F2 Great Britain preview: Silverstone reset for Shwartzman and Ilott

Formula 2 is back this weekend for the fifth round of the 2020 championship, returning to Silverstone in support of the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

For title protagonists Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott, revisiting Silverstone will provide a much-needed second chance at the circuit after a trying round for them both last weekend.

For Shwartzman, who had previously only finished outside the top four once this year, the British Grand Prix weekend was little short of a nightmare. What began with a lowly qualifying position of 18th for the feature race ended with a best finish of 13th in the sprint race and no points scored for the championship leader.

Shwartzman’s pain was lessened somewhat by Ilott stalling on the feature race grid and spinning out of contention for the sprint race victory, meaning the UNI-Virtuosi driver was unable to capitalise on Shwartzman’s struggles and snatch away the championship lead. However, Ilott’s recovery to fifth in the feature race moved him to within eight points of Shwartzman.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Shwartzman and Ilott’s struggles mean they’ll now be driving with renewed focus on the chasing pack behind them.

In particular, Christian Lundgaard underlined the pace he’s been showing all season with fourth place in the feature race and second in the sprint race last weekend, putting him just four points behind Ilott and twelve behind Shwartzman. Another strong finish ahead of his rivals this weekend could well see Lundgaard leave Silverstone as the new championship leader.

The top two will also be keenly aware of Hitech’s Nikita Mazepin. The Russian came alive at Silverstone last weekend, taking his first F2 win in the feature race and battling up to fifth in race two, and certainly has the pace to be a threat again this time out.

What’s more, Dan Ticktum is lurking just one point behind Mazepin after taking his own maiden victory in the last sprint race. However, Ticktum’s three podium visits so far have all come in sprint races, so he’ll need to translate that clear speed to a top three in the feature races if he’s going to start troubling the title contenders.

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

Just behind the top five, a kind of “Class B” is forming between Guanyu Zhou, Louis Deletraz, Felipe Drugovich, Mick Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda. While their results over the season so far haven’t kept them in touch with the title battle, they’re all still formidable over a race weekend and each proved this last time out in Silverstone.

Zhou, Deletraz and Tsunoda were all on the podium across last weekend, while Drugovich took pole for the feature race and Schumacher was in contention for the victory before his tyres gave up on him in the final stages.

All of them bar Drugovich are still looking for their first win this season, and given the pace they’ve already shown around Silverstone, that could come for any of them this weekend.

Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

F2 Great Britain: Mazepin storms to maiden feature race win

Hitech’s Nikita Mazepin took his maiden Formula 2 win in the Silverstone feature race, prevailing over a rotation of challengers behind.

The race started with a slow launch for polesitter Felipe Drugovich, allowing Mick Schumacher to take the lead into Turn 1 while Mazepin jumped Christian Lundgaard for third. Drugovich, starting on the hard tyres compared to the medium runners around him, continued to struggle for pace through lap 1 and dropped to fourth behind Mazepin and Lundgaard.

Mazepin quickly got his own tyres up to temperature, closing up to Schumacher on lap 3 and then passing the Prema for the lead shortly after. By lap 5, Mazepin had already broken the DRS range to Schumacher, while Schumacher himself seemed to drop back towards Lundgaard.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Mazepin and Schumacher made their stops for hard tyres on lap 8, followed by Lundgaard a lap later. Although Schumacher gained time on Mazepin in the pitlane, he struggled more than the Russian when making his way through traffic.

On lap 12 Schumacher lost half a second passing Guilherme Samaia, then got stuck behind Artem Markelov. On lap 15 Lundgaard overtook Schumacher for net second, while Louis Deletraz closed to four tenths behind him.

Deletraz eventually passed Schumacher on lap 24, which prompted a fall through the order as the German lost out to Guanyu Zhou, Yuki Tsunoda and Callum Ilott over the next two laps.

Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Deletraz didn’t stay in third for long, being passed himself by Zhou and Tsunoda on lap 25. Zhou and Tsunoda were running the alternate strategy with hard tyres, and lapping much faster than those on mediums. On lap 27 Zhou quickly caught and passed Lundgaard for second, while Tsunoda demoted the ART off the podium on the final lap.

But despite their pace advantage, Zhou and Tsunoda ran out of laps to catch Mazepin and had to settle for second and third respectively behind the Hitech.

Lundgaard finished fourth, while Ilott recovered from stalling on the formation lap and starting from the pitlane to take fifth ahead of Deletraz. Polesitter Drugovich suffered a slow pit stop and eventually finished down in seventh ahead of Dan Ticktum. Schumacher finished ninth, and Nobuharu Matsushita took the final point in tenth after passing Jehan Daruvala through the final corner of the last lap.

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Full race result:

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

F2 Hungary: Ghiotto holds off Ilott in sprint race tyre gamble

Luca Ghiotto took his first win of the season in the Hungary sprint race, beating Callum Ilott after risking an alternative strategy to the rest of the field.

Ghiotto made a great start from fifth on the grid to second behind reverse polesitter Ilott. Behind, his Hitech teammate Nikita Mazepin continued his strong Hungaroring form to jump up to fourth place, while Jehan Daruvala slipped from the second row of the grid down to ninth.

Ghiotto and Ilott spent the opening phase of the race trading fastest laps as the Italian tried to put pressure on the lead, although Ilott was able to maintain a steady gap of over three seconds.

On lap 10 the first signs of the rapid tyre degradation that would define the race came when Louis Deletraz, struggling on softs, was passed by Mick Schumacher, Mazepin and Robert Shwartzman. On lap 13 Daruvala and Sean Gelael both stopped to change their own tyres, and were followed by Deletraz a lap later.

At the front Ilott was having the same struggles, as Ghiotto was able to close down the gap to the UNI-Virtuosi. On lap 17 Ilott, together with Schumacher and Shwartzman, finally stopped to change his worn mediums for softs. A slurry of pit stops then followed, leaving Ghiotto and Giuliano Alesi, the only drivers who elected not to change tyres, running first and second with half a minute in hand over Ilott.

Giuliano Alesi, HWA (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

But despite conceding track position, Ilott had a clear advantage from his fresher tyres. On lap 23 Ilott caught and passed Alesi, then began reeling in Ghiotto at a rate of almost five seconds a lap. On the penultimate lap Ilott was just 2.7s away from Ghiotto, which then became 0.7s when Ghiotto locked up through Turn 1.

However, Ilott was unable to affect a pass on Ghiotto on the final lap despite having much better traction through the corners, and Ghiotto was able to hold him off to win by four tenths.

Schumacher took his second consecutive third place after an assertive drive through the reverse grid field. Shwartzman finished fourth behind him, and Mazepin reinforced his strong form in yesterday’s feature race with fifth place. Deletraz recovered to sixth ahead of Daruvala, and Guanyu Zhou took three points with eighth place and the fastest lap.

After round 3 of the 2020 championship, Shwartzman holds an 18-point lead over Ilott. Christian Lundgaard remains third despite not scoring in either race at the Hungaroring, but is now only four points clear of Schumacher. In the teams’ standings, Prema have moved into the lead with 120 points, leading UNI-Virtuosi and ART.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

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: Ilott takes maiden F2 win after trouble for Zhou

Callum Ilott took his first Formula 2 victory at the Red Bull Ring feature race, after his teammate Guanyu Zhou dropped out of the lead with technical problems.

Ilott and polesitter Zhou dominated the early stages of the race together with Prema’s Mick Schumacher, who leapt up into third place at the start after passing star of qualifying Felipe Drugovich.

The two UNI-Virtuosi drivers traded the lead throughout the first corners of the race, before Zhou managed to make a move stick and set about breaking the DRS range back to Ilott. But Zhou lost the position again after his pit stop, when Ilott and then Schumacher were able to perform the undercut and emerge in the net lead of the race.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

With more heat in his tyres, Zhou managed to repass Ilott and Schumacher on their out laps, while Ilott overhauled Schumacher to resume net second behind Zhou.

But on lap 26 Zhou slowed with a sudden loss of power and dropped down the order. Ilott resumed the lead ahead of Schumacher, with ART’s Marcus Armstrong, who had climbed through the field on the alternate strategy, assuming third place.

While Zhou returned to the pits there were problems too for HWA’s Artem Markelov, who came to a halt on the circuit and brought out the safety car for two laps.

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

Ilott held the lead at the safety car restart, and was gifted a reprieve when Schumacher ran off the circuit and through the gravel trap, dropping down to P13.

With Schumacher out of contention as well, Ilott held several seconds in hand over second-placed Armstrong, with Robert Shwartzman promoted to third. This gap only increased as Armstrong and Shwartzman battled hard over the podium positions, allowing Ilott to go from 4.8s ahead on lap 36 to more than 8s by the chequered flag.

Despite having an apparent pace advantage, Shwartzman was unable to get past Armstrong and finished in third behind the ART. Armstrong’s teammate Christian Lundgaard finished fourth after seeing off a late challenge from Dan Ticktum, while Giuliano Alesi made the alternate strategy work to take sixth from 18th on the grid.

Louis Deletraz took seventh for Charouz and Drugovich held on to eighth place to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow on his F2 debut. Nobuharu Matsushita, another alternate strategy runner, finished in ninth and Roy Nissany took the final point in tenth.

Along with Markelov, Sean Gelael and Marino Sato also retired from the race, while Luca Ghiotto failed to start because of a technical problem. Schumacher eventually finished just outside the points in P11, while Zhou finished down in P17.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

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)

F2 Abu Dhabi: Ghiotto wins final race of 2019

Luca Ghiotto won the Formula 2 sprint race at Yas Marina, the final race of the 2019 season and Ghiotto’s last race in the series.

Ghiotto started third on the reverse grid behind polesitter Giuliano Alesi and Nicholas Latifi, his rival for second in the standings, but jumped straight to second as Latifi was bogged down by wheelspin off the line.

In the opening laps Ghiotto held back from challenging Alesi in order to preserve his tyres. Although this allowed Alesi to build up a substantial early lead, Ghiotto’s strategy came to fruition when Alesi’s tyres ran out of grip shortly after and started costing him two seconds per lap.

On lap 8 Ghiotto took the lead with an easy move on the struggling Alesi, and quickly built up a lead over the rest of the field. Once Alesi lost the position he started falling back down the field, losing second to Latifi on lap 10 and third to Callum Ilott a lap later.

Ghiotto held a comfortable lead for the remaining laps, helped by a pair of virtual safety cars on laps 17 and 19 (the first brought out by Sean Gelael and the second by Nikita Mazepin and Matevos Isaakyan coming together). By the chequered flag Ghiotto won by 7.2 seconds over Latifi.

Jerry Andre, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Yesterday’s feature race winner Sergio Sette Camara had another strong race at Yas Marina.

He was dropped out of the points at the start by Mick Schumacher, but repassed the Prema a few laps later and gained another position when Guanyu Zhou dropped down the field to P11.

Shortly after half distance, Sette Camara made his way past the two Carlins of Louis Deletraz and Nobuharu Matsushita, who were locked in a tight battle between themselves for sixth. On lap 16 he then picked off Alesi and moved into fourth place.

His charge was hampered by the two virtual safety cars, but when racing resumed for the penultimate lap Sette Camara immediately reeled in Ilott to take third.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Ilott finished P4 and Alesi managed to hold onto P5. Deletraz won the intra-team battle at Carlin to take P6 from Matsushita, while Jack Aitken beat Schumacher to the final point in P8.

Artem Markelov was stopped by a gearbox problem on lap 11, joining Gelael, Mazepin and Isaakyan in retirement. 2019 F2 champion Nyck de Vries was P13, for only his third finish outside the points all year.

Latifi’s second place, bolstered by the two points for fastest lap, was enough for him to secure the vice-champion position over Ghiotto by seven points. Sette Camara came close to overhauling Ghiotto for third in the standings, but ultimately fell three points short.

Aitken finished the season P5, and Matsushita managed to keep P6 ahead of Zhou by five points. Deletraz was P8, Jordan King P9, and the late Anthoine Hubert remained in the top 10 by three points over Ilott.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

F2 Abu Dhabi: Sette Camara steals feature race win from Carlin

Sergio Sette Camara overhauled the Carlins of Nobuharu Matsushita and Louis Deletraz to claim his first Formula 2 feature race win in Abu Dhabi.

The DAMS driver took pole position in qualifying yesterday, but dropped to third off the line as Deletraz jumped into the lead ahead of Callum Ilott. Matsushita held his fourth place on the grid, ahead of Nyck de Vries, Guanyu Zhou, Jack Aitken, Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Artem Markelov.

However, that order was reshuffled entirely over the course of the next few laps, as the supersoft tyres hit the cliff on lap 3 and its runners were forced to nurse them until the pit window opened at the end of lap 6.

This rapid loss of grip saw no fewer than 20 overtakes over those few laps, with the alternate strategy runners rising to the top of the field. When the supersoft runners pitted at the end of lap 6, Matsushita assumed the race lead ahead of Zhou, Giuliano Alesi, Luca Ghiotto, Nikita Mazepin, Christian Lundgaard, Marino Sato and Maheveer Raghunathan. Deletraz and Sette Camara rejoined the track in P9 and P10.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Media

With Matsushita at the front and Deletraz leading the drivers who had made their stops, Carlin looked to have the race in hand during the middle phase.

After a brief virtual safety car period on lap 10 when Raghunathan pulled over at Turn 16, Matsushita opened up a five-second lead over Zhou. Meanwhile, Deletraz worked his way up to P5 by lap 15 and reduced the gap to his teammate enough that he would inherit the lead again when Matsushita made his own pit stop in the final laps.

However, Sette Camara managed to follow Deletraz through the field and closed in on the Carlin driver as he found himself stuck behind Alesi’s Trident.

With Deletraz’s tyres suffering from the laps spent behind Alesi, Sette Camara then overtook him for the net lead of the race on lap 28.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Media

Deletraz then continued to lose out as his tyres ran out of grip in the closing laps. Although he still had enough time over Matsushita to remain ahead when his teammate pitted, the pace deficit was such that Matsushita and Zhou were both able to pass Deletraz on their fresh supersofts for second and third in the final two laps.

Deletraz took the chequered flag in fourth, three seconds down on Zhou. Ilott finished fourth ahead of Ghiotto and Latifi, who are now separated by just eight points in their fight to be 2019 vice-champion. Alesi took eighth to secure reverse grid pole for tomorrow, and Schumacher and Mazepin rounded out the top ten.

Sette Camara’s win elevates him to third in the standings with one race remaining, and also gave DAMS enough points to clinch the 2019 Teams’ Championship over UNI-Virtuosi.

F2 Russia: De Vries takes title with feature race victory

Nyck de Vries sealed the 2019 Formula 2 championship with victory in the Sochi feature race, despite a late threat from title rival Luca Ghiotto on the alternate strategy.

De Vries needed to win the feature race today to put the title beyond any of his rivals’ reach, and he got a good launch at the start from pole position to see off any challenge from second-place starter Nicholas Latifi.

But after just a few laps, De Vries and the other drivers starting on the supersoft tyres all started to lose grip compared to the alternate strategy runners. Ghiotto, the highest alternate runner starting in fourth, used his greater grip to pick off Callum Ilott and Latifi before taking the lead from De Vries on lap 5.

De Vries and Latifi then bailed into the pits when the pit window opened on lap 6, and were followed by every other supersoft starter behind them. They rejoined the track in 10th and 11th respectively.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

At the head of the field, Ghiotto held the lead while Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin filtered up behind him in heated contention over second and third.

On lap 8 Mazepin dove down the inside of Turn 2 to take second place, but Schumacher tucked in behind the ART around Turn 3 and retook the position on the inside. However, Mazepin repeated his Turn 2 move a lap later and this time got a better exit to see off another fightback from Schumacher.

The Prema driver then came under pressure from Nobuharu Matsushita, who took advantage of a mistake by Schumacher on lap 13 to demote him to fourth.

Schumacher kept close to Matsushita in the following laps and pressured the Japanese driver into running wide on lap 16, but on lap 18 smoke started pouring from Schumacher’s engine. The problem wasn’t enough to force an immediate stop and Schumacher continued running behind Matsushita for another two laps, despite Jordan King behind them protesting on the radio that Schumacher was dropping oil dangerously across the track.

However, Schumacher finally pulled into the pits at the end of lap 19 and retired. He became the second driver out of the race, after Artem Markelov, who joined BWT Arden this weekend, pulled over on the opening lap.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

On lap 21 and with seven laps remaining, King became the first of the alternate runners to pit for supersofts. By this stage De Vries had risen from tenth to sixth, with Latifi still trailing just behind him.

As the rest of the alternate strategy drivers followed King’s lead into the pits, Ghiotto remained out despite running out of grip and losing time to De Vries. He finally stopped at the end of lap 24, by which point De Vries had been promoted back to second by Giuliano Alesi, Matsushita and Mazepin pitting as well.

Ghiotto rejoined the track in fourth place behind De Vries, Latifi and Carlin’s Louis Deletraz, and looked to have the pace on his fresh supersofts to reel in the leaders in the closing laps.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

But after passing Deletraz for third and setting the fastest lap on lap 26, Ghiotto then got stuck behind Latifi and was unable to pass the DAMS before his supersofts lost their advantage and ran out of grip. On the final lap a lockup for Ghiotto into Turn 13 allowed Deletraz to brake late around the outside and retake third.

In front, De Vries finished with nearly five seconds in hand over Latifi, with Deletraz a further second behind and Ghiotto ending up 7.6s off the front in fourth.

Sergio Sette Camara’s strategy saw him take fifth ahead of Matsushita, Jack Aitken and Mazepin. Third-place starter Ilott, who was the first of the frontrunners to burn through their supersofts, ended up in ninth and Guanyu Zhou finished tenth after running off-track several times throughout the race.

Formula 2: 2019 Season Preview

The 2019 Formula 2 season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain with some new faces on the grid and a lot of surprises after an unusually unpredictable silly season. Normally, it is possible to figure out who is going to be where after the post-season test in Abu Dhabi, but this time what deals seemed to be done in December changed completely in January.

Some big names from last year are missing. Lando Norris and Alex Albon followed the 2018 champion George Russell in securing a Formula One seat, while Artem Markelov, who has become a fan favourite throughout the years, joined the Super Formula field in Japan. These departures could lead to a discussion on whether the talent in the grid has decreased, but we have to bear in mind that excellent drivers will make their debut in Bahrain even if they are not so well-known.

Anthoine Hubert (BWT Arden) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship

Among the youngsters approaching their first Formula 2 weekend we have last year’s GP3 Series top three. The champion Anthoine Hubert will enter the championship with BWT Arden in association with Mercedes’ feeder categories brand HWA despite the fact that he is a member of Renault Sport Academy. Nikita Mazepin, who has already tested in Formula 1 with Force India, will take part in the series with last year’s champions ART, and Ferrari Driver Academy member Callum Ilott will compete for the renamed Sauber Junior Team by Charouz. Even if they have proved their talent in the past, none of them are expected to be in the hunt for the big trophy after pre-season testing results, but for sure they will put on a good show and aim for podiums, even victories.

On the contrary, there is one man who is expected to fight for the championship from the beginning: Mick Schumacher. The son of the Formula One legend Michael Schumacher will drive for Prema, a team who won twice since they entered in 2016. Mick must not crack under pressure and confirm the speed showed last year in an outstanding second-half of the season which crowned him as FIA F3 European Champion. If he delivers, a seat in the 2020 Formula One grid is almost guaranteed for him.

Furthermore, Tatiana Calderón will be the first woman to race in the GP2 Series/FIA F2 since they started back in 2005. Partnering Hubert in BWT Arden, the Alfa Romeo Racing test driver will try to keep her momentum going to continue taking points as she did in the last five GP3 races.

Louis Deletraz (Carlin) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship

Looking now at the battle for the championship, four F2 veterans are expected to fight the already mentioned Mick Schumacher. They are Nyck de Vries (ART), Sérgio Sette Câmara (DAMS), Luca Ghiotto (UNI Virtuosi Racing) and Louis Delétraz (Carlin). All of them were pace-setters in testing and are capable of performing at any track—only reliability issues or race incidents would prevent them from having a chance to become champions.

We should also keep and eye on Jack Aitken. If it is true that he struggled a lot during his maiden season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him challenging for race wins throughout the year. However, the fact that he drives for Campos Racing may keep him away from the championship battle.

Regarding this first weekend in Bahrain, it may bring some surprises given that qualifying conditions are not the same as race ones. Qualifying is scheduled in the night while races are in the afternoon when temperatures are their highest. Tyre degradation is set to play a very important role, allowing different strategies as we already saw in the past. In 2017, Charles Leclerc decided to pit during the sprint race when he started to suffer with his tyres and he was able to make an impressive comeback overtaking 14 cars to win the race on the last lap. Will we see something like that again this year? We will know on Sunday!

Giuliano Alesi (Trident) / Glenn Dunbar, FIA F2 Championship