F3 Monza: Vesti wins as Piastri claws back title lead

Frederik Vesti took his second feature race win of the season at Monza, as his teammate Oscar Piastri recovered to the podium from 15th on the grid to take back the championship lead.

The race started with a mixed-up grid as nine drivers including pole winner Theo Pourchaire were penalised for driving unnecessarily slowly to set up their final flying laps. Hitech’s Liam Lawson inherited pole ahead of Matteo Nannini and Jake Hughes, while Pourchaire dropped to sixth behind Logan Sargeant.

But despite losing pole, Pourchaire leapt back into contention for the win at the start. After passing Sargeant and Calan Williams for fourth off the line, the Frenchman then took third from Hughes in the opening corners. Second place followed on lap two with a pass on Nannini, as Pourchaire set the fastest lap to keep close to the leading Lawson.

Pourchaire caught Lawson on lap 4 and took the lead from the Red Bull junior. Setting another fastest lap in the process, Pourchaire began pulling away from the field with what looked set to be a dominant early lead.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

While Pourchaire was lighting up the timing screen in front, Vesti was taking advantage of mistakes from the drivers around him to make steady progress through the field.

Starting from ninth on the grid, Vesti passed his teammate Sargeant for eighth on lap 4 after the American ran wide battling with Alex Peroni. He gained seventh place shortly after when Igor Fraga went off at the Rettifilo, then moved up to fifth when Peroni spun round Williams on lap 7.

On lap 9, Nannini collided with Lawson trying to take away third and retired with front suspension damage. The incident allowed Vesti to close up on Lawson, and on lap 12 he forced his way into third into the second Lesmo.

Vesti’s progress was briefly halted when Sebastian Fernandez spun off and brought out the safety car. But at the restart Vesti immediately pounced on Hughes to take second place, with just a second splitting him from Pourchaire.

After cutting the gap down to five tenths, Vesti took the lead from Pourchaire at Rettifilo with three laps to go, and led the ART home until the chequered flag.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Vesti’s teammate Piastri took third place in a race of contrasting fortunes for him and title rival Sargeant.

After the qualifying penalties played out, Sargeant emerged as the luckier of the two as he was elevated to fifth while Piastri remained in 15th place. But when the race began Sargeant seemed to lack pace compared to the cars around him. After losing out to Pourchaire and running wide battling with Fraga in the opening laps, Sargeant then went off at Rettifilo on lap 5 and dropped to 11th, just in front of Piastri.

The two Premas jostled each other for position as they both inched their way up into the lower top ten. After Sargeant fought back to keep ahead of Piastri just after his mistake, Piastri got definitively ahead of the American on lap 10 while they fought over eighth place. Piastri then managed to put a car between him and Sargeant as he passed Lirim Zendelli for seventh.

At the safety car restart on lap 14 Piastri gained sixth place from David Beckmann. But more importantly for the championship battle, behind him Sargeant was tapped into a spin by Clement Novalak at the Della Roggia chicane and dropped right to the back of the field.

With Sargeant’s chances of scoring points effectively gone, Piastri’s sixth was already enough to return him to the top of the standings. But instead of holding steady, Piastri continued pushing forward. After taking fifth from Peroni on lap 18, Piastri then breezed past Lawson for fourth at the same time as Vesti took the lead from Pourchaire. Finally, Piastri caught and passed Hughes on the penultimate lap to move himself up onto the podium.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 05: Race winner Frederik Vesti of Denmark and Prema Racing, second placed Theo Pourchaire of France and ART Grand Prix and third placed Oscar Piastri of Australia and Prema Racing celebrate on the podium during race one of the Formula 3 Championship at Autodromo di Monza on September 05, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Hughes lost a further place on the final lap, with Beckmann beating him to the line in fourth. Lawson finished sixth ahead of Zendelli, Bent Viscaal and Enzo Fittipaldi. Michael Belov finished tenth for Charouz for his first point in F3.

With Sargeant eventually finishing the race in 26th, Piastri now has an eight-point lead in the standings, which is likely to increase tomorrow as Sargeant will be starting the sprint race well outside the points.

But despite Sargeant’s non-score, Vesti’s win and Piastri’s podium was enough for Prema to wrap up the teams’ championship with three races still to go.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Frederik Vesti (FL) Prema Racing 27
2 Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix 18
3 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 15
4 David Beckmann Trident 12
5 Jake Hughes HWA Racelab 10
6 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 8
7 Lirim Zendelli Trident 6
8 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport 4
9 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab 2
10 Michael Belov Charouz Racing System 1
11 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
12 Jack Doohan HWA Racelab
13 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
14 Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
15 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
16 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
17 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
18 Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
19 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
20 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix
21 Sophia Floersch Campos Racing
22 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
23 Alessio Deledda Campos Racing
24 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
25 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
26 Logan Sargeant Prema Racing
27 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport
Ret. Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix
Ret. Olli Caldwell Trident
Ret. Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport

F2 Monza preview: momentum back with Shwartzman and Prema

This weekend Formula 2 takes to Italy’s legendary Monza for round eighth of the 2020 championship.

Robert Shwartzman heads to the Temple of Speed back in control of the title fight, courtesy of his sprint race win at Spa last week. After a nightmare triple header at Silverstone and Barcelona which yielded only two points finishes, his third win of the season will have been a great relief as the championship heads into its home stretch.

Shwartzman will also be very happy to carry that momentum into Monza, as he took a commanding win here last year in the F3 feature race to eliminate all but one of his rivals from the title hunt. Returning with the same Prema team that took him to the top step last year, Shwartzman has plenty of reasons for confidence this weekend.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

And it’s not just because of Shwartzman that Prema are one of the favourites this weekend. Off the back of a superb double podium at Spa, Mick Schumacher has the enviable honour of the most podium finishes of anyone so far this season.

The German may still be chasing his first win of the season, but he looks to be on a roll at least with consistent points and top three finishes. In fact, Schumacher has outscored everybody but Yuki Tsunoda over the last six races, and could now be considered an outside bet for the championship if he can build on these results over the final five rounds.

It’s worth noting that Schumacher’s season is starting to resemble his run to the 2018 European F3 title. After a patchy start to the campaign with only two podiums in the opening 12 races, he switched things on at the halfway point and went on to dominate the rest of the year.

While it won’t be easy to do the same in F2, keep an eye on him nonetheless as a potential dark horse in this second half of the season.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Callum Ilott will be hoping to disrupt Prema’s momentum at Monza. Since winning the second Silverstone feature race from pole, Ilott’s results have dipped to a best finish of fifth in Spain, while a costly retirement at Spa last weekend handed the title lead back to Shwartzman.

Ilott has a good history with Monza. He’s been on the podium and won there in European F3 and GP3, and last year it was where he took his first F2 pole while driving for the Charouz-run Sauber Junior Team.

Another pole this weekend would be a great first step towards taking back the title lead from Shwartzman. And as the driver with the most pole positions so far this season, Ilott’s got more than enough form to do so.

F3 Monza preview: no room for error in penultimate round

Formula 3 is back in action this weekend at Monza for the penultimate round of the 2020 championship.

What stands out most of all as the F3 field heads to Italy’s Temple of Speed is how tight several of the key championship battles are this late in the season.

Obviously the first of those battles to look at is the one between Prema’s Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri for the F3 title itself. After Piastri retook the title lead with a sprint race win in Barcelona, Sargeant returned the favour at Spa with his second win of the season, and the American now has the lead over his teammate again.

Logan Sargeant, Prema (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

It is mathematically possible for Sargeant to win the championship this weekend. However, with only seven points currently separating them, he’d need everything to align perfectly and to outscore Piastri by 42 points across the two races.

It’s not impossible, but given Piastri has only failed to score in one race this season (and aside from that, hasn’t finished lower than eighth), it’s much more likely that Monza will set up a title showdown next week in Mugello instead.

Of the two, Sargeant has had the better track record at Monza so far in his career. He won there in his 2018 Formula Renault NEC campaign, and last year in F3 he finished in the top ten in both races for the uncompetitive Carlin team.

But although Piastri has yet to reach the podium at Monza, Prema will surely give him a car as capable of winning as Robert Shwartzman’s was in last year’s feature race, meaning he’ll be more than ready to take the fight to Sargeant on Saturday.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Just behind the top two is the tightest battle in the field, between David Beckmann and Liam Lawson for third in the standings. Beckmann currently holds the place but only by half a point, with Lawson on a much better run of form with podiums in every round since Silverstone.

Lawson ran well in Monza last year as well, taking second in the sprint race. However, Beckmann has experience of winning at the Temple of Speed as recently as 2018, having taken the GP3 feature race for Trident.

For Lawson, taking third place in the championship is all about recovering from the disastrous run of retirements that derailed his title campaign early in the year, and also convincing Red Bull to move him up the F1 feeder series ladder next year.

For Beckmann, he’ll be thinking of helping Trident to beat ART in their battle for second in the teams’ standings.

David Beckmann, Trident (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Further back again, just 5.5 points cover Jake Hughes, Richard Verschoor and Alex Peroni in the lower positions of the championship top ten.

The three drivers have had wildly different seasons so far. Peroni has the most podiums of the trio with three, but Hughes’ feature race win in Barcelona means he’s currently the one on top, while Verschoor has only had the one podium but scored more consistently across the year.

Monza is sure to be a significant race for Peroni, as it was in last year’s feature race that a frightening crash at the Parabolica left the Australian with a fractured vertebrae.

Since then he’s come back much stronger to lead Campos this year, and it would be a great result for him to move on from last year with another good result this weekend.

Alex Peroni, Campos (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Mercedes to dominate at Monza? 2020 Italian Grand Prix Preview

As Formula One heads to the temple of speed at the 5.7 kilometre Monza circuit, the question on everyone’s lips is not really whether Mercedes will be the dominant force over the course of the weekend.

Instead, we are left wondering just how massive the advantage will be for the Silver Arrows as they seek to continue their astonishingly impressive start to the 2020 season.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

Despite the extended 2020 lay-off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mercedes have very much picked up where they left off at the end of 2019, winning six of the first seven races. And the power-dominated track – the quickest in the calendar – will very much play into the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Unlike last weekend at Spa, there does not appear to be any threat of rain. However, despite the forecast, hopes of a damp race in Belgium were dampened by a lack of dampness, as Mercedes took a one two for the first time in six races in Belgium, extending their lead at the top of the tree.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

A potential surprise in Italy though would very much include Renault. Their top speed at Belgium aided Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to a fourth and fifth placed finish respectively, giving them an assured feeling going into this weekend at Monza, where a podium could beckon. It would be the Frenchman’s first ever podium in Formula One, while Daniel Ricciardo would be looking for his first podium since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018, where he won.

Daniel Ricciardo could claim his first podium in 44 races this weekend

Conspicuous in their absence thus far in this preview have been Ferrari. Spa was nothing short of a disaster for the Scuderia. The powerful nature of the track in Francorchamps was always going to affect the struggling Ferrari power unit adversely, but no one really expected them to be so far from the points pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both knocked out in Q2 last Saturday, and Vettel beat his team mate to a lowly thirteenth position in the race. If the affect of the straight line speed in the Ardennes Forest worked against them, Monza will be a travesty. Haas and Alfa Romeo – both Ferrari powered teams – competed with the works team, and Kimi Raikkonen’s pass on former team mate Vettel was the epitome of just how far Ferrari have fallen. It is easy to forget that Charles Leclerc won this race last season.

GP ITALIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 08/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Racing Point, meanwhile, seemed to struggle more than expected at Spa, meaning it will be intriguing to see how their car performs at a track that, in theory, should really suit their car and the Mercedes engine that goes with it. Pierre Gasly’s pass in the Alpha Tauri on Racing Point’s Sergio Perez through Eau Rouge was the pick of the bunch last time out. Another strong performance from the Frenchman at his team’s home race could push him further into contention to take the Red Bull seat back away from the struggling Alex Albon.

Alex Albon hopes to improve on a tough start to the 2020 season

It looks as though Mercedes will be raiding the home of Ferrari once more, as the temple of speed welcomes F1 for round eight of the 2020 season.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

F2 Italy: Aitken wins sprint race as De Vries extends title lead

Renault development driver Jack Aitken took his third win of the 2019 Formula 2 season in the Monza sprint race, while Nyck de Vries took another podium to extend his title lead.

Aitken started from reverse grid pole ahead of Giuliano Alesi and Jordan King and got away well from the line to hold the lead into Turn 1. Behind him King moved up to second, while Callum Ilott overtook a slow starting Sergio Sette Camara for fourth.

Sette Camara was then hit from behind by Luca Ghiotto into Turn 1, with the Italian damaging his front wing in the process.

King kept with Aitken throughout the opening laps, staying generally within a second of the Campos driver. With the tow helping King to close up on the straights, Aitken began weaving before the braking zones to try and drop King from his slipstream.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

On lap 7 King made a successful move for the lead, passing Aitken into the Rettifilo. Aitken tried to fight back at the Roggia chicane on the same lap but was forced wide, although on lap 9 Aitken repayed the favour by passing King into Turn 1.

As Aitken and King continued to battle throughout the lap, Ilott closed up behind them, having previously passed Alesi for third on lap 5.

On lap 11 the fight for the lead came to a head as King dove to the inside of Roggia. Aitken was forced to cut the chicane, but rejoined the track still in the lead as King missed the apex himself and surrendered second place to Ilott.

As was the case with King, Ilott then stayed with Aitken but was unable to get close enough for a move as Aitken continued weaving to break the tow. However, on lap 19 race control showed Aitken the black and white driving standards flag and ordered him to stop changing direction into the braking zones.

On the final lap, Ilott was finally able to draw close enough to challenge Aitken into Turn 1, but a massive lock up sent the Ferrari junior down the escape road and spinning out of the race. With Ilott out, Aitken took the chequered flag at the end of the lap with two seconds in hand over King.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

After charging to the feature race podium yesterday, championship leader Nyck de Vries took another strong result in the sprint race to boost his title lead yet further.

De Vries made steady progress in the first half of the race, moving up from sixth on the grid to follow closely behind the leading trio of Aitken, Ilott and King by lap 11. His hard work was almost undone on lap 18 when a lock up at Turn 1 dropped him behind Nobuharu Matsushita, but a 5-second time penalty for Matsushita ensured De Vries would finish ahead to inherit third place when Ilott span out.

De Vries also benefited from his main title rivals both enduring disappointing finishes outside the points. Nicholas Latifi, who spun on his way to the grid before the race, struggled for pace throughout and finished in tenth.

And after making contact with Sette Camara on the opening lap, Ghiotto hit the DAMS driver again on lap 7 and not only dislodged his front wing entirely but also gave Sette Camara a race-ending puncture which brought out a brief Virtual Safety Car. Ghiotto remained in the race, but finished last of all in 15th place.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Matsushita’s penalty dropped him to fifth in the end, behind Guanyu Zhou who started from the back of the grid after retiring from the feature race. Mick Schumacher finished sixth and gained an extra two points for the fastest lap, Alesi finished seventh, and Louis Deletraz took the final point in eighth.

After finishing third in both races of the weekend, De Vries leaves Monza with a 59-point advantage over Latifi, who in turn is only 11 points clear of Ghiotto. There are 96 points remaining over the final two rounds of the season.

Aitken’s sprint race win elevates him to fourth place in the standings, two points behind Ghiotto and two ahead of Sette Camara. Matsushita has overtaken Zhou for sixth following his feature race win on Saturday.

F3 Italy: Tsunoda takes first win in sprint race

Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took his first Formula 3 win during the wet-dry Monza sprint race, seeing off challenges from Liam Lawson and Jake Hughes.

Tsunoda made a rapid start from sixth on the grid and joined Hughes and Pedro Piquet in challenging reverse polesitter Fabio Scherer for the lead into Turn 1. Hughes emerged from the Rettifilo in the lead, with Tsunoda slotting into third behind Scherer after muscling past Piquet through the chicane.

By the end of the second lap, Tsunoda had already passed Scherer for second while the Swiss driver struggled in the wet conditions, and stayed tight to the back of race leader Hughes.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Tsunoda’s charge was hindered by a couple of mistakes, which dropped him over three seconds behind Hughes by lap 9 and forced Tsunoda to defend briefly from Scherer and fellow Red Bull junior Lawson.

But as the track dried out, Hughes struggled to keep his wet weather tyres cool and Tsunoda put in a series of quick laps to close back up to the front. Within five laps Tsunoda was already within a second of Hughes, and on lap 15 the Japanese driver swept around the outside of Hughes into Turn 1 to take the lead.

Hughes briefly retook the lead on lap 16 following a mistake from Tsunoda, but Tsunoda regained it the following lap with a dive to the inside of Turn 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The battle for the remaining podium positions continued throughout the race. Scherer held onto third for a while but was unable to keep pace with Hughes and Tsunoda in front, which brought Lawson and Richard Verschoor onto his gearbox.

At the start of lap 10 Lawson forced Scherer into a mistake at the Rettifilo and moved into third. Richard Verschoor also took advantage of Scherer’s error to take fourth place shortly after, and put pressure on his MP Motorsport teammate Lawson for third, although Lawson managed to see off the challenge in the end.

Tsunoda and Hughes’ battle at the front allowed Lawson to draw up to the back of them. After Tsunoda saw off Hughes’ resurgence on lap 16, Lawson then managed to reel in the HWA driver and take away second place into Turn 1.

As the race entered its final phase Lawson looked as though he had the pace to challenge Tsunoda for the win, as he closed up to within a second of the Jenzer driver by lap 20. But Tsunoda responded to the challenge and opened the gap back up, and by the end of lap 22 he beat Lawson across the line by 1.5 seconds.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Hughes held onto third ahead of Verschoor, while Scherer dropped back through the order to finish seventh behind Piquet and Leo Pulcini. The final point went to championship leader Robert Shwartzman, after he beat ART’s Christian Lundgaard to eighth by 0.067s across the line.

Shwartzman leaves Monza with a 33-point lead over title rival and Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala, with 48 still remaining at the Sochi finale. Juri Vips and Marcus Armstrong, who both finished outside the points in both rounds this weekend, are no longer in contention for the title.

Tsunoda’s sprint race win and third place in the feature race move him up to eighth in the championship.

F3 Monza: Title is Shwartzman’s to lose

The penultimate round of the 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship takes place this weekend at Monza.

After a double podium at the last round in Belgium, championship leader Robert Shwartzman has the opportunity to wrap up the title in Italy this weekend.

There are currently seven drivers who can still mathematically deny Shwartzman the title: Jehan Daruvala, Juri Vips, Marcus Armstrong, Christian Lundgaard, Pedro Piquet, Leo Pulcini and Max Fewtrell. But such is Shwartzman’s lead that if the Ferrari junior can outscore his rivals by 26 points, the championship will be his with one round to spare.

Shwartzman’s closest challenger is his fellow Prema teammate and Ferrari junior Daruvala, who is on 129 points to Shwartzman’s 152. But Daruvala doesn’t have the luxury of just looking ahead, as Vips and Armstrong are within 10 points of him and Lundgaard is only a strong result away from joining them.

Jehan Daruvala, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

With the season nearing its finale, close racing is expected throughout the field as drivers try to use what few opportunities are left to impress ahead of 2020.

Bent Viscaal, Felipe Drugovich, Simo Laaksonen, Teppei Natori and Fabio Scherer have all scored just one points finish each this season, and they will be fighting desperately at Monza to get more points on the board while they can.

Scherer’s fellow Sauber Junior Team drivers Lirim Zendelli and Raoul Hyman will also be on the hunt for any chance to end their season on a high and justify their links to the F1 team for another year. Zendelli, the runaway 2018 German F4 champion, has only six points to his name and hasn’t scored since Austria, while Hyman has no points and a best result of 13th.

And in a similar situation is Hitech driver and Renault junior Ye Yifei, who has come close to the points on several occasions but remains 24th in the championship.

Lirim Zendeli, Sauber Junior Team by Charouz (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Fernando Alonso: “Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package”

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said that despite having fond memories of the Monza circuit, he is not holding out hope for a good result at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, with the track unlikely to play to his car’s strengths.

“Monza is a very special circuit for me and I have a lot of happy memories there,” he said. “It has a different feeling to many tracks – maybe because of the heritage or the fans, I’m not sure – but the emotions you feel when the fans invade the track after the race is like nowhere else in the world – there’s so much passion there.

“For us we know this weekend will be difficult, like in Spa. Better tracks are coming for us, that’s for sure, but Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package. We just have to work as hard as possible and see what we can get out of it.”

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, on the grid.
Photo: Glenn Dunbar/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _31I8707

Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix came to a rather jarring halt for Alonso before he’d even reached the first corner. P17 was his result in qualifying – the worst Saturday for McLaren so far this year after team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne qualified P20 – but the Spaniard was bumped up a few places on the grid thanks to engine penalties given to those around him.

Unfortunately, that put him right in the thick of things when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point going into La Source on lap one and triggered a series of events that ended in Alonso being launched over the top of Charles Leclerc in an incident reminiscent of the crash at the start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.

“After the accident in Spa last Sunday,” Alonso added, “I know the team has been working very hard to make sure we have enough parts for this back-to-back race. I’m very grateful for their efforts and I’ll still be giving it maximum attack even if it will be a challenging weekend.”

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Friday 24 August 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST3380

 

Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren. Ref: Digital Image _1ST2801

F2 Monza: Home heroes shine, as misfortune puts championship battle on hold

Formula 2’s visit to Italy threw up more than a few surprises over the course of the weekend, with a frenetic set of races that saw us leave Monza with the gap between first and second in the championship somehow still at fifty-nine points.

Charles Leclerc’s on track pole position streak finally came to an end when ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita posted the fastest time in a disrupted session on Friday afternoon, while the championship leader sat all the way down in seventh place. It was a mighty recovery for the Japanese driver, who crashed out of the last race in Spa in spectacular style. It also meant that it was something of a shaken up grid that started Saturday’s feature race, with none of the championship front runners even on the front row.

On Saturday it wasn’t even a simple case of the drivers turning up and racing. Thanks to the torrential downpour that led to the cancellation of the GP3 race and the long delay in Formula 1 qualifying, the Formula 2 feature race started around two hours late. The wet conditions also led to the field circulating behind the safety car for six laps, with an extra formation lap added when Santino Ferrucci stalled just as the race was finally about to get underway.

As expected, given the conditions, it was a messy start with contact between the leading cars at the first corner, but Racing Engineering’s Nyck de Vries managed to take the lead from Matsushita. After his disappointing qualifying, Leclerc improved almost immediately to third and into the podium places, which much of the field scrapping behind him as the cars battled through the wet tarmac, a fight saw ART’s Alexander Albon spin and end up at the back of the field.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Poor visibility from the fountains of spray being kicked up by the cars didn’t stop Leclerc taking second from Matsushita around the final corner of the track. But it was his fellow championship contender, Oliver Rowland, who made up the most amount of places in the opening laps, improving to fifth from thirteenth on the grid by the end of lap 3.

Quickly, Leclerc was gaining on de Vries, circulating comfortably quicker than the McLaren junior as all the drivers learnt how to navigate the difficult conditions. Rowland looked imperiously quick as he moved off the racing line to overtake the experienced Roberto Merhi, moving past Matsuhita barely a lap later. This was a tactic many of the other drivers began to emulate in a bid to find more grip and speed.

De Vries managed to keep a cool head under the pressure being mounted on him by Leclerc, showing that his new stint at Racing Engineering is a far more better fit for him. The majority of the top ten waited until a few laps from the end to pit, with Leclerc making his stop on lap 18 of 23, with de Vries and Rowland coming in a lap later and both of them managing to maintain position.

But the race was by no means decided then, Leclerc wasn’t giving up the chase and disaster struck Rowland on lap 19 when one of his tyres came loose, ending what would have been a truly storming race for the British driver. His abandoned DAMS brought out the safety car with just a handful of laps remaining.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Racing resumed on lap 21 with a lightning fast restart from the leader de Vries and Leclerc, who pulled away from the now third placed Luca Ghiotto. A mistake by Leclerc at the first corner forced him to cut the chicane and subsequently give the position he gained, which opened the door for Ghiotto who flew into the lead of his home race with only a lap and a half to go. De Vries fought back aggressively with the two cars running side by side down the start/finish straight as they started the final lap of the race. An error under breaking from Ghiotto saw him cut the first chicane but crucially maintain the lead – a mistake that would come back to haunt him later.

Meanwhile Leclerc tried to make the pass on de Vries, narrowly avoiding a collision with Matsushita, only to be forced wide and off the track by the Dutchman. The clumsy move saw Leclerc finish last and de Vries retire with a puncture from the contact. De Vries would later be penalised for the move but the time penalty made little difference to Leclerc and Prema, who were understandably furious about the incident.

It wasn’t all disappointment for Prema however, as their other driver Antonio Fuoco fought his way through to second, making it an Italian 1-2 at Monza, and securing his third podium of the season. ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita finished in third, making up for his poor start from pole, with Nicholas Latifi coming in an impressive fourth place after starting fourteenth. Alexander Albon, who was running dead last on the first lap was another driver who made a strong recovery to finish fifth, followed by Sean Gelael, Sergio Sette Camara and Louis Deletraz in eighth with his best finish of the season so far. Gustav Malja and Artem Markelov picked up the final points of the race.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

But it wasn’t all over yet. In a déjà vu moment similar to the events of Spa one week ago, late into Saturday night it was announced that race winner and home hero Luca Ghiotto had been handed a five second time penalty, stripping him of his victory, and pushing him off the podium entirely, making his final finishing position fourth place. It meant his countryman and Prema driver, Antonio Fuoco collected his first race win of the season, and whose performance proved that his early bad run was not indicative of his talents. Nobuharu Matsushita, therefore, received second place, whilst Nicholas Latifi moved onto the podium to take third.

Alexander Albon, who had finished fifth on track was also given a ten second time penalty for his collision with Norman Nato, which demoted him from the points and into fourteenth place.

The last lap drama of Saturday’s race saw the grid for the sprint race look a little different than we might expect. Without the treacherous conditions of Saturday, Sean Gelael and Louis Deletraz were able to get flying starts, overtaking the reverse grid pole sitter Gustav Malja. The Indonesian driver managed to fight his way into the lead; unfamiliar territory for the Arden driver who is yet to finish higher than fifth place this season.

The sprint race was all about recovery for Rowland and Leclerc, who started near the back of the field and set about trying to cut their way through the field. But they weren’t the only drivers who had a point to prove. Ghiotto was vocal about how disappointed he was to lose his first race win of the season, and was clearly determined to make amends on Sunday.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Most of the field were bunched together, with the drivers in the podium positions constantly swapping and changing in the first few laps, as Gelael lost his lead to Deletraz and began to slip down the order. Within just seven laps, Ghiotto was back in the podium positions with an uncompromising couple of moves on Gelael and Sette Camara.

Monza is a track renowned for generating massive slipstreams, which, while aiding overtaking, leaves advancing drivers vulnerable to attack from behind. Rapax’s Louis Deletraz learnt this the hard way as he fought to keep the lead from the charging Luca Ghiotto, which he eventually lost on lap 11. Ghiotto was being followed by Sette Camara, but it would be hard to deny the Italian driver the race win which had been taken away from him the day before. The young Brazilian was driving well to prove that his sprint race win in Belgium was not just a case of good fortune, but raw speed and ability.

The close running made a collision seem inevitable, and many of the drivers did pick up damage over the course of the race, including Leclerc, who had worked his way up to ninth but struggled to make it much further with a broken front wing.

Antonio Fuoco was on a mission to secure his first double podium of the season, his speed showing just how confident he is around Monza, especially as he overtook Deletraz with ease for third place.

Luca Ghiotto’s dominant race win was never in doubt this time, and the Italian could feel vindicated that he had driven out of his skin to secure a victory he believed he deserved. It was a mature drive from Sette Camara to take second place, and a strong showing from Fuoco to take third, pleasing the crowd of fans who were cheering on the Ferrari junior driver at Monza. Louis Deletraz’s fourth place was his best finish of the season, and rounded off a much stronger weekend for the Swiss driver, who had floundered a little up until this point. Roberto Merhi, Sean Gelael, Matsushita and Alexander Albon – who made a good recovery from fourteenth on the grid – occupied the final points paying positions, while the championship leaders Leclerc, Rowland and Markelov all finished empty handed.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula 2.

The Italians were undoubtedly the stars of the weekend, and whether it was a case of home turf advantage, both Ghiotto and Fuoco proved that they shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of their teammates. Ghiotto’s performance, including a much needed first race win, has placed him in the picture of the championship fight, as he is now only two points behind his teammate Markelov, and just nine behind Rowland.

The main fight in the driver standings remains unchanged, with Leclerc and Rowland feeling the brunt of bad luck once again and failing to score at all. With his fifty-nine-point lead, if Leclerc can steer clear of trouble in Jerez in a month’s time, then it is possible that he could wrap up the championship in Spain. But the drama and unpredictability of the season so far means that as likely as this might seem, it is far from guaranteed.

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