of the FIA Formula 2 championship was a washout. But that didn’t stop Charles Leclerc from collecting his seventh pole position of the season, proving that Prema have magnificent one lap pace no matter what the conditions are. It was a top ten starting position for all three championship contenders, ensuring that they would all be up there on Saturday. After adding Nyck de Vries to their line-up, Racing Engineering had one of their best qualifying performances all season, with both of their drivers making it into top ten as well.

Before the race even started it was disappointment for DAMS’ Nicholas Latifi, who, after securing his first front row start in Formula 2 and out qualifying his teammate, was forced to the pit lane, and ultimately failed to get his car going at all. DAMS team boss Francois Sicard would later cite a broken valve as the cause of his woes. It was bitterly frustrating for the Canadian who has been having an outstanding season so far.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

With the DAMS driver missing, it was a frenetic opening lap in Saturday’s feature race. Leclerc only just managed to fend off his main championship rival, Oliver Rowland, after a poor start, and their fellow championship contender Artem Markelov made up four places almost immediately to begin lap 2 in fifth place. There were cars making contact up and down the field, most notably between the brand new Racing Engineering teammates, with debris littering the track, and damage for many of the drivers. It was ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita that brought out the Virtual Safety Car after he stalled on the grid.

After racing resumed on lap 2, Leclerc got to work with putting distance between himself and the second placed Rowland, his Prema machinery running almost a second a lap faster than the DAMS. Russian Time’s Luca Ghiotto was proving that he could be just as aggressive a driver as his teammate as he took third place from Antonio Fuoco, and it was the Russian team’s cars who were making up the most ground, steadily cutting through the field.

Rowland and DAMS attempted the undercut on lap 7, but few of the other front runners followed suit, and when Leclerc made his stop on lap 11 and came out ahead, it was clear that the French team had lost the strategy game.

But the British driver did not give up his chase easily. He put on a real display of attacking driving, particularly his fantastic overtake on Norman Nato. However, his pace was simply no match for Leclerc’s, who was speeding away in a league of his own. It was Russian Time who called their strategy perfectly, aided by Markelov’s uncanny ability to manage his tyres. When he pitted on lap 16 of the twenty-five lap race and came out in fifth place, his penchant for aggressive driving and fresher tyres made for a killer combination as he tore through the competition.

It was déjà vu when the Russian came up against Rowland in his pursuit of second place. In a move reminiscent of their clash in Hungary, Markelov had more success this time when he overtook Rowland around the outside at the Bus Stop, in one of the most thrilling moments of the race which saw him take second place by less than a tenth of a second. The second and third placed drivers in the championship had to be content with letting the dominant Leclerc stand upon the top step of the podium as he finished an eye watering twenty-six seconds ahead of the field.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

But the drama didn’t stop at the chequered flag. Late on Saturday night, news came that both Leclerc and Rowland had been disqualified from the feature race for the same technical infringement – excessive wear to the underfloor plank of their cars.

The title rivals were therefore sent to the back of the grid for the sprint race on Sunday while Markelov inherited the race win and his teammate Ghiotto found himself in second. It also meant a second podium of the season for Prema’s Antonio Fuoco, and an even better result for new Racing Engineering teammates Gustav Malja and Nyck de Vries who took fourth and fifth place. Reverse grid pole was given to Norman Nato, just behind Robert Merhi and Sergio Sette Camara, a welcome promotion for two drivers who scored their first points of the season. Trident’s Santino Ferrucci and Campos Racing’s Robert Visoiu were promoted to the final points paying positions as well.

There was much anticipation surrounding Sunday’s sprint race with the grid shaken up and several of the frontrunners starting from the grid, and as ever, Formula 2 did not disappoint.

It was a blistering start from MP Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Camara, who immediately improved from third to first, putting the more experienced Merhi and Nato behind him. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was proving to be something of a dream track for the young Brazilian who had not scored points prior to this weekend.

As expected, both Leclerc and Rowland were quickly making up ground, with the Yorkshireman gaining a one place advantage over his rival after Leclerc ran off the road early on lap 1. The DAMS driver was up to twelfth place by the end of the first lap, with Leclerc powering past Matsushita on the inside up Eau Rouge to take thirteenth place.

Photo: Alastair Staley/FIA Formula 2.

Despite fierce battling between Rowland and Leclerc, the Brit couldn’t keep him behind for long, and pretty soon the Ferrari junior driver was putting cars between his nearest title rival. In just a handful of laps he was back into the points, a brilliant recovery for the back row of the grid. But he wasn’t quite finished yet.

Leclerc ran into some trouble when trying to pass his teammate Fuoco and the promoted race winner from the previous day, Markelov. Ultimately, he found a way past both of them as Markelov began to fade, dropping back, and eventually retiring with a suspected engine issue on lap 13.

It was Matsushita’s nasty crash at Raidillon on lap 15 that sealed the result of the race. The Japanese driver thankfully walked away unharmed, but the damage from his crash meant that the race finished under safety car conditions and Sergio Sette Camara held on to score his first win in single seater racing. And it was a well deserved victory too after such an impressive start and withstanding pressure from de Vries for the duration of the eighteen lap race.

An improvement of fourteen places was the best Leclerc could do, though it easily could have been more had the safety car not been deployed. DAMS teammates Rowland and Latifi also recovered from their poor starting positions, coming home in eighth and ninth, the Canadian unlucky to finish just outside of the points. It could have been a very different weekend for all three drivers had they not found themselves on the wrong side of misfortune. The trio’s nearest competitors, teammates Ghiotto and Markelov tried their hardest to capitalise on their hard luck, and the former’s double podium promoting him to fourth in the drivers’ standings ahead of Latifi.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

After such a disappointing season before the break, Racing Engineering seem to be recovering some of the form we expected from them at the start of the season, with solid points finishes from both their drivers. Whilst his teammate was grabbing the headlines once again – though not for all of the right reasons – Antonio Fuoco had his second best weekend of the season with a decent qualifying performance and two points finishes. It still isn’t quite the superhuman feats of Leclerc, but it does prove that his early season struggles may have been something of an adjustment period. And the Italian is beginning to look more like the title challenger we saw in GP3 last year.

Thanks in part to the double disqualification from the feature race, the points situation as we head to Monza in a week’s time is much the same as it was coming to Spa, with Leclerc leading by fifty-nine points. Though now Rowland is just nine points ahead of Markelov after the Russian’s stunning drive on Saturday.

Prema and Leclerc’s pace still reigns supreme, and around the team’s home track, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the last place anyone should underestimate them.

F2 Spa Preview: is time running out for Leclerc’s challengers?

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Formula 2 Midseason Report

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.

High Flyers

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.

Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/FIA Formula 2

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Under Achievers

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.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

F2 Hungary: Rowland wins the battle in Budapest, but Leclerc still has the edge

The Formula 2 race weekend at the Hungaroring in Budapest couldn’t have started better for championship leader Charles Leclerc. On Friday he took his seventh consecutive pole of the season, beating Stoffel Vandoorne’s previous record, and securing himself four additional points. However, by Saturday morning that pole position had gone to second placed Oliver Rowland of DAMS, along with those four points, and Leclerc was sent to the back of the grid after a technical infringement which disqualified him from the session. It was also a season’s best qualifying for fellow championship contender, Russian Time’s Artem Markelov, who started next to his nearest rival Rowland in second place.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

After an aborted start and an extra formation lap, it was a searing start for Markelov in Saturday’s feature race. He snatched the lead away from Rowland almost immediately, despite ferocious attempts at regaining the place from the Yorkshireman. Rowland’s teammate, the very much on form Nicholas Latifi also got a great start, moving up two places by the end of the first lap. But it was the championship leader Leclerc who gained the most ground, a rocketing start and some impressive moves round the first few corners meant he was up to eleventh with barely a minute of the race gone.

While most of the drivers started on the traditionally faster soft tyre, Leclerc, ART’s Alexander Albon and a few of the other drivers who had started further down the order were attempting an alternate strategy; trying for a long first stint on the medium tyres with a view to come charging back through the field on fresher, faster tyres at the end of the race. However, the new surface laid at the Hungaroring meant teams were somewhat in the dark about how long each compound would last, and whether the alternate strategy would work at all.

Credit: Hone/FIA Formula 2

While the race leaders pitted, Leclerc and Albon were released to try put some distance between themselves and the early stoppers. What ensued was a great battle between the two ex-teammates, neither of them giving the other an inch until Leclerc finally managed to work his way past the Thai driver. Meanwhile, Rowland managed to take back the net race lead from Markelov as he hunted down Leclerc and the rest of the drivers on the medium tyres.

When Prema finally called Leclerc in for his stop he came back out in thirteenth place, and it became apparent that the alternate strategy was not going to do him any favours. But clumsy contact between Sergio Canamasas and Robert Visiou on lap 25 brought out the safety car and luck was back on the Monegasque driver’s side again.

It was a frenetic restart when the safety car came in two laps later, one which saw Leclerc overtake three cars in a single corner, and Gustav Malja, who was on course to score some much needed points for the struggling Racing Engineering team floundered, plummeting to almost dead last.

In the closing laps of the race, it became apparent that race leader Rowland was struggling on his tyres and Markelov was closing in fast, being in the hunt very much suiting his driving style. With three laps to go he went for a move on the Englishman, but a combination of over eagerness on the Russian’s part and on the limit defending from Rowland sent him wide, onto the grass and out of the race in a high speed crash, which he thankfully walked away from unscathed. Rapax’s Nyck de Vries was promoted to the podium places, and Rowland led home a DAMS one-two as Latifi claimed second place in what has become a breakthrough season for the Canadian.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

It was an excellent recovery drive from Leclerc to finish fourth, who came home ahead of Matsushita in fifth and Luca Ghiotto in sixth whose race pace continues to be far superior to his qualifying performances, after he started the race in thirteenth. It was originally a double points finish for Arden with Norman Nato in seventh and Sean Gelael in ninth with Albon sandwiched between them. But after the race Gelael was handed a ten second time penalty for premature use of DRS. That meant Trident’s Santino Ferrucci, who has now made a permanent switch to Formula 2, finished a fantastic ninth on debut, and Louis Deletraz of Racing Engineering scored his first point of the season when he was promoted to tenth. It was well earned too for the Swiss driver who overtook a hatful of drivers after the safety car restart.

His eighth place in Saturday’s feature race meant ART’s Alexander Albon managed to bag himself reverse grid pole for the sprint race, with Norman Nato lining up beside him. Charles Leclerc, still leading the championship started in fifth place, three places ahead of his nearest rival; Oliver Rowland.

Misfortune struck debutante Santino Ferrucci before the cars had even lined up on the starting grid, technical issues sent him packing to the pit lane, a disappointing end to what had started out as a very promising weekend for the Haas development driver.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

At lights out it was not the start Albon and Nato needed. The two drivers dropped way down the order, promoting the fast starting Nobuharu Matsushita to first and Luca Ghiotto to second, and set Nyck de Vries up to score a double podium as he was elevated to third place.

The start might have been even more disappointing for Ralph Boschung and Antonio Fuoco, who hit trouble no sooner as the race got started, and were forced to pit and  circulate a lap down for the remainder of the race. Not the way either driver would have wanted their Sunday to go after a fruitless Saturday for both of them as well.

His high speed crash in the feature race meant Artem Markelov started from seventeenth, but he was very quickly up to tenth and looking determined to make up lost points. But for the most part the order stabilised, with gaps opening up throughout the field as drivers settled into their rhythm. There was an air of caution surrounding tyre wear, as the medium compound they were running wears much faster than the hard tyres used in the sprint race in 2016.

ART’s Matsushita looked unflinching as he led the race after his lightening fast start, controlling a commanding lead. At almost a third race distance most of the gaps had stayed consistent, and Nicholas Latifi was the only driver closing in on the car in front of him; Alexander Albon. Despite good work from Albon, always a strong defensive driver, Latifi bided his time and managed to move up to seventh place on lap 11.

As the race neared the half way mark the field began to bunch up and soon De Vries and Rowland were within DRS range of the cars in front of them. But with the Hungaroring being a notoriously difficult track to overtake on, it would take some laps of build up before they could move up the field. Further back, Markelov was making steady progress, playing it safe while taking ninth from Sean Gelael, clearly not wanting a repeat of his collision with Rowland.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Nyck de Vries pulled off what has to be the move of the weekend overtaking Ghiotto to take second position. The Dutchman was followed by both Rowland and Leclerc, the Russian Time driver dropping to fifth place. But it was not to be a higher finishing position than fourth place for the championship leader Leclerc, who was struck by suspected gearbox and engine issues for the last ten laps of the race, and it was all he could do to hold onto the points he did have.

Despite such a good start for Ghiotto he finished his race in eighth ultimately, claiming the last point up for grabs. But it was a carefully controlled win for Matsushita, who has had an up and down season thus far. Oliver Rowland and Nyck de Vries both scored their second podiums of the weekend as they finished second and third respectively. Leclerc managed to hold onto fourth, ahead of Nato in fifth who held off a charging Nicholas Latifi, while Albon came home in a slightly disappointing seventh, given his starting position.

After a disappointing Silverstone, Rowland capitalised perfectly on the fortunate hand he was dealt to gain some much needed ground on Leclerc, and put some distance between himself and the now third placed Artem Markelov. For him and Nyck de Vries, who both scored double podiums, it was perhaps a point proven, as both of them were overlooked for the upcoming young driver test in Hungary – Rowland to his teammate Latifi no less. Still, it is evident that Rowland needs a few more weekends like this before he will be on terms with Leclerc in the championship fight.

Credit: Glenn Dunbar/FIA Formula 2 Media Service.

Compared to their recent form, Russian Time had an underwhelming weekend, with Markelov only scoring two points the whole weekend, and arguably slipping back into old habits with his desperate attempt to pass Rowland in the feature race, which lost him a potential win as well as valuable points. His teammate Ghiotto could be up there the rest of the championship contenders if he can learn to put together a solid qualifying lap, but for the moment he leaves himself far too much to do in the races, and that elusive race win out of reach. The Russian team have now slipped below Prema in the team standings.

Losing out due to circumstances beyond his control, Leclerc showed maturity in making the best of a bad lot, and he still holds a healthy fifty-point lead over Rowland. He can rest easy knowing that after the summer break when racing resumes in Spa in a month’s time his campaign is very much on track.

 

F2 Hungary Preview: Chasing Charles in Budapest

The last round of the Formula 2 season before the summer break takes place at the Hungaroring circuit just outside of Budapest, a track which traces its history back to 1986. We are now past the halfway point in the championship, with Charles Leclerc storming ahead at the top of the driver standings after another strong showing in the two back to back race weekends at Spielberg and Silverstone. But it’s all change in the standings below him, with Russian Time’s Artem Markelov moving into second place, and DAM’s Oliver Rowland falling to third, just three points separating the two drivers. Their respective teammates; Luca Ghiotto and Nicholas Latifi, could very easily come into contention as the season progresses, as they trail not far behind. But if Leclerc continues his prodigious form, then his fellow competitors will have to dig deep to threaten him.

Prema showed impressive form in Budapest last year, with eventual champion Pierre Gasly taking pole and the win in the feature race, and Antonio Giovinazzi coming in second to give the Italian team a double podium. If Charles Leclerc can score his seventh successive pole on Friday, then he will set a new record for the most consecutive pole positions in GP2/F2, inheriting that title from Stoffel Vandoorne. And a good weekend in Hungary would set the young Monegasque driver up well, not only for the month off, but also for the day of testing he will do for Ferrari next week, also at the Hungaroring. While his Prema teammate, fellow Ferrari junior driver, Antonio Fuoco, looked like he had made positive steps forward in Austria, scoring his first podium of the season, another pointless weekend in Silverstone showed he is still a long way off his teammate. Prema have retaken first place in the team standings, but only by three points.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

DAMS occupy second in the team standings, with Russian Time just a single point behind them in third. With two of the strongest driver pairings on the grid, it will be a tough fight until the end of the season to see who comes out on top, particularly with their sets of drivers so close together. If Nicholas Latifi had started his season as well as he is performing now, then he may have been up there with his teammate Rowland, but there is still plenty of time for him to close the gap. Meanwhile Russian Time’s Ghiotto is still in search of that race win, but has been stringing together a series of consistent results, perhaps leading many to overlook and underestimate the Italian driver. All four drivers from these teams have certainly proved that they are capable of performing, but it is qualifying that is the area where they are still looking for that perfect result.

After fielding three different drivers in one seat so far this season, Trident announced that Haas development and current GP3 driver Santino Ferucci will race in the number 17 car in Hungary alongside Nabil Jeffri. While the last two drivers to fill that spot; Raffaele Marciello and Callum Ilott were only drafted in for a single round, there is no indication as to whether Ferucci is a permanent addition to the team. The young American driver will be forced to miss this weekend’s GP3 round, but the call up does offer a better opportunity to impress those who have eyes on him in the Formula 1 paddock.

French team ART have the potential to pull off a good weekend in Hungary. GP3 graduate Alexander Albon secured victory at the track last year, and despite his overall weaker season in 2016, Nobuharu Matsushita qualified well at the Hungaroring, and managed to score points in one of his best finishes of the season. Albon will be looking to make up lost ground, his points tally still suffering from missing the round in Baku and a disappointing weekend in Silverstone.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Since moving to Rapax ahead of the Austrian round, junior formula veteran Sergio Canamasas has amassed enough points to move the Italian team into fifth place in the team standings. The Spanish driver scored his best results of the season at the British round of the Formula 2 season, a fifth and a fourth place (helped along a little by Oliver Rowland’s time penalty), and will hope to carry that momentum with him to Hungary. His teammate, Nyck de Vries, however, needs to bounce back from the previous round; one he walked away from almost empty handed. Despite his failure to start the feature race at Silverstone, due to a power problem, his impressive drive on Sunday from the back of the grid to score a pair of points proves that he might already have recovered from a spell of misfortune.

Since their race win back in Baku, Pertamina Arden have improved considerably compared their early season performances. Norman Nato’s podium in Silverstone, and Sean Gelael’s drive from eighteenth to ninth, indicate that this is one team on an upward curve. Nato performed well at the Hungaroring last year, scoring points in both races, and a podium in the sprint race – the kind of results he will want to replicate this weekend.

Down the bottom of the standings, MP Motorsport, Campos Racing and Racing Engineering have floundered in recent rounds, struggling to score more than a few points for the most part. Admittedly, MP Motorsport’s Jordan King has only failed to score points in races from which he has retired or been disqualified, but the handful he has secured is not enough to give his season any momentum. His combined struggles with the team have made for a disappointing season for the Brit, who lined up in Bahrain hoping that 2017 would be his year.

Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

The underperforming is perhaps most disappointing for Racing Engineering, who came second in the team standings in 2016. Despite flashes of form in the early rounds, they have faded to the back of the field. The Spanish team achieved a double podium in the sprint race in Hungary last year and though that kind of result seems highly unlikely, the team could do with replicating some semblance of the form they had last year.

For those in the title battle, the Formula 2 season has very much turned into a game of catch up between Charles Leclerc and the rest of the front runners. But with two races each round, and points for pole positions and fastest laps, the season is deceptively long, and if Leclerc’s form was to slip, especially going into the summer break this weekend, then there is no shortage of drivers snapping at his heels.

F2: Austria Preview

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.

Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service

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.

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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.