F2 Sakhir: Piastri snatches last lap sprint race win from Zhou

Prema’s Oscar Piastri became Formula 2’s second rookie winner in as many races after a strategy gamble and a hectic race helped him to overhaul Guanyu Zhou on the final lap.

The race started with an incident at the first corner. As Juri Vips led away Lirim Zendelli and Zhou from pole, Robert Shwartzman hit Dan Ticktum at Turn 1 as he challenged for fourth place. Ticktum spun out and Shwartzman pulled over with terminal damage, and the safety car was deployed for the opening lap.

When the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 3, Zhou immediately took second from Zendelli. Once ahead, Zhou then started reeling in Vips, setting the fastest lap at the end of lap 4 and taking the lead from the Hitech on the following lap at Turn 4.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Meanwhile, Liam Lawson and Felipe Drugovich joined the podium battle. After moving past Piastri and Christian Lundgaard for fourth and fifth respectively at the restart, the pair then demoted Zendelli to fifth on lap 5 with Lawson ahead moving into the podium positions. Zendelli’s race then took another hit, as contact from Lundgaard at Turn 1 left the German with a puncture and dropped him to the back of the field.

At the front of the field, Zhou continued to stretch out a gap over Vips, and was running 2.5 seconds clear by lap 11. Behind them, Lawson and Drugovich were much closer in the battle for third, and on lap 15 Drugovich made a move to the inside of Turn 1. Lawson managed to hold off the Brazilian, but they were both passed instead by Lundgaard. Lawson and Drugovich continued battling through the next couple of corners, until they made contact at Turn 4 and Lawson was spun out of the race.

The safety car was deployed again while Lawson’s car was recovered, and Vips, Lundgaard and Piastri all took the opportunity to gamble on a switch to soft tyres. Despite dropping down the order, the trio had an immediate pace advantage over the rest of the field on hards or worn softs when the race resumed on lap 18.

After carving back through the field on the first green flag lap, Vips, Piastri and Lundgaard were back up to second, third and fourth respectively by the end of lap 19, and Vips had the gap to Zhou down to a second.

Juri Vips, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

But Vips’ hard work came undone just a few laps later when he lost power and started dropping through the field. Piastri assumed second and the pursuit of Zhou, and at the start of the final lap he and Lundgaard both lunged past their fellow Alpine junior at Turn 1.

As Zhou battled to repass Lundgaard, Piastri was free to pull away in the lead and take his first Formula 2 victory. Lundgaard finished second on the road, but a ten-second penalty for his collision with Zendelli dropped him back to ninth. Zhou therefore finished second, and Jehan Daruvala scored his second podium of the weekend in third.

Richard Verschoor finished fourth for MP Motorsport, ahead of Theo Pourchaire, David Beckmann, Marino Sato and Matteo Nannini.

UPDATE: Lundgaard’s second place finish was reinstated following the race, after the FIA confirmed he had already served his 10 second penalty during his pit stop. The updated result means that Zhou drops to third and Daruvala fourth, and Nannini loses his point as he drops to ninth,.

F2 Sakhir: Lawson dominates sprint race on debut

Hitech’s Liam Lawson opened his rookie Formula 2 season with a dominant win in the first Bahrain sprint race, holding the lead throughout after taking it at the start.

Lawson got a rapid start from third on the grid to get past fellow rookies David Beckmann and Theo Pourchaire, who started first. Pourchaire briefly dropped down to third behind Beckmann, but recovered by the end of the lap to retake second place. Just behind them, Jehan Daruvala jumped Oscar Piastri for fourth.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Lawson’s attempt to break clear of DRS range from Pourchaire was briefly halted on lap 3, when Marcus Armstrong’s DAMS stopped on track to bring out the virtual safety car. But by lap 6, Lawson pulled a second clear of Pourchaire for the first time and went on to build a gap in clean air.

As Pourchaire dropped back from the lead, he started coming under pressure from Daruvala, who’d passed Beckmann for third on lap 11. But on lap 13 Pourchaire suddenly slowed with a mechanical problem, gifting Daruvala second as he dropped out of the points and eventually stopped on track.

Now in pursuit of the lead, Daruvala looked to have much better tyres than Lawson. On his first lap in second, Daruvala took half a second out of the lead as his rival struggled for grip. Lawson then had a big lock up on lap 17, which brought Daruvala to within half a second of the Hitech.

But despite being in DRS range, Daruvala was ultimately unable to get close enough to Lawson to make a move for the lead. Lawson held on to win by 0.7 seconds over Daruvala, with Beckmann taking third on his F2 debut.

David Beckmann, Charouz (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

Robert Shwartzman took fourth ahead of Piastri, after battling through the field from his starting position of 11th. Christian Lundgaard and Guanyu Zhou were sixth and seventh, and Dan Ticktum took the final point in eighth after being demoted by a time penalty for spinning around Richard Verschoor early on.

Lirim Zendelli finished ninth but took two points for the fastest lap, and Juri Vips finished tenth to start on pole for the second sprint race.

F2 Bahrain preview: New season, new format, same goal

The Formula 2 grid will take to the track this weekend in Bahrain, for the opening round of the 2021 championship.

It only feels like yesterday that Mick Schumacher was crowned the 2020 F2 champion, but a lot has changed since the series left Bahrain last December. For starters, there’s a new race weekend format for the teams and drivers to get their heads around this year.

Instead of a Saturday feature race and Sunday sprint race, the F2 weekend will now feature three races — two sprint events on Saturday, and a feature before Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix. Friday qualifying will still determine the feature race grid, while the first sprint race grid will be set by reversing the top ten from qualifying. The starting positions for the second sprint race will then be a reverse of the first race’s top ten finishers.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

The weekend format might be different though, but for the eleven drivers returning to F2 this year, the goal of winning the championship and reaching F1 remains the same. And of those drivers, Robert Shwartzman is going to come to Bahrain with the most expectation on his shoulders.

In his rookie season last year, Shwartzman took the most wins of the field, helped Prema to the teams’ title, and was in championship contention himself for most of the season. He’s already proven he’s quick in Bahrain — one of his four wins last year came in the sprint race there — so Shwartzman will be the one with the target on his back in the opening round.

But there are plenty more drivers from the class of 2020 who will be out to prove this weekend that it’s not all about Shwartzman. Jehan Daruvala and Dan Ticktum have a great chance of opening the year with a win, as their Carlin team had rapid pace in Bahrain last year. Watch out for Marcus Armstrong too, who was also quick here last year and is starting a new partnership with DAMS.

And lastly, Felipe Drugovich will be a driver with plenty of attention on him in the opening round. After being one of last year’s revelations, the Brazilian has earned himself a move to UNI-Virtuosi alongside Guanyu Zhou and the perfect chance to prove he can challenge the likes of Shwartzman for the title.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Michael Regan, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / Courtesy of FIA Formula 2)

But while the returning field is strong, they’ll have a real fight on their hands to keep ahead of an equally impressive crop of rookies.

One of those new faces will be the 2020 Formula 3 champion and Alpine F1 junior Oscar Piastri. Coming into F2 with Prema, Piastri is expected to be a natural title contender this year — and if his F3 days are anything to go by, he won’t be taking any time at all to get his campaign underway.

Piastri isn’t the only rookie looking to impress an F1 academy, though. Hitech is fielding an all-Red Bull junior lineup this year with Juri Vips and Liam Lawson, both of whom were consistently rapid in pre-season testing.

A lot of the spotlight will fall on Vips after he made his F2 debut last year substituting for Sean Gelael in four rounds, and scored a podium at Mugello. But Lawson is no slouch either — he was a multiple race winner with Hitech in F3 last year, and is every bit as quick as Vips.

And then there’s Theo Pourchaire. Like Vips, Sauber F1 junior Pourchaire made his F2 debut in a handful of rounds last year — including Bahrain — before a full campaign for 2021. He came within three points of snatching the F3 title away from Piastri last year and has been widely tipped as a future F1 star. Driving for ART this year, he’ll be with a team capable of challenging for podiums and wins right from the off.

But as Drugovich showed last year, it’s not just the F1 juniors to watch for. Between Formula Regional European champion Gianluca Petecof, F3 race winners Lirim Zendelli, David Beckmann and Bent Viscaal, and F3 podium finishers Richard Verschoor and Matteo Nannini, there are plenty of lightning-fast rookies coming in under the radar this weekend.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull announces feeder placements for Vips, Lawson, Daruvala

The Red Bull Junior Team announced a raft of feeder series’ placements for its drivers today, including seats in Formula 2 for Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala.

Vips will return to the series full-time after making a stand-in appearance for Sean Gelael at DAMS last year, and will partner New Zealander Lawson at Hitech Grand Prix. Lawson graduates to F2 from Formula 3, where he also drove for Hitech and took three wins in his 2020 sophomore season to finish fifth in the standings.

Daruvala will remain with Carlin for his second F2 campaign. The Indian driver improved on a difficult start to his rookie year with a run of strong results in the last five rounds, which were capped off with his first podium and sprint race win in the Bahrain double header.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull also announced that three of its juniors will make their F3 debuts this year. Jonny Edgar and Jak Crawford, who finished first and second in the 2020 ADAC F4 championship, will race for Carlin and Hitech respectively. Honda-backed 2020 French F4 champion Ayumu Iwasa will also join Crawford at Hitech as a new member of the Red Bull Junior Team.

This follows Red Bull-supported Dennis Hauger being announced as one of Prema’s drivers at the end of last year.

Red Bull also added 13-year-old Swedish-British karter Arvid Lindblad to its junior team, following his championship victory in the 2020 OK Junior WSK Super Master Series.

Jonny Edgar, Red Bull Junior Team (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

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 preview: focus on 2021

Formula 2 returns this weekend for round 10 of the championship at Russia’s Sochi Autodrom, where all the field will now be driving with one eye on their 2021 plans.

With only three rounds of the season left, the focus of the championship has shifted to who’s gunning for an F1 graduation, and who’s teeing up a campaign for next year’s F2 title. Obviously the driver attracting the most spotlight at the moment is championship leader Mick Schumacher, who is reported to be a firm favourite for one of Alfa Romero’s 2021 seats.

If Schumacher wants to solidify his chances he’ll have to continue to pull away from his title rivals Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman. And doing that means having a much better weekend in Sochi than he did last year, when he scored nothing after retiring from both races. A repeat of that this year would be disastrous for his title aspirations.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

For Shwartzman in particular though, a troubled weekend for the title leader would be just what he needs. After two non-scores last time out at Mugello, Shwartzman has now dropped to fourth in the standings behind Schumacher, Ilott and Christian Lundgaard, and is 21 points off the championship lead he’d previously held for so long.

Shwartzman fortunately has a great relationship with the Sochi Autodrom to help him this weekend. As well as being the Russian’s home circuit, it was at this track last year that he wrapped up the Formula 3 title in commanding fashion, with pole position and two podiums to leave him 54 points ahead of runner-up Marcus Armstrong.

If Shwartzman can bring that kind of form again this year, there’s no reason he can’t make up for Mugello and get right back in the title hunt.

Another driver whose 2021 F1 shot is looking in danger after Mugello is Yuki Tsunoda. After his pole and win in the Spa feature race made him a shoe-in for AlphaTauri next year, Tsunoda has only scored once in the five races since. Crucially, he’s dropped from fourth to sixth in the standings, and if he doesn’t improve from there he won’t secure the superlicense points he needs to move up to F1.

What Tsunoda needs most of all is a clean race weekend. He’s shown no lack of speed since Spa, but some scruffy racing like his incidents with Dan Ticktum and Felipe Drugovich at Mugello have kept that speed from translating into the points finishes Red Bull are expecting of him.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

What makes things more difficult for Tsunoda is that he’s racing for that fourth spot against Lundgaard and Nikita Mazepin. Both drivers are on excellent form and will almost certainly be title contenders if they remain in F2 next year.

Neither of them had a particularly profitable outing at Sochi last year. Mazepin finished eighth in the F2 feature race but retired from the sprint race, while Lundgaard finished fourteenth and ninth in the two F3 races.

But in terms of their recent results, Mazepin and Lundgaard are both riding high as the winners of the Mugello feature and sprint race respectively. Lundgaard especially has a lot of momentum behind him, as he was on pole for the Mugello feature race as well and scored a double podium at Monza the week before.

Lundgaard’s results have put him back into the championship’s top three after a run of non-scores in the middle of the season knocked him down the order. Although he’s touted as one of next year’s title favourites, the Dane is only 16 points off Schumacher and could be a surprise late contender for the 2020 crown instead.

Giuliano Alesi, MP Motorsport (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

There have been two driver changes ahead of Sochi. Nobuharu Matsushita has left MP Motorsport, saying in a statement that he’s “decided to move on to fresh challenges elsewhere”. He’s been replaced by Giuliano Alesi who moves over from HWA, and in turn HWA have promoted their F3 driver Jake Hughes to take Alesi’s seat.

Alesi will be hoping that MP, who have won three races this year with Matsushita and Drugovich, will provide him with a car more capable of challenging for points than HWA. Alesi’s only points this year came with sixth place in the opening race in Austria.

Finally, Juri Vips will continue to drive for DAMS this weekend. The Estonian was initially only due to replace the injured Sean Gelael for three rounds ending with Mugello, but this has been extended to include Sochi as well.

Jake Hughes, HWA (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F2 Mugello: Lundgaard dominates sprint race

Renault junior Christian Lundgaard took his second win of the F2 season with a dominant performance in the Mugello sprint race, ahead of Louis Deletraz and maiden podium finisher Juri Vips.

Starting from third, Lundgaard got a rapid launch to get ahead of polesitter Artem Markelov and second-placed Vips into Turn 1. Deletraz also made up several places at the start to go from sixth to third ahead of Vips, Mick Schumacher and Felipe Drugovich.

Lundgaard started breaking away from Markelov and the chasing pack almost immediately. By the end of lap 4 he was already over three seconds ahead of Markelov, which only kept increasing as Markelov struggled to keep pace.

Markelov’s difficulties saw him lose second place to Deletraz on lap 6, then third to Vips a lap later. But despite Deletraz finding clear air ahead of the HWA, he was unable to make up any more ground to Lundgaard than Markelov was. By the halfway stage of the race Lundgaard had increased his gap to almost seven seconds, which swelled to 14.5s by the chequered flag.

As Lundgaard flew clear, Deletraz came under pressure from Vips later on in the race. In the final laps the gap was just a few tenths and Vips made several attempts to get by into Turn 1. But ultimately Deletraz was able to keep ahead and take second place, while Vips finished third for his first podium in F2.

Juri Vips, DAMS (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Mick Schumacher finished just off the podium in fourth, taking valuable points to extend his new championship lead over Callum Ilott. Guanyu Zhou took fifth place after a superb charge through the field from near the back after his retirement in yesterday’s feature race. After making steady progress through the backmarkers early on, Zhou found his way into the points on lap 17 and continued moving forwards with a late burst of pace.

Ilott finished behind his UNI-Virtuosi teammate in sixth ahead of Jehan Daruvala, while Trident’s Marino Sato picked up his first point of the season in eighth. Markelov continued to struggle for pace throughout the race and eventually finished in last place, while Drugovich also slipped back out of the points and down to 15th by the flag.

After taking a 1-2 finish in yesterday’s feature race, Hitech had a complete reversal of fortunes in the sprint race. By the halfway stage Nikita Mazepin and Luca Ghiotto were running fifth and sixth, but on lap 15 they collided at Turn 1 as Mazepin locked up while Ghiotto tried to pass him on the outside.

The crash saw Ghiotto retire on the spot. Mazepin was able to continue in fifth initially, but shortly after was given a ten-second penalty and then forced into a pit stop by damage concerns, which saw him finish in 18th.

Luca Ghiotto, Hitech (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

After Mugello, Schumacher leads the championship by eight points from Ilott, while Lundgaard moves into third place ahead of Shwartzman by five points. In the teams’ standings, Prema now has a 40-point lead over UNI-Virtuosi.

Formula 2 returns in two weeks’ time at Sochi in support of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

Full race result:

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

 

F2 Mugello preview: Ferrari juniors on top in Ferrari’s backyard

Formula 2 returns this weekend for round nine of the championship, in support of the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.

Mugello is set to be a special weekend for F1, being Ferrari’s record 1,000th Grand Prix and taking place at a circuit they own. But while the Scuderia is currently suffering through one of its worst seasons in F1 to date, its academy drivers Callum Ilott, Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman will give them plenty to be proud of as they enter the weekend first, second and third in the F2 championship respectively.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Photo by Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Monza proved a particularly happy hunting ground for the Ferrari academy, with Schumacher taking his first win and eighth podium of the season in the two races. But it was Ilott who came away with a seven-point lead in the standings, having taken pole for the feature race and inheriting the sprint race win from the disqualified Dan Ticktum.

Trying to predict whether they’ll have the same form at Mugello is tricky. Shwartzman and Schumacher both have competitive experience of the track, but nothing more recent than their last Italian F4 campaigns in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

However, the Prema team they drive for has spent many a race weekend at the circuit over the years. They’ll have plenty of knowledge to draw on, and arguably have the best chance of giving their drivers a winning car.

And speaking of winning cars, Schumacher will have an opportunity this weekend to drive one of the very best, as he will take his father’s Ferrari F2004 around the track in a very special demonstration run.

Mick Schumacher driving the Ferrari F2004 at Hockenheim in 2019 (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As well as Schumacher and Shwartzman, five other drivers on the current F2 grid have experience of Mugello: Guanyu Zhou, Luca Ghiotto, Marcus Armstrong, Marino Sato, and DAMS stand-in Juri Vips.

Armstrong and Vips have the most recent experience, having raced there in the 2017 Italian F4 championship. Both had strong results that year: across the two rounds raced at Mugello, the two drivers collected five poles, three wins and five further podiums between them.

Of course, results in 2017 Italian F4 don’t guarantee results in 2020 F2. But Armstrong and Vips will both be hoping their prior knowledge of the trick will give them some edge at least over their rivals.

After a strong start to the year with two podiums at the Red Bull Ring, Armstrong has yet to finish in the points again since. As another one of Ferrari’s juniors, he needs to get back to the kind of form he showed in F3 last year if he wants the FDA’s focus for a 2021 F2 title campaign. Armstrong still has four rounds of the season left to recover from his 14th position in the standings, and there’s no better place for him to start than on Ferrari’s home turf.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As for Vips, Mugello may mark his final opportunity to score points in F2 this year as Sean Gelael is currently marked to return to DAMS from Sochi onwards.

Vips has enjoyed an impressive debut so far, having challenged for points in each of the four races he’s contested despite being parachuted into the series with little to no preparation.

However, the Estonian must be frustrated that for all his efforts, he’s finished just on the wrong side of the top ten each time. In fact, his average finishing position from the last two rounds is 10.5, so it’s not as if Vips needs a gargantuan upshift in form to break into the points.

It’s not yet been announced whether Vips is targeting a full-time F2 campaign next year, or if he will try to contest Super Formula again instead. But whichever route Red Bull chose for him, capping off his first run in F2 with a couple of points will be an excellent way to make the most of what’s been a challenging year for him.

Juri Vips, DAMS (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

F2 Spa: Tsunoda wins feature race after Mazepin penalty

Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took victory in the Spa feature race after on-track winner Nikita Mazepin was penalised for forcing Tsunoda off track.

Tsunoda got a near-perfect launch from pole position to head off the pack into the first corner, while Nobuharu Matsushita jumped Mazepin for second. Behind them, Mick Schumacher got a good start from seventh on the grid to jump up to fourth, while title protagonist Robert Shwartzman dropped from fourth down into the pack.

At the end of the first lap Tsunoda had already opened up a second over Matsushita, as Mazepin closed back in on the MP Motorsport to retake second. Mazepin took the position back on lap 3 while setting the fastest lap of the race, by which point Tsunoda had pulled almost three seconds clear of the pair.

After losing second to Mazepin, Matsushita then started to drop back through the field. Schumacher demoted him to third at the end of lap 3, then on the following lap Matsushita was passed by Louis Deletraz, Shwartzman and Guanyu Zhou.

At Blanchimont Matsushita was set to lose another position as teammate Felipe Drugovich drew level around the outside. But the two made contact instead, breaking Drugovich’s front wing and sending Matsushita into the wall with a puncture, resulting in the virtual safety car being deployed.

Nobuharu Matsushita, MP Motorsport (Lars Baron / Getty Images)

The virtual safety car was withdrawn on lap 6, with Mazepin being quicker than Tsunoda on the restart to gain six tenths on the Carlin. Tsunoda responded over the following laps as Mazepin’s soft tyres started to fade, and the gap returned to over two seconds by the time Mazepin made his pit stop on lap 9.

Tsunoda stayed out a lap longer than Mazepin, but when he came into the pits his own stop was slow and he rejoined the track behind the Russian in 14th place. However, race control then announced Mazepin was under investigation for an unsafe release, as he came close to hitting several of Trident’s pit crew on leaving his box.

With the Mazepin incident to be decided after the race, Tsunoda stuck close to the back of the Hitech as they made their progress through the alternative strategy runners ahead of them. By lap 16 they were back up to the front of the field with a second between them, which Tsunoda then reduced to half a second by lap 19.

Over the next few laps Tsunoda made two moves for the lead around the outside going into Turn 5, but Mazepin headed both off and Tsunoda ran wide as he bailed out. On the penultimate lap Tsunoda tried the move a third time and once again ran wide as Mazepin defended the position. Unable to get close enough to try another pass, Tsunoda ended up crossing the line in second behind Mazepin.

However, shortly after the chequered flag Mazepin was given a five-second time penalty for forcing Tsunoda off track at Turn 5, reversing their positions and giving Tsunoda his second win of the season.

Nikita Mazepin, Hitech (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Schumacher completed the podium in third, the German having a relatively quiet race with five seconds separating him from fourth-placed Deletraz. Shwartzman managed to recover to fifth after his poor first lap, and Dan Ticktum finished sixth for DAMS as the highest alternate strategy driver.

Zhou briefly led the race on the same strategy as Ticktum, but the Chinese driver stayed out later than anyone and wasn’t able to make the places back after his stop, coming home in seventh.

Roy Nissany also ran the alternate strategy and was second behind Zhou for a while, but was likewise unable to carve back through the field on the soft tyres later. However he did manage to pass Luca Ghiotto and Callum Ilott to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow. Ghiotto and Ilott took the final points positions, just keeping DAMS stand-in Juri Vips out of the top ten on his F2 debut.

Post-race penalties:

Mazepin has been given a five-place grid drop for the Monza feature race for “potentially dangerous and unsportsmanlike conduct”, after the stewards judged him to have entered parc-ferme too fast.

Hitech were reprimanded for Mazepin’s pit stop, which was investigated as an unsafe release, while Trident have been fined for their mechanics standing too far forward in the pitlane and thus being in Mazepin’s path.

Matsushita has been given a three-place grid drop for the sprint race for causing his collision with Drugovich on lap 3. Drugovich himself, who finished in P20, was disqualified for making his mandatory pit stop on the final lap, which is a breach of the sporting regulations.

Finally, Marcus Armstrong was given a five-second penalty for overtaking Jack Aitken off-track and drops from P13 to P15.

Full race result:

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

F2 Spa preview: Red Bull juniors aiming to impress in Belgium

After a week off, Formula 2 returns this weekend for the start of another triple header at Spa-Francorchamps, in support of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix.

One driver looking for a big result when track action begins is Yuki Tsunoda. After taking his first F2 win at the second Silverstone round, Tsunoda has been touted by Alpha Tauri boss Franz Tost as a potential driver for the team next year.

At the moment Tsunoda is doing everything he needs to get his F1 shot, as his fourth place in the standings will earn him enough points for a 2021 super licence. But in a series like F2, the championship order can change from weekend to weekend, so Tsunoda can’t afford to rest easy now.

With only five points between him and Christian Lundgaard ahead, another top three result in either race this weekend would do much to secure Tsunoda’s bid for a 2021 F1 drive.

But Tsunoda won’t be the only one aiming to impress Tost this weekend. As well as his Carlin teammate Jehan Daruvala, the Red Bull junior team will also be represented by Juri Vips. The Estonian is racing for DAMS for the next three rounds, standing in for Sean Gelael as he recovers from the back injury he suffered in Spain.

DAMS have said they’re treating Spa as a test weekend for Vips rather than a proper race outing, given that he’s jumping into F2 machinery for the first time. But with Vips’ pedigree and results from F3 last year, he should be able to get up to speed very quickly and may give some of the grid’s more established drivers something to worry about before the weekend’s through.

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

While these two Red Bull juniors will be battling for their F1 shot, Ferrari juniors Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman will be picking up where they left off in their tight duel for the F2 title.

As things stand Ilott is 18 points ahead of his rival, following a clean weekend in Barcelona while Shwartzman again missed out on points in the sprint race. Where Shwartzman had started off the season in dominant form, Ilott has been the more consistent driver since, picking up 58 points to Shwartzman’s 16 over the second triple header starting at Silverstone.

After a week off, Shwartzman will be hoping to regroup in Spa, where he took a commanding double podium in F3 last year. Two consistent points finishes after his barren run in the last three rounds would do a lot to restore his campaign. But with Ilott building a gap Shwartzman realistically needs to be targeting the podium again this weekend if he’s to regain the lead before it’s too late.

But although there’s plenty to talk about on-track this weekend, F2’s return to Spa is also about remembering the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert in last year’s feature race, and the serious injuries suffered by Juan Manuel Correa in the same incident.

Ahead of this year’s race F2 has announced that it will permanently retire Hubert’s number 19 from the championship, which was not assigned to any car this year. A minute of silence will also be held before Saturday’s feature race, as well as Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix, to remember Hubert.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship