Refined RS18 headlines Renault season launch

Renault has revealed its plans for the forthcoming Formula 1 season at a launch event focused on unveiling the team’s 2018 challenger.

The RS18—besides the mandatory addition of the Halo—features several small aerodynamic evolutions from its predecessor, including a slimmer nose section and much tighter packaging around the rear of the engine.

The team’s livery has also been tweaked for 2018, with Renault’s traditional yellow featuring more sparingly along the leading edges of the car.

Renault Sport Formula One Team

Speaking about Renault’s 2018 goals, technical chief Bob Bell highlighted improved reliability as one of the marque’s key targets:

“We need a strong reliability record,” Bell said. “That’s something we need to focus on. We need the car as reliable as we can make it.

“To improve reliability, we have to accept nothing less than perfection. Anything that ends up on the car needs to be designed and built to the highest standard; checked and rechecked as fit for purpose.

“All the issues that blighted us last year need to be eradicated by a fresh approach. That’s a huge challenge…and it’s the toughest task we face.”

Renault engine chief Remi Taffin echoed Bell, stating that having a reliable car will be the team’s “first priority”, especially with teams limited to just three power units per car in 2018.

Renault Sport Formula One Team

As well as revealing its new car, Renault also announced as part of its season launch an updated Renault Sport Academy driver lineup.

With the team’s previous third driver Sergey Sirotkin moving on to a race seat at Williams, Renault has promoted British-Korean junior Jack Aitken to the vacant reserve driver role. The 22-year-old, who has been part of the RSA since 2016, will combine his expanded Renault role this year with a maiden F2 campaign with ART GP.

Aitken will be joined in Renault’s F1 stable by fellow F2 driver Artem Markelov. The 23-year-old Russian, who finished runner-up to Charles Leclerc in last year’s F2 championship, has been named Renault’s 2018 test and development driver.

Latifi takes up Force India third driver role

Force India has signed Canadian F2 racer Nicholas Latifi as its new test and reserve driver for the 2018 F1 season.

Latifi’s role will comprise simulator work as well as participation in young driver tests and “a number of Friday practice sessions” throughout the year.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Latifi said in a statement. “Sahara Force India is a team that has shown constant improvement for the last few years and I’m proud to become a part of one of the success stories of Formula One.

“I am eager to show the team what I can do and help them as they continue to close the gap to the front of the grid.”

Joe Portlock/FIA Formula 2

Force India team boss Vijay Mallya said of the appointment, “Nicholas joins us off the back of a strong season in F2 and strengthens our driver development programme. He will support our simulator programme and work with the team during a number of Friday practice sessions.”

Mallya added: “We have a long track record of bringing on young talented drivers and Nicholas will learn a huge amount as he gets embedded in the team, and looks forward to a career in Formula One.”

Latifi, who previously held a test driver role at Renault, took one race win and nine podiums to finish fifth in the 2017 F2 Championship.

Quick 10 With…..Dino Zamparelli

He began in karting, the usual route for racing drivers, before moving to the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2007. The following season he took 10 wins and 5 podiums to claim the Ginetta Junior title.

It was in 2009 that he moved to Formula Renault BARC and finished third with 2 wins. The following season he competed in two Formula Renault BARC races and also in the Italian Formula 3 Championship but it was in 2011 that he returned full time to Formula Renault and took the championship title with four wins on the way. That very same season he was a finalist in the 2011 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

He moved to the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2012 and the following season signed for Marussia Manor Racing to compete in GP3 as part of their Young Driver Programme.

He made the switch to sportscar racing in 2015 and began competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, he finished 6th in the championship in his first season and in 2016 and this season finished runner-up to Dan Cammish and Charlie Eastwood respectively.

His dream is to race Le Mans, these are his Quick 10 and he is…..Dino Zamparelli.

What is your favourite racing circuit?

My favourite circuit has to now be Le Mans. I’m not sure it’s the traditional answer as it’s very much a one-off race circuit. But I raced there this year at the Le Mans support race in Porsche Carrera  Cup and it blew me away. It was just amazing and very enjoyable. Over 4 minutes long and the corners were incredible. Other than that, under the normal circuits, Spa and Silverstone are my two favorites. Both for having so much history and some epic corners.

Who was your racing idol?

I suppose I used to love watching Michael Schumacher growing up. I loved his desire to win at all costs.

Who would you regard as your toughest opponent?

Well recently, over the last 3 seasons of Porsche racing, I’ve enjoyed a tough battle against Dan Cammish. Him and his team Redline have been a super consistent and fast package. We ran him close to the title for half a season in 2016, and had some great duels. I wasn’t happy with the performance of my team mid-year onwards, so changed to JTR for 2017 – we had a strong year and had some great battles against Dan and eventual champion Eastwood. Eastwood won it by taking one more win than I did but we scored exactly the same points. It was another good season in Porsche with a new team, and I thoroughly enjoyed racing against Cammish again in 2017.

Considering racers of all time, you are a team principal and money is no object. Which two racers would you have in your team?

I used to really enjoy watching Juan Pablo Montoya in his prime, when he first burst onto the F1 scene with Williams. He was fast and feisty. So I would probably have him as my driver. I’m also a huge fan and always have been of Fernando Alonso. Both drivers would be capable of winning the championship on pure speed and talent. And both drivers would provide an awful lot of entertainment over the radio comms I’m sure!

If you could invite four famous people to dinner (past and present), who would you invite?

I’d invite my favourite comedian to make me laugh, Ricky Gervais. I’d invite James Hunt, to sit and listen to his countless stories from the 70s. I can’t think of another two, so I’d get Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg along and subtly have every collision they ever had on TV in the background and sit them next to each other. Give them both a beer and see what happened over the night.

Your personal racing number? What was it and the reason behind it?

It’s number 8 because I like it and believe it’ll bring me luck, like the Chinese.

What is the best race you have been involved in?

I would say one of the best races recently was this year at Le Mans for the Porsche Carrera Cup support race. Four of us could have won the race going into the last lap. I climbed back up from 4th to finish 2nd in the end, and we were all nose to tail. I was gutted not to win it overall, out of 60 cars at the famous circuit, but it was an epic battle. It got put up on Facebook later on and received well over 1.5 million views!

Is there a race or series you have not competed in that you would like to or had wanted to?

I always admired the intensity and race craft of Formula Ford. The overtaking in that series was seemingly every lap/every corner. It always looked like a lot of fun. I’d quite liked to have also given GP2 a proper crack. I tested a GP2 car in Abu Dhabi and it was amazing, so I can only imagine racing them would have been a huge experience. F1 as well was the dream when I was younger. Although for pure racing, it would be more GP2/Formula Ford.

How did you get interested in motor racing? What ignited that spark?

It was a local karting track in France where I lived at the time. I went round a few times and got the bug. I never looked back ever since. My wallet certainly has, a number of times.

What is the best advice in racing you have been given?

The best advice I’ve been given is that ‘Motor Racing is primarily a business’. In other words, someone somewhere has to pay for it, be it sponsors, family or manufacturers. This bit of advice helped me to carve out my Porsche sponsorship programmes and continue to race in sports cars, and hopefully allow me to race for many years to come. It’s the advice I say to every young driver who asks me. If you’re quick, then 99% of the time it isn’t enough, you have to offer more than that.

Dino Zamparelli

I have to agree with Dino regarding the Porsche race at Le Mans, I was on the edge of my seat during that race. Epic battle!

I would like to thank Dino for taking the time to answer the Quick 10 and wish him the very best for 2018 and hopefully one day, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

(c) All photos courtesy of Dino Zamparelli and for more photos visit his Facebook page here

You can also visit Dino at https://www.dinozamparelli.com/

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

 

F2 Jerez: Leclerc crowned champion in a dramatic pair of races

Running as the main event this weekend in Jerez, Formula 2 seemed determined to offer up drama and madness to the very last lap of the very last race. And if the on track action was not enough, Jerez provided us with the crowning of the series’ first champion, as Charles Leclerc secured the title on Saturday bagging himself back to back GP3 and Formula 2 championships in his bid to earn himself a seat on the 2018 Formula 1 grid.

His qualifying performance on Friday saw him take his eighth pole position of the season, officially equalling Stoffel Vandoorne’s record for the most poles in a season of GP2/F2. Lining up beside him was Russian Time’s Luca Ghiotto, who was looking for a late season surge to seal the Vice-Champion title. And behind them was MP Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Camara, the youngest driver in the field who has hit his form since his win in Belgium. Likely to Leclerc’s relief, his nearest rival Oliver Rowland only managed fourth in qualifying. Knowing that he needed to outscore Leclerc to stay in contention, Rowland had made his job a little harder than it needed to be.

The start of Saturday’s feature race went exactly to plan for Leclerc, who pulled away and began building a gap between himself and the rest of the field almost immediately. With perhaps a hint of desperation, but all the guts and determination worthy of a championship contender, Rowland overtook Sette Camara in the opening laps in an aggressive move that was entirely necessary to keep his title hopes alive. He set about trying to find away past Ghiotto, but while he battled away with the Italian, Leclerc was storming away in front. Eventually he found a way past on lap eleven, with a stunning move coming into turn one, but by this point, Leclerc was several seconds up the road.

Photo: Andrew Ferraro/FIA Formula 2

The first round of pit stops began on lap seven, but the leader did not pit until lap twelve, followed closely by Rowland. While Leclerc was able to inherit the net lead of the race, with only the drivers running the alternate strategy ahead of him, Rowland found himself stuck behind Camara and Albon, both of whom had successfully undercut him. It was around this time, when everyone was completing their first pit stops, that it became apparent that the DRS system was not working correctly after it became disabled for seemingly no reason. Whilst not detrimental to the race, it would turn out to be the first in a sizeable list of malfunctions that would occur over the weekend.

After cutting his way through the field, Leclerc retook the lead of the race on lap twenty-one, with Rowland trying to follow, but struggling due to the greater number of drivers he had to overtake. And despite the Brit setting several blistering lap times in his pursuit of the Ferrari junior driver, he couldn’t quite find the pace to close up the gap fully.

The race almost looked like it would run its course to an untroubled end, with Leclerc taking the title comfortably. That was until there was contact between Santino Ferrucci and Nobuharu Matsushita on lap thirty-two which, after a lap’s delay in which not even a single yellow flag was waved (despite debris on track and Ferrucci’s car beached in the gravel at turn one), the safety car was deployed.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

As the field bunched together and Leclerc lost the advantage he had worked so hard to gain, it became apparent that some of the late stoppers might be able to use their fresher tyres to make a last minute dash for the podium positions, and possibly even the win. But the real headache for the front runners was the fact that the lapped cars of Sean Gelael and Louis Deletraz either would not or could not, unlap themselves and found themselves caught in the middle of the battle between Leclerc and Rowland with the championship at stake.

To make matters worse when racing resumed neither car was shown blue flags and began to battle with the frontrunners, making it so much harder for Rowland to catch Leclerc, who had bolted at the restart. Rowland even came under pressure from Leclerc’s teammate Antonio Fuoco who had made a stunning recovery drive from fifteenth on the grid and benefitted massively from the late safety car to eventually finish third.

In the end Charles Leclerc was only 0.2 seconds ahead of Rowland when he crossed the line. But it was enough to take the title with three races to spare, an achievement he duly dedicated to his late father after clinching victory in a tribute helmet modelled after one of his father’s own.

Photo: Andrew Ferraro/FIA Formula 2

Formula 2 debutante Alex Palou, racing for Campos in place of Robert Visoiu, took reverse grid pole for Sunday’s sprint race after completing the impressive feat of scoring points on debut. After a delayed start due to a broken down safety car, the race got underway about fifteen minutes later than planned, with Palou making a perfect start and managing to pull away as the rest of the field formed a train behind him.

The feature race on Saturday had proved that while some teams suited the medium tyres (the compound all drivers start on in sprint races), others, including Prema, found it incredibly difficult to maintain any consistent speed with them, and struggled badly for grip. That led to a series of pit stops, which are ordinarily only taken if unavoidable due to the low number of laps in a sprint race.

Amongst the stoppers were the Prema teammates, who, after making their way up to fourth and fifth, found themselves slipping down the order, and crucially behind the DAMS and Russian Times drivers, who they are now fighting with for the team’s championship. And the switch to the soft tyre proved to be the right one. Both Leclerc and Fuoco were posting lap times that were around three seconds quicker than the cars in front of them.

While the Prema pair tried to work their way back through the field Nicholas Latifi and Markelov had closed the gap to Palou who was also beginning to struggle with his tyres. The ensuing battle between the three of them allowed Rowland, who was running in fourth place, to join the fray.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Though Palou coped well under the enormous pressure being applied by the more experienced drivers he was finally passed by Markelov, who had used his uncanny ability to manage his tyres to kick his pace up a gear with just a handful of laps to go. Palou would eventually fall from the podium places with the DAMS drivers Latifi and Rowland able to score a double podium for their team, and the Spaniard would ultimately finish in eighth place.

Markelov would be able to pull away and win by a stunning margin of eleven seconds earned through pitch perfect strategy and timing. Though both Fuoco and Leclerc did make it back into the points, the overtaking and fighting took it out of their softer tyres, and the best the new champion could do was seventh place, which his teammate leading him home in fifth, with Nyck de Vries sandwiched between them. Despite being run off the track on the first lap and having the fight his way from plumb last, Luca Ghiotto made a single stop strategy work for him as well to make an excellent recovery to finish in fourth place.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

It will come as a surprise to few to see Charles Leclerc wrap up the championship so emphatically with a round to spare, but that does not mean there is nothing left to play for when Formula 2 returns in Abu Dhabi for its final two races of 2017. The question of who will take home the title of vice-champion still remains unanswered, and while it may seem like something of a consolation, second and third place in the championship each come with forty super license points – the number required to be eligible for a FIA super license and to be able to compete in Formula 1.

The battle to win the F2 team’s title is also incredibly close, with Prema, DAMS and Russian Time all within six points of each other. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will take home that prize when the chequered flag falls on the sprint race in Abu Dhabi.

F2 Jerez Preview: Time for Leclerc to take home the title?

While Formula 1 heads to the Far East this weekend, its main feeder series, the FIA Formula 2 Championship, breaks away to run its first and only standalone event of the season at the Circuito de Jerez for its penultimate event of the season. After a chaotic and confusing round in Monza, this weekend’s round at Jerez presents championship leader Charles Leclerc with his first real opportunity to wrap up the Formula 2 title. Such a feat which would make him the first rookie champion of a feeder series at this level since 2009 when Nico Hülkenberg won the GP2 series.

Leclerc’s outing in Monza saw him fail to score any points, after being taken out from the leading pack on the last lap of the feature race and failing to work his way back into the points on Sunday. Luckily for the Monegasque driver, his nearest rivals, Oliver Rowland and Artem Markelov, also failed to score big. This leaves him firmly at the top of the drivers’ standings with a healthy lead of fifty-nine points. Realistically, it would take a series of disasters to snatch the title away from the Ferrari junior driver, who looks poised to make the jump to Formula 1 next year, most likely with Sauber.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula 2.

Whilst Rowland and Markelov have been busy fighting with Leclerc, Markelov’s Russian Time teammate Luca Ghiotto has been slowly racking up the points. After a fourth place and a win in his home race in Monza, he is now only two points behind his teammate and only nine behind the second placed Rowland. The Italian is in with a real chance of snatching away the runners up title in these last couple of rounds. Even a fourth place finish in the standings would mark his best result in single seater racing of this level.

After Antonio Fuoco’s win and third placed podium in Monza, the battle in the teams’ standings has closed up, with DAMS, Prema and Russian Time all in with a chance of taking home the big prize. Prema will be hoping that Monza turns out to be something of a turning point for Fuoco, who had previously failed to quite live up to expectations. But with a double podium performance under his belt, many will be hoping that Fuoco can now help Prema defend their team championship. And possibly even aid his teammate Leclerc in bringing home the driver’s title, provided that he can get in between the DAMS and Russian Time drivers.

The ever-changing line-up of the Formula 2 grid mixes things up again this weekend. Spanish driver Alex Palou, currently competing in Formula V8 3.5, joins Campos in place of Robert Visoiu for the rest of the season, who has left the team for personal reasons. Meanwhile, Rene Binder will become Rapax’s fifth driver of the season, replacing ex-F1 driver Robert Merhi for the round in Jerez this weekend. Rapax are yet to confirm whether Binder will remain in the team for the final round in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Binder will race alongside Louis Deletraz, who had his best weekend of the year in Monza, scoring points in both races, after switching seats with Nyck de Vries just before the round in Italy. The Swiss driver has been vocal about how he feels that Rapax is a better fit for him than Racing Engineering and the flashes of form we saw from him in Italy seems to confirm this, especially compared to his early season struggles. Though following up on that improved performance will be important in order to finish his year on a high and set himself up for what will hopefully be a second season in Formula 2 next year.

This weekend in Jerez also marks the second home race of the season for both Campos Racing and Racing Engineering. While Racing Engineering have found themselves able to compete at the front of the field in previous seasons, this year has marked something of a step backwards for the Spanish team. They will be hopeful that after a lengthy break between rounds, giving them time to properly adjust to their new line-up of de Vries and Gustav Malja, will help them recover to their full potential.

ART had a mixed weekend last time out, but there were clearly signs of lightning fast speed from the team who are currently dominating the GP3 championship. Whilst British-Thai driver Alexander Albon has struggled to retain his early season form since his injury prior to the Baku round, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita put on a positive performance for the French team in Monza. Matsushita even succeeded in becoming the first driver, with the obvious exception of Charles Leclerc, to claim an on track pole position this season. The Japanese driver is being touted as a contender for a possible drive at Toro Rosso next season, but it would take a stunning string of results to secure the necessary super license points. However, with such a potential reward waiting for him if he does manage to do this, he has nothing to lose this weekend.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

All eyes will be on Charles Leclerc in Jerez to see if he can bring home the title, and his competitors Markelov and Rowland will know that this is one of their last chances to stop him. Although Leclerc has not scored a race win since the feature race in Silverstone, despite misfortune he is yet to show that he has any intention of slowing down or slipping up. But it would be premature to consider the Formula 2 title a done deal. As the last round in Monza proved, anything can happen in motorsport, and it usually does.

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.