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.

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Formula 2 standings

Drivers’ championship

Position Driver Team Points
1 Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 41
2 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 30
3 Jehan Daruvala Carlin 28
4 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 21
5 Dan Ticktum Carlin 19
6 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 18
7 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 16
8 Robert Shwartzman Prema Racing 16
9 David Beckmann Charouz Racing System 12
10 Marcus Armstrong DAMS 10
11 Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix 8
12 Felipe Drugovich UNI-Virtuosi Racing 2
13 Lirim Zendelli MP Motorsport 2
14 Marino Sato Trident 1
15 Matteo Nannini HWA Racelab 1
16 Juri Vips Hitech Grand Prix 0
17 Guilherme Samaia Charouz Racing System 0
18 Bent Viscaal Trident 0
19 Roy Nissany DAMS 0
20 Gianluca Petecof Campos Racing 0
21 Ralph Boschung Campos Racing 0
22 Alessio Deledda HWA Racelab 0

Teams’ championship

Position Team Points
1 Carlin 47
2 UNI-Virtuosi Racing 43
3 Prema Racing 37
4 Hitech Grand Prix 30
5 ART Grand Prix 24
6 MP Motorsport 20
7 Charouz Racing System 12
8 DAMS 10
9 Trident 1
10 HWA Racelab 1
11 Campos Racing 0

 

Drivers & Teams

Team Name Name
Prema Racing Robert Shwartzman Oscar Piastri
UNI-Virtuosi Racing Guanyu Zhou Felipe Drugovich
Carlin Jehan Daruvala Dan Ticktum
Hitech Grand Prix Juri Vips Liam Lawson
ART Grand Prix Christian Lundgaard Theo Pourchaire
MP Motorsport Richard Verschoor Lirim Zendelli
Charouz Racing System David Beckmann Guilherme Samaia
DAMS Roy Nissany Marcus Armstrong
Campos Racing Gianluca Petecof Ralph Boschung
BWT HWA Racelab Matteo Nannini Alessio Deledda
Trident Marino Sato Bent Viscaal

 

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