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.

Vettel under further investigation; why the FIA has to step up

Everyone seems to have an opinion on that now infamous incident between Hamilton and Vettel in Baku. And with the news that the case will be heard by the FIA, with a verdict expected before the Austrian Grand Prix, the debate seems like it’s going to rage on for a while longer.

There is the chance that the FIA will decide that no further action is warranted, or they could deliver any number of punishments to the Ferrari driver from a fine to a race ban. It wouldn’t be the first time the FIA has taken retroactive action following a racing incident, most famously in the case of disqualifying Michael Schumacher from the driver’s championship in 1997 for his ‘avoidable’ collision with Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the season. But the question of whether or not Sebastian Vettel deserves further punishment still remains

What should be taken into consideration is that this is not Vettel’s only case of road rage in the last twelve months. Everyone remembers his rather colourful language towards Charlie Whiting in Mexico last year, and the subsequent fallout from that. In that instance, the German escaped without punishment after his apologies to both Whiting and the FIA. That case was not brought before the FIA international tribunal. But Vettel was warned that in the event of a future ‘similar incident’ disciplinary action would be taken.

GP MESSICO F1/2016 – CITTA’ DEL MESSICO (MESSICO) 28/10/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Flash forward seven months or so, and Vettel loses his cool again, turning in on Hamilton after what he believed was a piece of brake testing by the Briton. He was not by any means the first driver to act in that way, and he almost definitely will not be the last. Although his mistake was of a different nature this time, it was avoidable and it was another case of his emotions clouding his better judgement. And as was the argument last November, it sets a very poor example for junior drivers hoping to make it to Formula 1 some day.

Without Mexico, and the promise by the FIA to follow up on any future incidents, further punishment would not be as necessary. But the fact that this is not the first time that Vettel has been involved in such an incident in recent months makes it hard to see how the FIA can justify not taking further action.

For example, race bans for incidents similar to Vettel’s are not uncommon in the junior formulas. In MSA Formula, British driver Dan Ticktum was banned for competing in motorsport for two whole years after deliberating colliding with a rival under safety car conditions. Though his case was far more extreme, and no one is calling for Vettel to be banned from motorsport for such a length of time, the two situations are definitely comparable. The basic premise is the same, and why should there be a different rule for older drivers who are supposed to know better?

Even more similar to the Hamilton/Vettel incident was the race ban received in 2016 by GP2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita for driving erratically after a safety car restart in Baku. After misjudging the safety car line, the Japanese driver accelerated, then braked, then attempted to accelerate again, causing mass confusion and several collisions. His actions were deemed dangerous and he was forced to miss a round of the championship. Though the speed difference is substantial between the two incidents, Matsushita’s offence lacks the aggression and intent of Vettel’s, which are arguably far graver factors.

2016 GP2 Series Round 3
Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 18 June 2016.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix) leads Mitch Evans (NZL, Pertamina Campos Racing)
Photo: Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _ONY0719

Though penalties in lower categories of motorsport are ordinarily much harsher, since the drivers are learning the limits of rules and regulations, Formula 1 drivers are expected to know better and set an example. Whether Sebastian Vettel likes it or not, he is an ambassador for global motorsport, and purposely colliding with another driver, no matter the intent behind it, is an inexcusable action that does no favours for Vettel, or the sport of Formula 1.

After letting him off lightly following the events of Mexico last year, the FIA runs the risk of making themselves look weak, and their orders unenforceable if they do not follow up on this ongoing case. A ten second stop-go penalty hardly seems sufficient, especially considering it was the same penalty given to Kvyat in Canada for failing to reclaim his position before the safety car line, which is a far less dangerous offence.

Whether it be a grid penalty or a race ban, further action would send a clear message that behaviour like Vettel’s in unacceptable, and reaffirm the FIA’s commitment to road safety—a long standing mission of the organisation.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

F2 Baku: Leclerc lights up the Land of Fire; Rowland halted by misfortune

After a month’s break, Formula 2 travelled from one street circuit to another with the first ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and the second year at this circuit. Expectations were high for an action-packed couple of races, and Formula 2 proved itself to be as unpredictable as ever.

Qualifying on Friday saw Charles Leclerc continue his clean sweep of pole positions with his fourth of the season, topping the session half a second quicker than the rest of the field. Not only was it a formidable showing of pace, but also an incredible display of mental strength after the passing of his father earlier in the week.

Following the Monegasque were Nobuharu Matsushita, Nicholas Latifi and Nyck de Vries, who all posted impressive lap times to complete the first two rows of the grid. Leclerc’s Prema teammate, Antonio Fuoco also looked like he might be experiencing an upturn in form, qualifying in sixth position, an improvement he desperately needed after only scoring points in one race so far this season.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 4.
Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Friday 23 June 2017.
Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I0652

The feature race on Saturday morning didn’t fail to deliver the thrills everyone expected. Leclerc managed to maintain his lead off the line, but Matsushita alongside him could not get away cleanly and fell down the field, Latifi and De Vries being promoted into the podium positions by the first corner.

Fuoco also managed to work his way up to fourth place and looked set to score some well-earned—and desperately needed—points. There was one staller on the grid: Rapax’s Johnny Cecotto, who was into the pits immediately. But almost as soon as he exited, his cold tyres and brakes sent him into the barriers at turn two, and the safety car was deployed on only the third lap of the race.

The field followed the safety car for only a single lap, and Leclerc managed to keep his lead after a cagey restart. De Vries made up for the misfortunes of his teammate by sweeping around Latifi to take second place. As Leclerc continued to set new fastest laps, drawing out his advantage, the two Russian drivers in the field, Artem Markelov and ART’s Sergey Sirotkin, were on the charge, pulling off some aggressive overtakes.

Lap seven saw Antonio Fuoco’s race brought to a swift end after getting caught out by Canamasas, clobbering into the back of him and sending him off the track with terminal damage. It was unfortunate for the young Italian, who seemed to be having a much-improved weekend, but it was a clear driver error. A self-inflicted injury to continue his underwhelming season.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 4.
Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 24 June 2017.
Antonio Fuoco (ITA, PREMA Racing) in the pitlane after retiring.
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I7658

The first round of pit stops began on lap eight, with most of the leaders pitting together, with the exception of Markelov and Sirotkin. Leclerc managed to maintain the net lead of the race, but narrowly avoided both a collision in the pit lane and being overtaken by de Vries. After the two Russians pitted Ghiotto inherited the lead of the race, his medium tyres enabling him to race for much longer.

A second safety car made an appearance on lap thirteen as the marshals tried to recover Louis Deletraz’s car. At the restart on lap fifteen de Vries managed to make his way up to third place, and Markelov lost a position to Matsushita, who was still recovering from his poor start.

When Ghiotto finally stopped on lap nineteen, the battle for the lead turned into one between Leclerc and de Vries—but clear air for the Prema driver meant he could start to pull away from the Dutchman behind him.

By lap twenty-one Oliver Rowland—who had overcome brake issues earlier in the race—had made his way up to fourth place, with only his teammate Nicholas Latifi standing between him and a podium. It was a superb display of damage limitation, and showed that the Brit has tenacity and grit as well as talent behind the wheel.

With five laps left to run the race was disrupted by a spectacular crash at turn eight, right at the narrowest section of the track. Sean Gelael clipped the curb, hit the barrier and ended up parked sideways across the track. His shunt also collected Sirotkin and Gustav Malja, creating a three-car pile-up that blocked the entire track.

Race control initially sent out the safety car, but with it impossible to pass the scene of the incident, a red flag was brought out and the session was aborted with four laps to go, meaning Charles Leclerc earned his third victory of the season in the pit lane.

Nyck de Vries and Nicholas Latifi completed the podium with Rowland getting hit by a post-race penalty, demoting him from fourth to seventh. That meant Markelov took fourth place, followed by Nato in fifth, King in sixth, Boschung taking reverse grid pole in eighth, and Canamasas and Sirotkin finishing the top ten.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 4.
Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
Ralph Boschung (SUI, Campos Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I3072

Whilst it did not have the dramatic ending of the feature race, Sunday’s sprint race did not fail to deliver a few surprises. Rowland, who started from second on the grid after his penalty, took the lead of the race almost immediately, determined to make up for the points he had lost the previous day.

The opening laps saw Markelov overtaking cars with an impressive speed, and Arden’s Norman Nato pulled off an aggressive move on Boschung to take second place, but not without losing a sizeable piece of his front wing. Fortunately for the Frenchman the damage did not seem to impede the drivability of his car. His move also allowed Latifi to follow him around Boschung, so that the Canadian now seemed to stand a good chance of scoring a double podium, which would be his first in Formula 2 or GP2.

Meanwhile, Leclerc found himself stuck behind a train of cars in the lower points-scoring positions, struggling to find a way past, while his rival Rowland was keeping a cool head out in front. Once Nato had passed Boschung, the Arden driver didn’t find it difficult to begin to to eat into Rowland’s lead. But in the end, he didn’t need to catch the Brit, who was struck by a suspected gearbox problem on lap eight which sent him down the order and ultimately forced him to retire from the race, destroying his chances of clawing back some of Leclerc’s championship lead.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 4.
Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
Norman Nato (FRA, Pertamina Arden)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I3499

Seemingly spurred on by the knowledge that his main rival was out of contention, Leclerc began to dispatch the cars in front of him, narrowly avoiding Artem Markelov, who defended hard, not willing to give up his position without a fight. His job was made a little easier when Nyck de Vries—who had been running in second place and also looked set to score a double podium—ran wide, picking up damage and putting him out of the race.

Nato began to extend his lead out in front as both Leclerc and Sirotkin made progress, the two of them performing a synchronised move on Ralph Boschung on lap ten, but with the Russian ultimately losing a place to the Monegasque driver. The Russian was clearly growing in confidence with each lap, flashes of his form from 2016 returning.

Lap thirteen saw Leclerc dispatch Latifi and begin chasing Nato, who by this point had a sizeable lead over the rest of the podium places. Now racing in clean air, the Prema driver was lapping about a second quicker than anyone else, including the man he was hunting down. He looked certain to emulate the double victory of Antonio Giovinazzi, who had driven for the Italian team in 2016.

But on lap seventeen the news came in that Leclerc had received a ten second time penalty, along with Sergio Canamasas, for failing to slow for yellow flags – a punishment very similar to the one Rowland had received in the feature race. Despite his superior speed, victory was near impossible, and though he was the first driver to take the chequered flag, second place was the best he could manage. DAMS’ Nicholas Latifi finished the sprint race in third, his second of the weekend.

There was a post-race penalty for MP Motorsport’s Jordan King for illegal tyre pressures, a disappointment for the Dutch team who could have used the decent haul of points his fourth place would have got them. That meant Sirotkin was promoted to fourth, followed by Markelov, Matsushita, Ghiotto and Boschung who collected the final points up for grabs.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 4.
Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
Norman Nato (FRA, Pertamina Arden)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I8525

 

Without the retirements of Rowland and de Vries the result of the race would have been very different. But it was a richly deserved win for Norman Nato who has failed to score points since his second place in Bahrain, and is a far more capable driver than his results suggest. It was an even bigger victory for the Arden team, who scored their first win at this level since 2012, and gave them a much needed boost in a season where they have been struggling so far. The recently revamped team were very much the winners of the weekend, even with two no-points finishes for Sean Gelael.

Charles Leclerc overcame his difficult circumstances outside of the car to deliver another outstanding weekend, increasing his championship lead to forty-two points. Russian Time also maintained their lead at the top of the team standings, and Markelov moves to within two points of Rowland in the driver standings. Credit has to go also to Luca Ghiotto who recovered from a difficult qualifying and feature race to finish seventh on Sunday.

It was a mixed weekend for Nyck de Vries, who can take positives from the fact that he succeeded in converting his qualifying pace into feature race results. Though it has taken the Formula 2 rookie a few rounds to find his feet, the McLaren junior driver is improving round by round.

DAMS have continued their recent resurgence, now a strong second in the team standings, with Nicholas Latifi having his best season in single seaters by a fair way. But there is no disguising the missed opportunity for Oliver Rowland, who was in with a real chance of going top of the drivers’ standings going into the weekend. Though much of it was down to factors beyond his control, he now leaves Baku with a substantial margin between him and Leclerc and at risk of losing his second place to Markelov.

Formula 2 has only a two week break before the next round at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, a track which even some of the rookies should be familiar with, on account of the GP3 championship also running there. The rain soaked races of 2016 threw up more than a few surprises, but even in normal weather conditions, it should be an entertaining weekend to see if Rowland, Markelov or any other driver can stop Charles Leclerc from running away with the championship.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

F2: Baku Preview

After a month off, Formula 2 returns this weekend in Azerbaijan for the fourth round of the championship, which takes place at the Baku City Circuit. Despite only being on the calendar for a year, Baku has already earned itself an unpopular reputation, thanks to the less-than-enthralling F1 race that took place last year.

But its GP2 counterpart was anything but, with two chaotic and action-packed races. Out of the twenty-two cars that started both races last year, only twelve finished the feature race, and only fifteen in the sprint race. The high chance of crashing out, especially in the tight section of the track that runs through the older part of the city, adds an element of total unpredictability to this round.

2016 GP2 Series Round 3
Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 18 June 2016.
Sean Gelael (INA, Pertamina Campos Racing)
Photo: Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _ONZ0910

As the second street circuit of the year, Baku presents a different challenge to Monaco. Though avoiding traffic and the walls will be difficult in parts, overtaking should be easier, thanks in part to the long start-finish straight—the longest of any track, at over two kilometres. Last year it was also the site of Antonio Giovinazzi’s double winning weekend, which well and truly launched his championship campaign. This suggests that if any driver’s performance has been underwhelming so far, there is still time to earn back those lost points.

The biggest change going into the weekend will be the absence of ART’s Alexander Albon, who is out for the weekend with a broken collarbone. He will be replaced by Sergey Sirotkin, Renault’s test driver, who drove for ART last year and finished third in the 2016 GP2 championship. It is definitely a blow for Albon, who was proving to be a consistent driver, having scored points in every race this season thus far, but the team seems confident that he will be able to drive at the Red Bull Ring in a few weeks’ time.

Bringing in a new driver for the weekend shouldn’t place ART at a disadvantage however. Sirotkin managed to score himself a double podium last year at Baku, so the team can feel confident when the Russian arrives, fresh from racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

(L to R): Mark Slade (GBR) Renault Sport F1 Team Race Engineer with Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team Third Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 28th April 2017. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.

By contrast, Matsushita had a nightmare weekend in Baku last year, despite having good pace and leading much of the sprint race. The Japanese driver struggled on the safety car restarts, and his driving was erratic enough to earn him a race ban. He will be looking to learn from the mistakes of last year, but with one win and a podium under his belt, he seems to be having a better season already.

Some drivers will be heading into this weekend with recovery at the forefront of their mind after disappointing results in Monte Carlo. Norman Nato is one such driver. The Frenchman started the year full of promise, and his potential is definitely that of a race winner, but after failing to score any points in Monaco, he needs a strong showing in Baku to get his season back on track. His teammate Sean Gelael, who has trailed Nato so far, had a solid qualifying performance in Monaco, but failed to convert that into race results.

Prema’s drivers will also be looking to bounce back from less than ideal results last time out. Leclerc, who does still lead the championship, will need to show that he can recover mentally from the double retirement in his home race, something which will prove essential if he is to carry his challenge for the duration of the season. Antonio Fuoco’s battle still remains one of proving he can measure up to his teammate, and increasingly, proving that he deserves his race seat and his place in the Ferrari Driver Academy. The track suited Prema last year, who managed to nail setup, earning them a pole position and a second place, as well as Giovinazzi’s two wins.

Rapax, after a slow start to the season, achieved a season’s best in Monte Carlo with a first and second place in the sprint race. Carrying that momentum to Baku may be difficult considering neither of their drivers have driven the street circuit before, but rookie Nyck de Vries seems to have gotten over his early season struggles with adjusting. If this race weekend is similar to last year’s then luck in staying out of trouble will probably be a large factor, so there is no counting the Rapax drivers out.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 27 May 2017.
Johnny Cecotto Jr. (VEN, Rapax)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I7139

Both DAMS and Racing Engineering had a mixed weekend in Monaco, with one of their drivers delivering promising results – with a win for Oliver Rowland (DAMS) and a third place for Gustav Malja (Racing Engineering) – and the other failing to score any points. Both teams have machinery that seems capable of delivering race winning results, and with mostly experienced drivers, they stand a good chance of performing well at Baku. DAMS’ Rowland will be particularly anxious to do so as he now sits only three points shy of championship leader Leclerc, and if he can outperform the Monegasque and avoid any incidents, then his chances of leaving Baku as the new leader of the drivers’ standings are high indeed.

Based on points alone, Russian Time were the top team out in Monaco, and succeeding in taking a fourteen-point lead in the teams’ standings from DAMS. Artem Markelov and Luca Ghiotto also occupy third and fourth in the driver’s standings, and if fortune plays into their favour, Baku presents them with the opportunity to close the gap to Rowland and Leclerc.

There is every chance that we will leave Baku with a new points leader—but more than that, the venue offers the chance for one of the most entertaining, and maybe a little crazy, races of the year. If you are yet to see last year’s GP2 races, I would recommend doing so. They’re carnage, but entertaining nonetheless.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

Red Bull Racing and an abundance of drivers

 

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Daniel Ricciardo. Max Verstappen. Carlos Sainz Jr. Daniil Kvyat. Pierre Gasly.

The number of names on Red Bull’s books is extensive. The Red Bull Junior Team they were all a part of, or are currently part of, has been phenomenally successful, more so than the development program of any other team; particularly in terms of the talent graduating to Formula 1. Its history stretches back longer than the lifespan of Red Bull Racing itself, with the latter entering Formula 1 in 2005 and the junior program being created four years prior. And while many teams would love to have so many promising drivers under their wing, it is proving to be more of a problem for Red Bull than they might originally have hoped.

The obvious problem is that the Red Bull program can only offer their drivers four seats in Formula 1, which admittedly, is two more than most teams can. But only two of these are in a top team, and a competitive race seat is always the ultimate goal of any driver wishing to make it in F1. And here, Red Bull is the one who loses out. They are left with too many drivers and too few seats, with no hope of holding on to all of their prospects.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

As it currently stands Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen look absolutely set in their Red Bull seats, with the Australian’s contract lasting until the end of 2018, and Verstappen rumoured to have signed a long-term deal when he switched to the Austrian team last year. That means that—for next season, at very least—the two of them will stay right where they are.

What 2018 has in store for Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz Jr and Red Bull’s third driver Pierre Gasly is a little more uncertain. Toro Rosso have not declared who will be driving for them next year, and have indicated that they do not plan to do so until after the summer break. While in an ideal world they would probably like to keep Sainz and Kvyat, as both drivers are more than capable of bringing home the results that the team needs and wants, the situation is unfortunately not as simple for the Italian team as renewing their contracts.

After three years at the junior team, it is unlikely that Sainz will be happy staying there for a fourth. A driver who could match Verstappen while the two were teammates, he has both the speed and talent necessary to challenge for race wins at the least and world championships at the most, were he in a top team. Many in the Formula 1 paddock are of the opinion he is wasted at a midfield team like Toro Rosso. The Spaniard has proved to Red Bull again and again that he is ready to move up to the senior team, and whilst they would take him in a heartbeat if there was a free seat, that is precisely the issue.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Ricciardo and Verstappen are two drivers no team would want to get rid of, no matter how promising the replacement might seem. As much as Red Bull might want to keep him in their stable most would agree that it is too much to ask him to stay at Toro Rosso for a fourth year. The question of where Sainz could move to is very much up in the air. Renault, Ferrari and even Mercedes are all names that have been thrown around, but as of now, it is anyone’s guess which car Carlos Sainz Jr will be driving next year.

The career of Daniil Kvyat is another matter entirely. After being demoted from his seat at Red Bull in 2016, many were not expecting to see him on the grid at all this season. There were some very strong rumours that if Pierre Gasly did manage to win the 2016 GP2 title (which, incidentally, he did) then Kvyat’s seat would be his. But against all odds the Russian managed to regain some form in the second half of the season, and retained his seat at Toro Rosso. It is hard to imagine that Kvyat would want to stay there long term, especially after having a taste of a season and a half in a top team, even if he was thrown in the deep end after Vettel’s departure. And given the year he had being shuffled from team to team, no one would blame him for wanting to start afresh somewhere else.

A driver leaving the Red Bull system for another Formula 1 team is not a simple case of running down their contract and packing their bags. The contracts that drivers sign, often even before reaching adulthood, are notoriously difficult to get out of. Unless drivers have the funds or leverage to negotiate their way out of their contract (à la Sebastian Vettel), they are very much at the mercy of Red Bull, who can let them go if they wish.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

This is part of the problem that faces young Frenchman Pierre Gasly. The 21-year-old, who is currently racing in Super Formula for Team Mugen, at one point looked certain to replace Kvyat for the 2017 at Toro Rosso. But even after battling his way to a closely fought GP2 title in 2016, Gasly found himself without a way into Formula 1, and was sent off to race in Japan, in a situation similar to that of current McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016. Firmly tied into the Red Bull structure, his only real option is Toro Rosso, but only on the proviso that either Sainz or Kvyat leaves. With a strong junior record and a lot of support given to him by Red Bull, Gasly is surely next in line. But playing the waiting game is never easy. By the end of the season it may be that Gasly goes in search of a drive in another category of the top flight of motorsport.

The most likely outcome for 2018 is that Sainz is given the go ahead to move on from Toro Rosso and Gasly takes his place there. But do not discount either Ricciardo or Verstappen leaving to find their first championship title, and Sainz moving up to that top team seat he has been gunning for. Whatever fate has in store for Red Bull and their current crop of drivers, few would bet that they will manage to retain all of them by the end of the year.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

Analysis: are the 2018 F2 specs what the series needs?

After the recent rebranding of Formula 2 following the Liberty Media takeover, the first whisperings have appeared of the technical changes that are to follow. Series boss Bruno Michel has revealed some details of the new spec car that will be introduced for the 2018 season, which will bring them more in line with the new model of F1 car launched for 2017. While the finer details of the new specifications are yet to be released, there is the need to question whether or not these changes are what Formula 2 needs to move forward as a series.

Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Thursday 30 March 2017
Norman Nato (FRA) Pertamina Arden
Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/FIA Formpula 2
ref: Digital Image MALC8799

The most dramatic change will be the engine. Though it will continue to be supplied by Mecachrome, from 2018 onwards, engines for the Formula 2 series will be V6 rather than V8. The new six-cylinder specification will bring the regulations in line with GP3 and, more importantly, with Formula 1 as well. In an effort to keep costs down, the engines will not follow the hybrid model of F1, but will be turbocharged.

This marks the first change in engine specification since GP2 was founded in 2005. Motorsport purists, who enjoy the sounds of F2’s current V8 engine, will be disappointed to hear that go, but the real problem lies in the potential cost.

Keeping down the price of Formula 2, and other feeder categories of motorsport, has long been in the mission statement of the FIA, and so long as the upgrade is handled correctly, then the financial repercussions of the new regulations should not impact upon teams too much. However, the risk is there, and it will be up to the FIA, working together with Mecachrome, to ensure that Formula 2 still remains accessible for teams and drivers alike.

Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Thursday 30 March 2017
Antonio Fuoco (ITA) PREMA RACING
Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/FIA Formpula 2
ref: Digital Image MALC8251

Plans for a new aerodynamic package have been vague for the time being, though Michel did indicate that they would replicate the new 2017 F1 regulations more closely than they currently do. Such a move is entirely necessary if Formula 2 is to act as a step ladder for Formula 1, since the difference between the two categories is currently rather striking.

It is unlikely that in 2018 the drivers will be facing the levels of G-force that F1 drivers do, but the experience of driving the two sets of machinery will become more comparable. Ideally, these aero regulations would have been introduced for the 2017 season, as there is now the threat that F2 will be placed in a cycle whereby they are constantly playing catch up with F1, always a season behind.

GP MONACO F1/2016 – MONTECARLO 28/05/16
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

While there will be changes to the engine and aerodynamics, statements made by Bruno Michel suggest that the Pirelli tyres run by Formula 2 will remain largely unchanged. Michel has been vocal about wanting to maintain the high degradation tyres currently used by the series, and ruling out a move towards the much wider models that are now being used in Formula 1. This is one decision that definitely poses a problem for drivers graduating from F2 to F1, and other categories with lower degradation tyres.

Such was the case for 2016 GP2 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi who filled in for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber F1 team for the first couple of races of the 2017 season. After the Australian Grand Prix the Italian admitted he drove too conservatively on the supersoft tyres, on account of expecting the degradation to be similar to that which he had experienced in GP2. While high degradation tyres are part of the excitement and appeal of Formula 2, keeping it as its current levels runs the risk of providing young drivers with the wrong kind of preparation for their senior racing careers.

The announcements by Michel do make it clear that the FIA is committed to developing Formula 2, following their acquisition of the series earlier in the year. In the meantime, we will have to wait until 2018 to see whether or not these changes will be a step in the right direction.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

Monaco F2: Rowland and de Vries shine in home heartbreak for Leclerc

True to form, Formula 2’s weekend in Monaco contradicted almost every expectation we had prior to the first practice.

Thursday’s qualifying dismissed any notions that experience would be a deciding factor in determining the running order when rookie Charles Leclerc made it three poles in three rounds despite running in the first group when track conditions were not at their optimum.

He was closely followed by fellow GP3 graduate, ART’s Alexander Albon, and the more experienced Oliver Rowland rounded off the top three. In the press conference after qualifying, Rowland lamented the speed at which the rookies had grown accustomed to F2, a testament to how unexpected Leclerc’s and Albon’s performances were.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Thursday 25 May 2017.
Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I5057

As it is with any race at Monte Carlo, track position and strategy were going to be key. As long as Prema could nail their strategy in the feature race, Leclerc, whose home sits just above turn one, looked all set for a home victory.

At the race start the order was largely maintained. Though Leclerc did come under initial pressure from Albon, he held his lead and in the opening laps managed to pull away from his former GP3 teammate. Drama struck when Nicholas Latifi broke down at the entrance of the tunnel, in a difficult place for the marshals to recover his car, and brought out at the first safety car. The sudden change of circumstances seemed to play straight into the hands of Albon, who had already pitted, was now able to close the gap to the front runners, which included Leclerc, Rowland and Nobuharu Matsushita. His attempt at an alternate strategy by pitting early suddenly became a serious opportunity for victory.

At the restart on lap 11, Leclerc pulled away at a blistering speed, sprinting away in an attempt to build a gap over Albon. Rowland, who was sitting in second place, kept a far steadier pace, DAMS clearly opting to delay their pit stop as long as possible rather than trying to match Leclerc’s speed.

Lap 21 saw a tidy move by Nyck de Vries on Louis Deletraz to put him into tenth place and into the points. This was swiftly followed by Deletraz coming together with Robert Visoiu, putting them both out of the race, and earning the Campos driver a DNF on debut. The second safety car of the race was deployed.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Friday 26 May 2017.
Stefano Coletti (MON, Campos Racing)
Photo: Joe Portlock/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _L5R9226

This triggered a wave of stops from the front runners who had yet to pit, with Leclerc being the first to dive into the pit lane. The unforeseen turn of events undid ART’s gamble with Albon’s early pit, and Prema’s impatience to get Leclerc in meant he ended up losing track position to both Rowland and Artem Markelov. But things were about to get a lot worse for the local boy and championship leader.

As the cars paraded around after the safety car it became apparent that Leclerc’s front left tyre was loose, and initially the assumption was that it had not been fastened properly during the hasty pit stop. After a second stop however, the problem persisted, indicating that it was a more serious suspension breakage, and the Monegasque had no choice but to retire. It was a heart-breaking way to end the race for the driver who was so desperate to win at his home track.

Lap 26 saw the race get back underway, and it was a great restart for Rowland who looked certain to score his first win. In the end it was the man from Sheffield who stood on the top step of the podium, followed by Markelov in second, and Matsushita in third, who managed to secure two back-to-back podiums.

It was an impressive fourth place for Albon, who displayed some impressive tyre management after a long stint of the super soft tyres. Luca Ghiotto took fifth ahead of Gustav Malja, and the Rapax duo of de Vries and Cecotto crossed the line in formation in seventh and eighth, with Jordan King finishing ninth behind them. Trident also managed to finally score their first points of the season when Sergio Canamasas finished in tenth place.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 27 May 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _X4I9581

The sprint race saw seasoned veteran Johnny Cecotto Jr of Rapax starting on reverse grid pole, followed by his teammate Nyck de Vries and Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja.

The start hammered home the point that had been made abundantly clear all weekend: that experience was playing only a minimal role around the streets of Monte Carlo. Rookie de Vries got a fantastic start, pulling ahead of Cecotto almost immediately, and built a commanding lead. Malja almost lost third place to Russian Time’s Luca Ghiotto, but just managed to stay ahead, while this weekend’s feature race winner Rowland was swiftly overtaken by his countrymen Jordan King who demoted him from the points.

As de Vries extended his lead, proving that his tyre management troubles of the early races were long gone, most of the action was occurring towards the back end of the field. A lap 4 incident between an overly optimistic Leclerc and Norman Nato at La Rascasse saw the Frenchmen retiring from the race and the Prema driver handed a ten second time penalty. The horrible weekend for the two of them just continued.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Friday 26 May 2017.
Norman Nato (FRA, Pertamina Arden)
Photo: Joe Portlock/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _L5R9657

The middle stint of the race saw most of the drivers in the top eight attempting to earn themselves the extra two points for the fastest lap—that honour ultimately went to Artem Markelov. As the race reached around two thirds distance the soft tyres everyone was running began to degrade far more than was expected, particularly for the second placed Cecotto, which bunched up the field all the way back to sixth place.

Despite enormous pressure being heaped on those involved in these battles, only Albon lost out to Markelov, who executed a magnificent piece of late braking to complete the move for fifth. Towards the back of the field it became clear that Leclerc was struggling with the damage he sustained from his early contact with Nato, and for the second time that weekend he was forced to retire.

De Vries led a commanding race, and the McLaren junior driver handled the pressure immensely well, hardly putting a foot wrong as he drove his way to his first victory in Formula 2. Despite the close proximity of the rest of the front runners, Cecotto and Malja managed to hold onto their podium places. The points earned for King, Albon and Ghiotto meant that the three of them continued their streak of scoring points in all races of the 2017 season so far. The sprint race also saw the tally for different drivers on the podium reach ten for this season, highlighting the ultra competitive nature of the series.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 27 May 2017.
Nyck De Vries (NED, Rapax) celebrates in Parc Ferme after winning the race.
World Copyright: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I7579

Oliver Rowland’s championship campaign certainly benefitted from his first race win on Friday, and despite not scoring any points on Saturday, he is now only three points shy of Charles Leclerc, who still leads the drivers’ standings. The ordinarily relaxed driver kept an exceptionally cool head to avoid making any mistakes on this tricky track. He clearly has the long game in mind, being mindful to not take any risks in the sprint race that could turn into a grid penalty for Baku, and knowing that Leclerc was unlikely to score points, this was obviously the most sensible course of action.

It was also a positive weekend for GP3 graduates Alexander Albon and Nyck de Vries. The former pulled off a blistering qualifying performance, and held his own against more experienced drivers in the race. Although he ultimately lost out in the sprint race to Markelov—who recovered well from his underwhelming weekend in Barcelona—he was able to defend well for a considerable time. De Vries seems to be progressing beyond the troubles he faced in earlier rounds, and is clearly becoming more comfortable with his machinery and Formula 2 as a whole. If he can find the qualifying pace he had in Bahrain, then it is too soon to discount him from making his mark on the championship this year.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Thursday 25 May 2017.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I5473

Zak Mauger / FIA Formula 2

The weekend was very much one of two halves for Charles Leclerc. His performance in free practice and qualifying put him way ahead of the rest of the field. But his races were struck by some terrible luck, and no doubt left him wishing that it had happened at any other circuit. Discounting his clumsy shunt with Nato in the sprint race, he is hardly at fault, but a weekend with only four points (for his pole position) has damaged his championship challenge considerably.

Norman Nato comes a close second to Leclerc regarding this weekend’s fortunes. His retirement on Saturday marked his third race in a row without scoring any points, and what is perhaps most frustrating of all is that the whole paddock knows these results do not reflect his potential. The Frenchmen needs to find some consistency to resurrect his own chances of winning the championship this year.

Formula 2 travels to the street circuit at Baku in around a month’s time. The circuit was the site of the most dramatic and chaotic race of last season, and with the order shaken up this weekend, it is hard to say who will leave Azerbaijan as leader in the standings.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

F2: Monaco Preview

2016 GP2 Series Round 2
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 28 May 2016.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix), takes the chequered flag
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _R6T6685

The Monaco Grand Prix represents the jewel in the crown of any racing series that visits the iconic track, and nowhere is this truer than for the third round of the 2017 Formula 2 championship.

With only a limited number of series using the track, it will be a lot of drivers’ first time racing at the principality. As a street circuit, it presents a vastly different challenge to the previous two rounds, and it will prove to be a true test of the drivers’ car control and skill. Flat out racing will inevitably lead to mistakes on the tight, twisting Monegasque streets, and more measured driving will be yield the best results.

As it is with any category, Monaco has a habit of shaking up the established order, as proven by Markelov’s shock win here in the GP2 feature race last year, so there is no guarantee that the teams who were stronger in the previous rounds will continue to dominate here. For example, Prema who were so strong last season, and whose 2016 lineup of Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi came to fight it out for the GP2 title failed to score any points in either races last year.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Artem Markelov (RUS, RUSSIAN TIME) in the pits during the practice session
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL2_9446

Artem Markelov will no doubt draw confidence from his performance in Monte Carlo last year, and it may help him pick his championship challenge back up from his average weekend in Barcelona. His teammate Luca Ghiotto currently sits a comfortable third place in the championship, one place above his Russian teammate, after another podium in Spain.

But Russian Time will need a strong showing from both its drivers to have the edge on the other teams in the incredibly close battle at the top of the standings. While Russian Time are in third with seventy-two points, Prema and DAMS both have seventy-five, the Italian outfit taking first place on the virtue of having more race wins.

Prema’s man of the moment Charles Leclerc will be searching for a little bit of hometown glory this weekend when he gets to compete at his home grand prix for the first time. The Monaco native has been anything but shy about how much he is looking forward to racing on the streets he grew up on, and considering that he is currently leading the drivers’ standings, he is well placed to give his fellow countrymen something to cheer about.

With Monaco being a difficult track to overtake on, Leclerc’s teammate Antonio Fuoco will be hoping that if he can produce a qualifying performance like the one he had in Bahrain, then his results will start reflecting the potential of both himself and the car. After this weekend, over a quarter of the F2 season will have been completed, and if Fuoco cannot begin to match the pace of his teammate, he risks falling to the wayside almost entirely.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Antonio Fuoco (ITA, PREMA Racing) next to Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL1_9133

Monaco also presents a chance for redemption for Frenchman Norman Nato who has been plagued with inconsistency and bad luck since his podium in the first race in Bahrain. His Arden teammate Sean Gelael will also need a better run of things this weekend. With the track levelling the playing field somewhat, though the Arden machinery has not looked up to scratch thus far, as long as they avoid any serious incidents, racing at Monaco presents an opportunity to rise above their current standing.

DAMS succeeded in scoring three podiums when F2 visited Spain, but Nicholas Latifi, after throwing away an almost certain win in the Barcelona sprint race, will be a man in search of redemption. Considering the fact that he failed to finish either race last year when GP2 came to Monaco, his track record suggests that he will have to dig deep in order to perform.

His teammate Rowland is better placed to do well, having secured one of his three podiums from 2016 in the principality. His aim will surely be the close the gap to Leclerc, who currently sits twenty-six points in front of him.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Friday 12 May 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I7139

Experience will most likely play a large role in determining the running order this weekend, as the rookie entrants into Formula 2 gain confidence around the notoriously difficult track. No team, except Prema, has a line-up consisting entirely of rookies, so it will be expected that the those who have already driven a season of GP2 will outperform their teammates.

Still, there is a chance that rookies such as ART’s Alexander Albon and Rapax’s Nyck de Vries, who have been quick so far, could pull something special out of the bag. De Vries’ chances still very much depend on his ability to manage his tyres, which prevented him from securing results which match his qualifying pace. If experience is key here, then no one should have better chances that Johnny Cecotto of Rapax who has competed in no less than eight seasons of GP2, but that would take a very different kind of performance from the Venezuelan, who has failed to score any points this season.

Albon’s teammate, Nobuharu Matsushita, who achieved sprint race victory in Barcelona also managed to win in Monaco in GP2 last year—his only win of the 2016 season. If he can carry the momentum with him from Spain, then there is every chance that he can repeat past successes.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I0189

It is also worth keeping an eye on MP Motorsport’s Jordan King and Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja, both of whom have had promising starts to the season, but probably need a podium or a win to give them the traction to mount a championship challenge. The experience of both drivers will bode well here however. Their rookie teammates, Sergio Sette Camara (MP Motorsport) and Louis Deletraz (Racing Engineering), have failed to score points so far this season, and they would be forgiven for failing to do so at Monaco. Yet the unpredictable nature of the track could give them that small bit of luck needed to make their mark on the series.

Trident’s drivers Nabil Jeffri and Sergio Canamassas have also failed to take home any points from their team in 2017. Jeffri’s record at this circuit will not inspire any hope in his team, but Canamassas has scored a second and a third place in Monaco during his GP2 career. Though given his reputation and how easy it is to cause a pileup on this narrow track, people will probably be expecting the Spaniard to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Campos Racing, the other team who have failed to secure any points to their name, bring the unknown variable of a new line up to Monte Carlo. While they retain Ralph Boschung, Robert Visoiu joins the team, making it their third different line up in three rounds. Visoiu returns to this level of racing after a year out from motorsport and looks set to stay for the rest of the season.

If there is anything to remember about Monaco it is that for a series such as Formula 2, where the field is so closely matched, that it is near impossible to accurately predict who will triumph on this illustrious circuit. The drivers who have been performing well so far in 2017, such as Leclerc, Rowland, Markelov and Ghiotto are of course worth keeping an eye on. But there is no guarantee that Monaco will follow the script that has been laid out thus far.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

F2: Barcelona Review

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Saturday 13 May 2017.
Nicholas Latifi (CAN, DAMS) on the main straight in the reflection in the grandstand
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL2_0623

Barcelona ushered in the second round of the 2017 Formula 2 championship, and it brought with it a few changes to the series. A single change to the track, which affected all races taking place at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, was the extension of the DRS activation zone by one hundred metres, increasing the opportunities for overtaking on the main straight.

The second was the replacement of Stefano Coletti with Robert Merhi at the Campos Racing team. Ex-F1 driver Merhi tested for Campos before the season began, but the call to race came very late for the Spaniard, who drove wearing his old Manor Marussia racing overalls.

The race weekend also brought with it a first win this season for Honda junior driver Nobuharu Matsushita in the sprint race, and an increased championship lead for rookie Charles Leclerc who now leads the standings by twenty-six points.

In qualifying it was Prema who reigned triumphant once again, taking pole position for the second weekend running. But while Leclerc started the feature race at the front of the grid, his teammate and fellow Ferrari junior driver, Antonio Fuoco, sat in eighth position, his time half a second slower.

Qualifying did not pan out so well for the other race winner from Bahrain, Artem Markelov, who found himself all the way back in thirteenth. As far as one lap performances went for the other rookies, Rapax’s Nyck de Vries put in another good performance for third, and GP3 race winner Alexander Albon managed to slot himself into fifth, ahead of his more experienced teammate Matsushita.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Saturday 13 May 2017.
Antonio Fuoco (ITA, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I8934

Before Saturday’s feature race had even begun the field was divided in terms of strategy, with most opting to start on the soft tyres and switching onto the hard after the first round of pit stops, while others went for the alternate strategy, earning them a longer first stint on the harder compound.

It was a decent start for the pole sitter Leclerc, but second-placed Luca Ghiotto pulled away more cleanly, prompting aggressive defending from Leclerc who managed to hold his lead by the end of the first lap. De Vries’ trend of being unable to convert his promising performances in qualifying to the race continued when he struggled at the start, sending himself backwards before he had even reached the first corner.

It was a disappointing first lap for Louis Deletraz too, who seemed to have brought his bad luck with him from Bahrain—he got hit by Cecotto and spun, sending him down the order. A clumsy first lap meant Fuoco’s weekend went from bad to worse, as damage sent him into the pits and he emerged at the back of the field.

Albon, who had promoted himself to third at the start, managed to overtake Ghiotto on lap 4, whose tyres were already starting to fade, triggering a fierce battle for the lead between himself and Leclerc.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) leading Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Jed Leicester/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image JL2_1496

Those who started on the softer tyres were soon into the pits, whilst those who begun the race on the hard tyres carried on, the comparative lack of degradation enabling them to push for longer. But any advantage this alternate strategy might have won these drivers was wiped out on lap 10 when Sergio Canamassas came to a stop in the middle of track, bringing out the safety care. The field was bunched together rapidly, closing the gap between the early stoppers and those who had yet to pit.

At the restart on lap 13 Albon got away well, but by this point Leclerc was making his way back through the field with Ghiotto following closely. Deletraz redeemed himself from his earlier bad luck with a stunning move round the outside of Norman Nato. Once DAMS driver Oliver Rowland finally managed to take the lead from Albon, he was churning out very competitive lap times, despite still using the same set of tyres that he started on. Unfortunately, the safety car effectively ended any chance he had of a race win. But a strong resurgence after a late stop meant he managed to finish the race on the third step of the podium. Albon also recovered well to finish in fifth place, but it must have been hard not to dwell on what might have been, had strategy gone his way.

There was no stopping Leclerc and Ghiotto from claiming first and second place respectively. But they certainly had the strategic advantage. Markelov once again showed his development as a mature driver, and a measured overtake on Jordan King won him eighth place and reverse grid pole for the sprint race.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Saturday 13 May 2017.
Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _56I9134

The sprint race on Sunday morning was a dramatic affair. Markelov would have been hoping for a better result than he got on Saturday, and one that would help build his championship challenge after his win in Bahrain.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Russian got away very poorly, failing to capitalise on his starting advantage. Nicholas Latifi, on the other hand, got a fantastic start, immediately putting himself into the lead, and in a position to get his first win at this level after three previous seasons in GP2.

The safety car made a reappearance on lap 1 as Fuoco made an early exit from the race, bringing his miserable weekend to a close. He collided with Nyck de Vries at turn seven who also retired as a result of the shunt.

Latifi managed to command the race for the ensuing laps, and looked certain to cruise to victory. However, tragedy struck for the Canadian on lap 22, as he plunged his car incredibly deep into turn five, the gravel trap slowing him right down and allowing both Matsushita and Rowland to get past him, gifting the lead to the former.

In the closing stages of the race Leclerc finally managed to dispatch Albon and eventually worked his way up to fourth place, whilst the ART driver eventually finished down in seventh place as his tyres began to degrade badly. Despite starting the race on pole, Markelov could only do as well as ninth place, never managing to recover after his poor start. The win would have surely been Latifi’s had he not thrown it away before he could seal the deal. The only consolation is that DAMS managed to get both of their drivers on the podium, earning themselves some valuable points.

Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017
Nicholas Latifi (CAN, DAMS)
Photo: /FIA Formula 2
ref: Digital Image JL2_1630

The stand out performer of the weekend was Oliver Rowland, who scored himself two podiums to promote himself to second in the championship standings. The Yorkshireman was positively dominant in the feature race, even with the misfortune of the safety car, and while he did benefit from the mistake of his teammate in the sprint race, he had the speed to bag himself that second podium regardless.

Another strong showing from Charles Leclerc extended his lead at the top of the driver standings, proving the speed and talent he showed in Bahrain was no beginner’s luck. Any doubts that he would not be a contender owing to his rookie status have been well and truly dismissed. His GP3 teammate Alexander Albon continued to perform well, and the two of them are demonstrating that experience is an optional component of a successful run in Formula 2.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 2.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I9611

Leclerc’s teammate Antonio Fuoco, by contrast, seems to still be struggling to get up to speed, and is hardly taking advantage of having one of the strongest cars on the grid. Time will tell if it is a lack of confidence and experience that is plaguing the young Italian, and whether he can challenge his teammate by the end of the season.

Barcelona was nightmarish for Frenchman Norman Nato as well, who was looking like a championship contender after the feature race in Bahrain. However, he leaves Spain empty handed, and sitting ninth in the championship standings.

Artem Markelov was overtaken by both Rowland and Ghiotto in the standings, but did manage to score some points. His performance was nowhere near as strong as in round one, but the races interrupted by safety cars prevented him from driving on his own terms. He can take positives from the fact that he has continued to look far more consistent and measured than in previous seasons. It would be too soon to discount both him and Nato from the championship fight already.

We head to Monaco for the third round of the F2 championship in just under two weeks’ time. It is a track that can always throw us a few surprises, so don’t count anyone out yet. Though we can expect Charles Leclerc to be a force to be reckoned with, as a man on a mission to win his home race.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

Preview: F2 in Barcelona

Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Tuesday 14 March 2017.
Nyck De Vries (NED, Rapax). Action.
Photo: Alastair Staley/FIA Formula 2
ref: Digital Image 580A0752

This weekend, Formula 2 heads to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for round two of the 2017 championship. It is a track all the drivers will be familiar with after the three days of pre-season testing there in March.

But considering Saturday’s feature race will only be the third race at this level for this season’s rookies, experience will likely still play a big part in determining the running order. If testing is any indication then this track should be one that suits Arden and ART, but as we saw in Bahrain, testing is not an infallible indicator of true pace.

If Prema can repeat the form that they found in Bahrain, then the 2016 champions will be a danger. While there are some question marks over their long run pace, the Italian outfit’s one lap speed is as impressive as it was last year. Out of the two Ferrari juniors, Leclerc was certainly the hero of the last round, and Fuoco has some catching up to do.

However, it is unlikely that the team will be able to repeat their bold strategy for the sprint race again, and with Leclerc obviously struggling to keep on top of the high tyre degradation, it would be unwise to assume they will leave Spain as the championship leaders. Going into the race weekend with Leclerc leading the drivers’ standings, it is undeniable that he has the pace to challenge the more experience drivers.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
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Two other teams that are looking dangerous as we head to Catalonia are Pertamina Arden and Russian Time, the latter managing to score two podiums in Bahrain and currently sitting in first place in the team standings.

Compared to his 2016 form, Markelov is looking like a more mature driver, but only time will tell if he can maintain any kind of consistency, something that is vital if he is to mount a title challenge. Ghiotto was overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammate last round, but he is a highly capable driver, and the pairing could prove to be very beneficial for their team.

Though circumstance did not play into Arden’s favour in Bahrain, with Nato’s unlucky retirement in the sprint race, the Frenchman’s feature race performance was promising. Many have predicted that 2017 could be his year to finally seal the title, and all the signs are suggesting that it is possible.

Nato’s teammate Sean Gelael could not match his teammate last time out, and while he is partnering a highly rated driver, the disparity between the two cars suggests that he has not quite got on top of things yet. Barcelona will be his chance to prove he can measure up.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Norman Nato (FRA, Pertamina Arden)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
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Sérgio Sette Câmara is another driver who will be hoping he can keep up with his teammate in Barcelona, after having failed to achieve the same results as his MP Motorsport teammate, Jordan King. Recently dropped from the Red Bull junior program, even after testing for them at Silverstone last summer, the young Brazilian is out to prove himself. Promisingly, he did manage to beat his teammate in the sprint race in Bahrain, but was wholly out-driven in the feature race.

This is somewhat unsurprising considering King hinted at the fact that he may have been sitting in an F1 seat this season, had the Manor Racing team not collapsed before the 2017 season had begun. Still, the team needs a string of more promising results if they want to compete amongst the best in the series.

Flying under the radar a little in Bahrain, but nevertheless delivering strong performances were DAMS. The 2014 GP2 champions will be hoping Barcelona provides them with the opportunity to mount their own title challenge. Their line-up of Oliver Rowland and Nicholas Latifi certainly looks strong on paper, but there is always a difference between potential and delivering on expectations.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Oliver Rowland (GBR, DAMS)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
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ART will be hoping that they can convert their solid qualifying performances into race results this time out. Of course, thanks to the quite frankly bizarre incident in Bahrain qualifying between Malja and Jeffri, it is hard to gauge who truly has the one lap speed needed to secure pole, but ART did look quick.

Thai racer Alexander Albon is only in his first season at this level, and therefore should be given time to get up to speed. Matsushita on the other hand, has completed two seasons of GP2 and performed well in testing, even going quickest on the first day in Barcelona. If his luck is better this round then it is not unreasonable to assume that he will be able to challenge for at least a podium.

While most teams suffered from the disrupted qualifying in Bahrain, Rapax driver Nyck De Vries succeeded in being one of only two drivers able to get a second run in, earning him a P2 on the starting grid. But their race made it apparent that in Barcelona set up will be a main concern for the Italian team, with tyre degradation posing a serious problem in Bahrain. Fortunately, the temperatures will be markedly lower in Spain, which might do them some favours.

Campos Racing will be hoping for a better weekend for their first home grand prix this season after failing to score any points in Bahrain. Since re-joining GP2 in 2014, the team has struggled to repeat their successes of the past, and as of yet, nothing has suggested that 2017 will be any better for them.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Saturday 15 April 2017.
Ralph Boschung (SUI, Campos Racing) leads Gustav Malja (SWE, Racing Engineering)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
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Trident and Racing Engineering are the other teams who have yet to score a point this season, though we are only entering the second round after all.

Racing Engineering definitely need a change in fortunes to turn things around. Had it not been for Gustav Malja’s shunt in qualifying and Delétraz’s stall on the grid, Bahrain might have been a very different weekend for them. They will be hoping to put the past from their mind, and start anew in Barcelona.

Trident also suffered from bad luck last round, not least from Jeffri’s qualifying, but even so it might take some work to secure a decent result. Last season in GP2 Jeffri only managed to score two points, and Canamasas has something of a reputation as a reckless, and sometimes dangerous, driver; but hailing from Barcelona itself, the Spaniard will be hoping to keep a handle on things in order to perform in his home race.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 1.
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
Nabil Jeffri (MAS, Trident)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
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With experience still paying dividends, drivers such as Nato, Rowland and Markelov are the obvious choices to watch, and it will be worth seeing if Markelov can find the consistency that has evaded him so far in his career. If so, he could turn his impressive tyre management and bursts of brilliance into a serious bid for the title this year.

Round two is still early to expect astounding things from the rookies of Formula 2. Yet, as Charles Leclerc proved in Bahrain, it would be short-sighted to overlook them entirely. With tyre degradation less of an issue at this cooler circuit, it may suit the nineteen-year-old from Monaco, but only by Sunday will we know whether or not he can retain his lead at the top of the championship standings.

If we manage to see a clean qualifying this round, then Barcelona will also provide us with insight into the true pace of the teams this season.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent