Who is Jack Aitken?

With Pietro Fittipaldi filling in for Romain Grosjean in the Sakhir Grand Prix, nobody was expecting another change to the grid. However it was Lewis Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 result which meant his Mercedes seat was taken by Williams driver George Russell, whose own seat went to Jack Aitken.

So for those of you who were not aware of Aitken before last weekend, here is all you need to know about the latest British driver to reach F1.

First thing you should know, he’s actually British-Korean. Born to a Scottish father and Korean mother, he began karting in 2006 at Buckmore Park where he won the Summer Challenge club series aged 14 before moving into national and international karting championships.

Aitken made his first move into car racing in 2012. In the BARC Formula Renault winter series he took one win and just missed out on the championship by one point to future British GT champion Seb Morris. His main campaign was the InterSteps Championship, where he would finish third overall having taken 13 podiums across 23 races, two of those being wins.

In 2013 Aitken moved to the Northern European Formula Renault championship and was second to Matt Parry, the previous year’s InterSteps champion. That was followed by a move to the Formula Renault EuroCup for the following year in which he finished seventh in the championship, but it was all building up to what would be Aitken’s best year.

For 2015 Aitken would double up his Formula Renault campaign with assaults on the EuroCup and Alps championships, but to prepare for the season he went over to the States to compete in the Pro Mazda Winterfest. He battled for the championship with Malaysian driver Weiron Tan and pipped him to the title by a single point, which boded well for his dual Formula Renault campaign.

So it did! Moving to the Koiranen GP team that took Nyck de Vries to both the EuroCup and Alps championships the year before, Aitken racked up five wins in the EuroCup and four wins in the Alps series. He capped off his successful season by becoming a member of Renault’s F1 driver academy, and by sealing a drive in the F1-supporting GP3 Series with Arden.

While the 2016 GP3 championship was between now-F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon in the leading ART team, Aitken did very well with a win and fifth in the standings. 2017 looked to be an even better year for Aitken as he took one of the ART seats. However, a new kid arrived who plays a big part in Aitken’s story.

That new kid was George Russell, who moved up from European F3 to take one of the other ART seats. The season was hard fought and ART occupied the first four places in the driver’s championship with Russell, Aitken and their teammates Nirei Fukuzumi and Anthoine Hubert.

However, Russell annihilated Aitken, taking four wins to Aitken’s one and finishing nearly 80 points clear. They both moved up to F2 the following season remaining with ART, but Russell dominated the championship there as well, over the likes of Lando Norris and Albon. Aitken did win the sprint race at Barcelona, but finishing only 11th in the championship coupled with Russell’s success did not do his reputation any good unfortunately.

For 2019, Aitken made the move to the unfancied Campos team. He began to repair some of the damage that had been done, taking the feature race win at Baku, a glorious victory on the Sunday morning of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and a further sprint win at Monza to finish the season fifth.

Jack Aitken, Campos. Image courtesy of FIA Formula 2.

He remained with Campos for 2020 but left the Renault academy, joining Williams as a reserve driver. He was thought to be one of the favourites for the F2 title this year, but the results have not been there for Jack.

However with Russell’s immediate call-up to Mercedes in Sakhir, Aitken’s F1 dream came true. It may have been short-lived, but he immediately made an impression by qualifying less than a tenth from Williams’ other full season driver Nicholas Latifi and outqualifying an F1 world champion in Kimi Räikkönen.

It may be unusual circumstances but Aitken can be pretty pleased with how he did. While it was Russell who starred in his Mercedes debut and nearly came away with a victory, Aitken has certainly done himself a lot of favours with how he performed over the Sakhir Grand Prix weekend.

The problem with finding the ideal F1 reserve driver

You’ve got to feel for Stoffel Vandoorne. The former McLaren driver has had several realistic chances to return to the Formula One grid this season in his capacity as Mercedes reserve driver, but each time he’s found himself overlooked in favour of an outside contender.

It’s no reflection on Vandoorne as a driver. Leaving aside his two demoralising years driving uncompetitive McLarens, Vandoorne has been a race-winner in almost every top flight series he’s contested.

The problem is more with the concept of F1 reserve drivers in general. Or rather, with the near impossibility of finding a reserve driver who truly fits the bill of what’s asked of them.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes F1 reserve driver (Courtesy of FIA Formula E)

When it comes to the ideal F1 reserve, the most important thing teams look for is someone whose experience is as recent as possible. F1 development stops for no one, so there’s little use in fielding a stand-in whose last Grand Prix was four or five seasons ago.

Secondly, they need to be quick if they’re going to fight for the results the team expects. But the problem here is that if a driver with that kind of talent finds themselves out of F1, it’s most commonly the case that they’re either moving on to another series or retiring at the end of their career, and therefore won’t be looking for a reserve role.

(There are of course exceptions to this. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, found himself without a drive for this year but that’s not for lack of talent. And Jenson Button stepped in to deputise for Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2017 despite bowing out of F1 the previous year. But cases like this are extremely rare.)

The final problem with finding the ideal reserve is availability.

For a reserve driver to be quick they need to keep their qualifying and race craft sharp for whenever it’s needed, even if that’s away from F1 machinery.

But at the same time, they can’t spend so much time racing in other series’ that it clashes with F1 weekends—an increasingly large problem as the F1 calendar continues to swell year by year.

Red Bull is a good example of this, as they recently had to secure a super licence for Juri Vips to act as reserve for the Turkish Grand Prix, as their usual backups Sebastien Buemi and Sergio Sette Camara were both racing elsewhere.

Juri Vips, Red Bull reserve driver (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

And that’s the reserve driver paradox. To be the ideal Grand Prix stand-in, one has to be fresh out of F1 and somehow keep that freshness year after year, be quick enough to compete with the current F1 grid despite being dropped from it, and keep race-sharp all year round while still being available 23 weekends out of 52 (and counting).

As a result, reserve drivers tend to be a compromise that’s not quite the best of any worlds. You have the likes of Paul di Resta, who was briefly named McLaren’s reserve this year despite not racing in F1 since 2013. Or you have Formula 2 drivers like Jack Aitken at Williams or Louis Deletraz at Haas, who race regularly on the F1 calendar but are completely unproven in a Grand Prix.

And then you have Ferrari, whose nominated reserve is Antonio Giovinazzi—somehow who has plenty of contemporary F1 experience and race-fitness, but comes with the added complication of currently driving for Alfa Romeo.

It’s all part of the reserve driver role. They’re the person a team relies on when one of their star drivers is sick or injured, but they’re often an imperfect solution at best. And so it’s not really a surprise that teams often search for a better alternative outside their pool if the need for a stand-in actually arises.

It’s a shame when that happens, especially for a driver like Vandoorne whose talent merits at least one more outing in a competitive F1 car. But when big points are on the line and a Hulkenberg or George Russell is available, it’s hard to fault the teams for taking advantage of that opportunity—even if it means their reserve driver spending Sunday playing Call of Duty.

 

F2 Sochi: Zhou takes maiden win under red flag

Renault junior Guanyu Zhou was awarded his first Formula 2 win at Sochi, after the sprint race was ended early under the red flag following a heavy crash for Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken at Turn 3.

Zhou got a good start from reverse grid pole to hold the lead into the first corner, helped by Nikita Mazepin dropping back from second to third behind Aitken. Championship leader Mick Schumacher shot up from eighth on the grid, passing Jehan Daruvala through Turn 2 to get up into fourth.

Mazepin retook second from Aitken on lap 2, and a lap later Schumacher overtook the Campos for third. Aitken briefly lost fourth as well to Daruvala at the start of lap four, but he retook the place when Daruvala ran wide at Turn 2 and earned himself a time penalty for not rejoining the track correctly.

On lap 6 Ghiotto got past Daruvala and started reeling in Aitken for fourth. But on lap 7 the two made contact as they went wheel-to-wheel through Turn 3 and shot into the TecPro barriers. Both cars ended up between the layers of the barriers with Ghiotto’s car catching fire, but thankfully Aitken and Ghiotto were both unharmed.

Luca Ghiotto, Hitech (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The race was immediately red-flagged, and the extent of the repairs needed to fix the barriers meant there wasn’t time for it to resume. As a result Zhou was declared the winner, albeit with half points, with Mazepin second and Schumacher third.

Aitken and Ghiotto were able to take the points for fourth and fifth as per red flag rules the race result was counted back to lap 5. Tsunoda, Ilott and Ticktum took the final points, while Mazepin claimed the two bonus points for fastest lap.

Guilherme Samaia and HWA rookie Jake Hughes also retired from the race after making contact on lap one.

After Sochi, Schumacher’s championship lead has extended as he holds 191 points over Ilott’s 169. Schumacher’s Prema team also extends its lead over Ilott’s UNI-Virtuosi with 331 points to 288.5.

Formula 2 returns on 28th November for the first of the double header finale in Bahrain.

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

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 7.5
2 Nikita Mazepin (FL) Hitech Grand Prix 7
3 Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 5
4 Jack Aitken Campos Racing 4
5 Luca Ghiotto Hitech Grand Prix 3
6 Yuki Tsunoda Carlin 2
7 Callum Ilott UNI-Virtuosi Racing 1
8 Dan Ticktum DAMS 0.5
9 Pedro Piquet Charouz Racing System
10 Robert Shwartzman Prema Racing
11 Jehan Daruvala Carlin
12 Artem Markelov BWT HWA Racelab
13 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix
14 Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix
15 Marino Sato Trident
16 Giuliano Alesi MP Motorsport
17 Louis Deletraz Charouz Racing System
18 Juri Vips DAMS
19 Roy Nissany Trident
20 Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport
Ret. Guilherme Samaia Campos Racing
Ret. Jake Hughes BWT HWA Racelab

 

F2 Monza: Ticktum takes comfortable sprint race win

Dan Ticktum cruised to a second F2 win of the season in the Monza sprint race, while yesterday’s feature race winner Mick Schumacher made more progress in his title fight with Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman.

Ticktum got into the lead at the start, moving up from second on the grid to pass reverse polesitter Louis Deletraz. Mick Schumacher also got a good start with moves on Luca Ghiotto, Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard to move from eighth into fifth by the end of the opening lap.

Once in the lead, Ticktum barely had to look back. By the time DRS was enabled he’d already broken more than a second clear of Deletraz, as the Charouz driver fell into the clutches of Ilott. Just after half distance Ilott passed Deletraz into Turn 1, taking second with Ticktum three seconds further up the road.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Deletraz then began slipping back and came under pressure from Lundgaard. The ART had got up into fourth after Schumacher ran wide on lap 8 and Zhou and Yuki Tsunoda both retired with engine problems. On lap 14, Lundgaard then passed Deletraz to get onto the podium for the second time in the Monza weekend.

There was a brief pause to the race on lap 17 when Felipe Drugovich was tipped into a spin at Rettifilo and his beached car warranted a virtual safety car. At the restart two laps later Lundgaard pounced on Ilott coming out of the Parabolica, but Ilott was able to hold the Dane off under braking for Rettifilo and keep second place.

Lundgaard wasn’t close enough to try another move in the final laps and remained third behind Ilott, who crossed the line almost four seconds adrift of race winner Ticktum.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Deletraz eventually dropped to fifth, with Schumacher passing him on lap 20 despite the Prema nursing a huge flat spot since the lap 8 lockup that put him behind Lundgaard. Deletraz came under pressure from the second Prema of Shwartzman before the flag, but managed to keep his Charouz ahead.

Jehan Daruvala finished behind Shwartzman in seventh, and Jack Aitken took the final point in eighth place.

Ilott’s second place means he has regained the championship lead from Shwartzman, while Schumacher moves ahead of the Russian into second. Five points separate Ilott and Schumacher, with just three points between the two Premas.

Full race result:

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

F2 Great Britain: Tsunoda wins after Premas collide

Yuki Tsunoda took victory in the Silverstone sprint race after Prema teammates Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman collided in the closing laps.

Shwartzman and Schumacher started from the front row of the reverse grid and rapidly pulled away from the rest of the field at the start. After the first few laps they were already two seconds clear of Tsunoda in third, while only half a second separated the two Premas themselves.

Schumacher made a move on Shwartzman into Brooklands on lap 5, but ran wide and dropped a second to his teammate. However the German made the time back up as Shwartzman started struggling with rear tyre grip, and by lap 10 was back in DRS range of his teammate.

After chipping away at the gap despite his own tyres losing grip, Schumacher closed to a few tenths of Shwartzman on lap 19 and tried another overtake at Brooklands. But after getting partially ahead on the outside, Schumacher turned in too early and clipped Shwartzman’s front wing, allowing Tsunoda through into the lead as a result.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)

Schumacher was able to continue and took second place behind Tsunoda, albeit a long way adrift. Shwartzman initially stayed out on track in third despite the damage to his front wing, but on the penultimate lap he was caught by a pack led by Jack Aitken. Shwartzman was prompted swamped by the cars behind and dropped down to 13th by the chequered flag.

The stewards investigated the Prema collision, but ultimately deemed it a racing incident.

Aitken came through in third for his second consecutive podium of the weekend. Louis Deletraz finished fourth ahead of Guanyu Zhou, Callum Ilott, Dan Ticktum and Nikita Mazepin. Christian Lundgaard had been set to finish among this pack having run with Aitken and Deletraz for most of the race, but suffered a front left tyre blowout on lap 16 that dropped him to the back of the field.

Shwartzman’s finish outside the points caps off another troubled round at Silverstone, as title rival Ilott has extended his new championship lead to 21 points. In the teams’ standings, Ilott’s UNI-Virtuosi team has the same lead over Prema. Find the full F2 drivers’ and teams’ standings here.

Formula 2 returns next weekend at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, in support of the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix.

Full race result:

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

F2 Great Britain: Ilott takes title lead with feature race win

Callum Ilott took his second win of the season in the Silverstone feature race, taking advantage of a low finish for title rival Robert Shwartzman to assume the lead of the championship.

Ilott started the race from pole and got away well to hold the lead into Turn 1. Behind him, Dan Ticktum also got a good launch from fourth to jump both Jack Aitken and Christian Lundgaard into second.

Ticktum pressured Ilott for the lead over the opening laps, but a mistake on lap 3 sent him wide and dropped the DAMS back behind Lundgaard and Aitken. Two laps later Ticktum then lost another three positions, to Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin and Louis Deletraz respectively.

Jack Aitken, Campos (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

On lap 6 Lundgaard and Aitken both pitted from the podium positions to change to hard tyres, and Ilott made his own stop a lap later and came out in P12. Schumacher, running the alternative strategy having started on hards, assumed the lead ahead of Mazepin and teammate Shwartzman, who started outside the points.

While Ilott and the former leaders cut their way through the traffic, Schumacher and Mazepin engaged in a fierce battle at the front of the field. Mazepin looked to be faster at first but couldn’t find a way through, and after a few laps stuck behind the Prema his tyres began to blister and he dropped to over a second behind Schumacher on lap 11.

Schumacher became the first of the alternate runners to pit on lap 19, handing the lead to Mazepin who stayed out for another three laps. When Mazepin did come in his longer stint looked to have paid off as he rejoined the track ahead of Schumacher in sixth, but Schumacher was able to get back ahead of Mazepin while the Russian was on cold tyres.

Louis Deletraz, Charouz (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

After all the pit stops had been completed, Ilott was back in the lead ahead of Lundgaard and Aitken, with Deletraz and Yuki Tsunoda in fourth and fifth having passed Ticktum as they made their way through the traffic.

The top three remained the same for the rest of the race, despite Lundgaard running off track on lap 26 and dropping back towards Aitken. However, Deletraz and Tsunoda came under pressure in the closing laps from Mazepin on fresh soft tyres. Having already taken sixth place back from Schumacher on lap 25, Mazepin then passed Tsunoda two laps later and caught and passed Deletraz for fourth on the final lap.

Deletraz just about hung on to keep fifth place from Tsunoda. Schumacher was unable to find the same late-race speed as Mazepin despite running on the same strategy and stayed in seventh, and will share the front row of tomorrow’s sprint race with eighth-place finisher Shwartzman. Guanyu Zhou and Felipe Drugovich rounded out the points, while Ticktum finished in P15 after plummeting down the order in the closing stages.

Ilott’s victory with Shwartzman only eighth means the UNI-Virtuosi driver retakes the lead of the championship with 102 points.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Callum Ilott UNI-Virtuosi Racing 25
2 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 18
3 Jack Aitken Campos Racing 15
4 Nikita Mazepin Hitech Grand Prix 12
5 Louis Deletraz Charouz Racing System 10
6 Yuki Tsunoda Carlin 8
7 Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 6
8 Robert Shwartzman Prema Racing 4
9 Guanyu Zhou (FL) UNI-Virtuosi Racing 2
10 Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport 1
11 Nobuharu Matsushita MP Motorsport
12 Jehan Daruvala Carlin
13 Luca Ghiotto Hitech Grand Prix
14 Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix
15 Dan Ticktum DAMS
16 Giuliano Alesi BWT HWA Racelab
17 Marino Sato Trident
18 Roy Nissany Trident
19 Artem Markelov BWT HWA Racelab
20 Guilherme Samaia Campos
21 Pedro Piquet Charouz Racing System
Ret. Sean Gelael DAMS

F2 Styria: Lundgaard beats Ticktum to dominant sprint race win

Christian Lundgaard took victory in the Styria sprint race, taking the lead early and going on to command throughout.

Lundgaard started the race in third behind reverse polesitter Dan Ticktum and ART teammate Marcus Armstrong, but passed Armstrong for second at the start. He stuck with Ticktum through the opening few laps and on lap 4 passed the DAMS on the inside of Turn 3 to take the lead.

Once in front, Lundgaard continued pushing and opened up a two second gap over Ticktum by lap 8—this increased by another second by lap 12. Ticktum responded in the middle phase of the race to take a few tenths out of Lundgaard, but a series of lock ups allowed the gap to open back up to 3.2s by lap 22.

Lundgaard began to ease off towards the end of the race as his tyres degraded, but by this point Ticktum’s own tyres were also running out of grip and the DAMS was unable to close the gap. By the chequered flag Lundgaard took the win with 2.3s in hand over Ticktum, as well as two extra points for setting the fastest lap earlier in the race.

Dan Ticktum, DAMS (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Armstrong was unable to keep up with Lundgaard and Ticktum up front, and on lap 12 he was passed for third by Mick Schumacher into Turn 3. However, Armstrong regained the position two laps later when Schumacher’s fire extinguisher went off in his cockpit, forcing the German to retire. Armstrong held on to the position until the end of the race to take his second podium of the season.

UNI-Virtuosi ran a quiet race behind the top three. Guanyu Zhou passed teammate Callum Ilott at the start and was promoted to fourth after Schumacher’s retirement.

In the final laps Ilott closed up to the back of Zhou and looked to have the pace on his tyres to pass his teammate. But the pair caught up with Armstrong on the last lap which gave Zhou DRS to defend and keep Ilott behind in fifth.

Jack Aitken finished sixth ahead of Sean Gelael, while Nikita Mazepin picked up his first point of the season in eighth. Saturday’s feature race protagonists Robert Shwartzman and Yuki Tsunoda both retired, the Prema spinning out at the start and the Carlin stopping with a clutch issue.

At the end of round 2, Shwartzman holds a narrow five-point lead in the drivers’ championship over Lundgaard and Ilott, who are level on 43 points. Ticktum is fourth and Armstrong fifth.

In the teams’ standings, ART maintain their lead with 77 points, seven ahead of UNI-Virtuosi and 15 ahead of Prema.

Formula 2 returns next weekend in support of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F2 Styria: Shwartzman wins feature race after pit stop problem for Tsunoda

Prema’s Robert Shwartzman took his first Formula 2 win in the Styria feature race, taking advantage of a team radio problem for longtime race leader Yuki Tsunoda.

With the track drenched the race began after a lengthy delay with four laps behind the safety car. When the safety car pulled into the pits and the race began in earnest, polesitter Tsunoda got away from the pack cleanly and commanded the race in its early phase, building a gap over Guanyu Zhou with each lap. After two laps of racing the Carlin driver was 1.6s ahead, which increased to 5.5s by lap 21 as Zhou’s wet tyres started to overheat.

Zhou pitted on lap 21 along with Shwartzman. But when Carlin called Tsunoda in to cover the UNI-Virtuosi, he was unable to hear the message over team radio and stayed out for another three laps. All the while, Tsunoda’s pace compared to Zhou on the fresher tyres continued to drop off.

Tsunoda eventually came in on lap 26 after seeing the team’s pit board, but lost so much time on his older tyres that he lost the lead to Zhou and rejoined the track in a net third position.

Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Shwartzman had been making progress through the field after initially losing a position to Christian Lundgaard on the second racing lap. On lap 14 he passed Luca Ghiotto for sixth, then took fifth from Jack Aitken on the following lap. When Lundgaard had a slow pit stop on lap 21, Shwartzman moved into fourth behind Tsunoda, Zhou and Callum Ilott.

Shwartzman demoted Ilott off the podium after both drivers had made their respective stops, and on fresher tyres he started reeling in Zhou with a series of fastest laps. On lap 27 Shwartzman passed Zhou for the lead of the race and began building up a gap as Tsunoda rejoined them after his own stop.

In the closing laps Zhou began to struggle with overheating tyres again and Tsunoda passed him for second on lap 30. With much younger tyres, Tsunoda then started eating into Shwartzman’s gap out front, reducing it by over two seconds across the next three laps.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

But although he closed in to within half a second of Shwartzman, Tsunoda’s pace wasn’t enough to complete a move on the Prema in the final laps and Shwartzman held on to the victory. However, Tsunoda was able to earn another two points for setting the fastest lap.

Zhou continued to struggle and dropped back from the two leaders. He came under threat from Mick Schumacher in the closing laps, who had taken fourth from Ilott after starting ninth on the grid, but managed to defend his place on the podium and finish third.

Schumacher and Ilott finished fourth and fifth respectively, with Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong behind them. Dan Ticktum finished eighth and took pole for Sunday’s reverse grid, and Aitken and Sean Gelael closed out the top ten.

F2 Austria: Drugovich dominates chaotic sprint race

Felipe Drugovich dominated Sunday’s sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, leading from pole to take his maiden Formula 2 victory.

The MP Motorsport rookie got a clean getaway from reverse grid pole to set up an early lead from Louis Deletraz on the front row. Behind them third place changed multiple times over the first lap as Giuliano Alesi came under pressure from Dan Ticktum, Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong all at once.

The battle was resolved by the end of the first lap when Alesi pulled off to the side of the track with flames pouring from the rear of his HWA. The safety car was brought out to recover Alesi, with Armstrong assuming third over Ticktum and Shwartzman.

Alesi’s car was quickly cleared but the safety car was redeployed multiple times in the following laps. First when Sean Gelael ground to a halt, again when Luca Ghiotto was spun out of the race by Jehan Daruvala, and for the final time on lap 15 when Armstrong lost drive and stopped on track, handing third place to Ticktum.

Dan Ticktum, DAMS (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

When the safety car pulled in for the last time on lap 16 Drugovich rapidly pulled away from Deletraz and was out of range by the time DRS was enabled. Behind them, Ticktum managed to drop Shwartzman and open a gap to protect third place from the Prema.

The podium positions remained unchanged for the final 12 laps of the race, with Drugovich winning by 2.3s from Deletraz and Ticktum. Shwartzman finished fourth ahead of ART’s Christian Lundgaard.

Nobuharu Matsushita took sixth place after a long battle with Mick Schumacher, who made early progress from P11 on the grid but couldn’t find a way to continue past Matsushita. Jack Aitken took the final point of the day in eighth.

At the end of the first F2 round of the season, Callum Ilott leads the championship with 27 points, four ahead of Shwartzman with Drugovich a further two points back. ART heads the teams’ championship by five points from UNI-Virtuosi, with MP Motorsport in third.

F2 returns next weekend at the Red Bull Ring again, supporting the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images

F2 Austria preview: rise of the new guard

The 2020 Formula 2 season gets underway this weekend with the first of a double-header at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.

The F2 grid in Spielberg will be full of returning faces. Series stalwarts Artem Markelov, Sean Gelael, Jack Aitken, Louis Deletraz, Nobuharu Matsushita, Roy Nissany and Luca Ghiotto are all back, as are Guanyu Zhou, Callum Ilott, Giuliano Alesi, Mick Schumacher, Marino Sato and Nikita Mazepin, who made their debuts last year.

Alongside them are nine rookie drivers, six of whom come from Formula 1 junior programmes. These are: Renault’s Christian Lundgaard (ART), Williams’ Dan Ticktum (DAMS), Ferrari’s Marcus Armstrong (ART) and Robert Shwartzman (Prema), and Red Bull’s Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala (both at Carlin).

The remaining three rookies are Guilherme Samaia (Campos), Pedro Piquet (Charouz) and Felipe Drugovich (MP Motorsport).

Jehan Daruvala and Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

In such an unusual season, it’s hard to predict the pecking order coming into the first round of the championship.

Of the returning drivers, Aitken, Markelov, Ghiotto, Matsushita and Schumacher all have race-winning pedigree at this level. Aitken is perhaps best-placed to fight at the front as he remains with Campos this year, although none of the others (Markelov least of all) should be discounted from pulling off a surprise charge to the top step.

Looking at the top teams is usually a safe bet coming into a new season. UNI-Virtuosi had a strong showing in Austria last year with podiums in both races, and have a talented lineup in Zhou and Ilott who are both gunning for their first F2 victory.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

ART can always be relied on to run at the front. And although the French team has an all-rookie lineup, both Lundgaard and Armstrong were race-winners in Formula 3 last year and could both be credible threats to F2’s old guard.

And then there’s Prema. Schumacher is expected to make a big step forward after a sedate debut last year, so shouldn’t be ruled out of contention just because of his 2019 results. And of course he’s partnered by reigning F3 champion Shwartzman, who has plenty of speed and race craft to make an immediate impression on his F2 debut.

As ever, it’s going to be a fascinating opening round for F2 as we wait to see how the field shakes out for the season ahead.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)