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 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 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: Ghiotto wins crash-disrupted sprint race

UNI-Virtuosi’s Luca Ghiotto took victory in the second race of the Sochi F2 weekend, after a lengthy red flag period triggered by a worrying opening lap crash.

ART’s Nikita Mazepin started on reverse grid pole but a slow getaway left him vulnerable to Jack Aitken on the run down to Turn 2. Mazepin’s defence of the apex forced both drivers off the circuit, where they then collided attempting to rejoin the track as Mazepin went to the wrong side of the re-entry bollards and clipped Aitken on the inside.

The contact sent Mazepin back across the track and into the path of Nobuharu Matsushita, who started third on the grid, and both cars speared heavily into the barriers at Turn 3.

The race was immediately red-flagged while both drivers were extracted from their cars and taken to the medical centre. Fortunately, both Mazepin and Matsushita were reported to have no serious injuries.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

After a 45 minute delay to assist the drivers and complete barrier repairs, the race was restarted behind the safety car and with the distance shortened from 21 to 15 laps. The opening lap crash left Ghiotto, who started fifth on the grid, in the lead ahead of Callum Ilott and the newly-crowned F2 champion Nyck de Vries.

The safety car pulled in at the end of the first restart lap and Ghiotto bolted to build an early lead, while behind him De Vries passed Ilott for second at Turn 2. Sergio Sette Camara did the same to his DAMS teammate Nicholas Latifi for fourth place, but missed his braking point and completed the move off the circuit, and was given a five-second time penalty for doing so.

Despite holding the lead at the restart, Ghiotto struggled to pull too far ahead of De Vries. But although De Vries continually closed on the Italian through the two DRS zones, he was losing too much grip in the dirty air behind Ghiotto through the corners to be able to make an overtake.

The same was true for Ilott in third, who had the DRS to draw up to De Vries but kept dropping back through the flat Turn 3 and the final sequence of tight corners. In the end, neither De Vries or Ilott were able to make an effective move and finished second and third respectively behind Ghiotto.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Latifi took fourth place as well as the two points for fastest lap, which means he keeps a 10-point lead over Ghiotto for second place in the championship. Sette Camara finished ahead of Latifi on the road but his five-second penalty dropped him down to sixth between Guanyu Zhou and Sean Gelael.

Giuliano Alesi took the final point in eighth, after seeing off a challenge for the position from Mick Schumacher. On lap 5 Schumacher used DRS to close up to Alesi down the back straight and set up a move on the inside of Turn 14, but was too far back to complete it. He continued to fight it on the outside of Turn 15 and into Turn 16, but ended up banging wheels with Alesi and losing out not only to the Trident but MP Motorsport’s Jordan King as well.

Schumacher also picked up damage from the contact and pulled into the pits a few laps later to retire, meaning he leaves Sochi with no points after his terminal engine problem in yesterday’s feature race.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

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.

F2 Russia preview: title in De Vries’ hands

The 2019 Formula 2 Championship could be decided at this weekend’s penultimate round in Sochi, Russia, as points leader Nyck de Vries has his first chance to wrap up the title.

De Vries has been the runaway title leader this year, having amassed three wins, seven further podiums and four pole positions, and finishing in the points in every race bar one. This has put the ART driver on 225 points going into the penultimate round at the Sochi Autodrom, 59 clear of nearest rival Nicholas Latifi.

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers that can take the title away from De Vries: Latifi, Luca Ghiotto, Jack Aitken and Sergio Sette Camara. But such is the gulf between De Vries and his challengers, that if those four fail to score even in the feature race, De Vries can wrap up the title by finishing anywhere in the top five—or as low as seventh, if he also secures the four points for pole position.

But while it’s unlikely that all four of De Vries’ rivals will finish outside the top ten in Saturday’s feature race, they can’t afford to squander any opportunities this weekend as at least one of them needs to outscore De Vries by 12 points or more to take the fight down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

With the top five focusing on the championship this weekend, those drivers sitting just behind them in the standings will be hoping that preoccupation will give them a chance to steal some major results before the end of the season.

Nobuharu Matsushita currently sits sixth in the championship, out of title contention on 116 points. The Honda junior driver said earlier in the year that his goal was to finish in the top four in the standings, to earn him the necessary superlicence points to graduate to F1 with Toro Rosso.

But although he has two feature race wins to his name this year, Matsushita is still 37 points adrift of fourth-placed Aitken—perfectly achievable with 96 points still up for grabs, but a tall order given Aitken’s form this year.

And as if Matsushita’s goal of fourth place wasn’t already far enough away, he may yet drop another place in the standings this weekend with Renault junior driver Guanyu Zhou only one point behind him in eighth.

Zhou, who recently tested Renault’s 2017-spec F1 car, has been F2’s standout rookie this year, accumulating four third-place finishes and a pole position at Silverstone. However his maiden win at this level still eludes him, and he will be hungrier than ever to claim it this weekend and tee himself up as a 2020 title contender.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

BWT Arden and the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz will once again field full entries this weekend, after both entered just one car each at Monza following the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert and injury of Juan Manuel Correa at Spa last month.

GP2 and F2 veteran Artem Markelov has been brought in to take over Arden’s second car alongside Tatiana Calderon. He will carry the number 22, as Hubert’s number 19 has been officially retired for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Sauber have signed Matevos Isaakyan to fill Correa’s place for the final two rounds. The 21-year-old drove for SMP in the World Endurance Championship last year, and finished runner-up in the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 series. Together with Markelov and ART’s Nikita Mazepin, Isaakyan will make it three Russians on the grid for their home event.

Last week, Correa’s family issued an update on his condition that said he had been removed from his induced coma and no longer needed an ECMO machine to assist his breathing. However, he remains in a serious condition in intensive care and is awaiting major surgery to his right leg, which is being delayed until his lungs are capable of withstanding the operation.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship