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

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.

FIA F2: Belgium preview

The three week summer break is over, and this weekend FIA Formula 2 returns for round 9 at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

At the last round in Hungary, Nicholas Latifi struck back at title rival Nyck de Vries with victory in the feature race—his first win since Spain in May. However, with 30 points still the difference between them in De Vries’ favour, Latifi will need another strong result here at Spa if he’s to swing the momentum back towards him for the final four rounds of the season.

Luca Ghiotto dropped back from the title contenders in Hungary, and now sits fourth in the standings behind DAMS’ Sergio Sette Camara. With Jack Aitken only one point behind him, Ghiotto will be looking for a strong return from the summer break to reassert himself at the top.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There will also be plenty of drivers to watch outside of the main title contenders. Carlin’s Nobuharu Matsushita—who won the feature race in Austria and finished on the podium again in Hungary—has said he is still hoping to earn an F1 promotion via his Honda academy links, but he will need to put in the results to get there. The Japanese driver needs to be at least fourth in the standings to earn his superlicence, which means overcoming the 50-point gap to Ghiotto.

Guanyu Zhou comes to Spa as the season’s best rookie in P6 with 107 points. But although he’s enjoyed a successful F2 debut with three podiums and pole position at Silverstone, the UNI-Virtuosi driver still has yet to claim his first win in the series.

Zhou’s closest competition for “best rookie” is fellow Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert. Although Hubert is 30 points adrift of Zhou, he has picked up two sprint race victories for BWT Arden this season and will be hungry for more in the final rounds as he chases a drive with DAMS or ART for next year.

And finally, Mick Schumacher won’t be able to avoid the spotlight this weekend following his first F2 victory in the Hungary sprint race. His fans will be hoping that win proves a breakthrough result after a sobering start to his F2 debut, especially with Spa and Monza being tracks Schumacher knows from his European F3 days.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

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

F2 Preview: Taking to the track at the Temple of Speed

The dust has barely settled on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as the Formula 2 paddocks rocks up to the Temple of Speed – the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. The classic, high speed track with its long straights and tight chicanes always makes for exciting racing, with plenty of opportunities for overtaking around the three-and-a-half-mile circuit. It is also the home race for three of the teams, including front runners Prema Racing, as well as for drivers Antonio Fuoco and Luca Ghiotto.

It was a mixed weekend for Prema in Spa, their pace was exceptional and Fuoco seemed to be making steps forward in scoring his second podium of the season. But the disqualification of Charles Leclerc from the feature race was a blow they will want to recover from quickly, particularly since this is the second case where Leclerc has lost points due to a technical infringement. Given that both of their drivers are members of the Ferrari Driver Academy, they will be eager to impress the Tifosi, as well the heavy Ferrari presence over the race weekend. Baring any errors, there is no reason why the Monegasque cannot dominate in Italy as he has done in the past; having claimed pole at the track in 2016 during his triumphant GP3 campaign.

Photo: Alastair Staley/FIA Formula 2.

But Leclerc and Prema will not be the only team looking to recover from what was ultimately a disappointing weekend in Belgium. Both of the DAMS drivers were hit with trouble that saw them collecting results which are not reflective of their abilities. Neither Oliver Rowland nor Nicholas Latifi have performed exceptionally well at the track in the past, but it is vital for the Brit’s championship campaign that he perform well. A bad weekend could see Leclerc’s lead extend into the uncatchable territory.

Just a single point separates DAMS from Russian Time at the top of the team standings, after the latter scored three podiums in Spa, compared to the French team’s measly haul of just one point. Last year Russian Time had a reasonable outing at Monza, though it was not their current driver Artem Markelov who was bringing home the points and podiums. Ghiotto will be looking to perform better in front of his Italian fans, especially now he is driving for a more competitive team. His first race win of 2017 has evaded him as of yet, and a home crowd advantage might just be what he needs to get him there.

Like their fellow GP3 graduate, Antonio Fuoco, both Nyck de Vries, now of Racing Engineering, and ART’s Alexander Albon both stood on the iconic Monza podium in 2016, and will be surely looking to replicate those results this year. In Spa de Vries showed all the signs that his switch of team has not harmed his performance as he secured a second and a fifth place finish. But it is early days in his new partnership with the Spanish team and an adjustment period should be expected, however he has set the bar very high for their expectations.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

Spa also seemed to indicate that Racing Engineering can recover their reputation as a top junior formula team, given their subpar performances in the early part of the season. Traditionally, the team has had strong line-ups which have always bolstered its standing in the team championship – running the likes of Lucas di Grassi and Alexander Rossi in previous GP2 seasons – so the addition of McLaren junior and F2 race winner Nyck de Vries can only be an asset for the team. Monza is their chance to prove that they can work their way up the standings and finish their season strongly.

Albon, meanwhile, has suffered a dip in form since his early points scoring run this season, something which is perhaps a consequence of the injury he picked up prior to the Baku round. Therefore, Monza may be a track he finds troublesome, if the shoulder injury is still an issue, given its heavy braking zones and its notoriously bumpy surface, but the British-Thai driver could do with a string of good results to reinvigorate his season.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

The ART driver is not alone in this regard. Coming off the back of his first win, in not just Formula 2, but in any significant level of single seater racer, MP Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Camara has a huge task to follow up that achievement. Whilst it is somewhat unlikely that he will repeat his Belgian victory, given how unexpected it was, and the absence of front running drivers, it does give the youngest driver on the grid something to build upon. For the Brazilian who was dropped by Red Bull’s junior programme there is a point to prove as well, but memories in motorsport are very short indeed, and his triumph in Spa will be quickly forgotten if he cannot perform well at Monza.

There is no reason to suggest that if Charles Leclerc has a trouble free weekend then he will manage to extend his lead at the top of the standings. But, of course, that is easy said than done, and the Ferrari junior driver has suffered from his fair share of bad luck so far this season. Therefore, it is in the hands of his competitors to stop his championship campaign from becoming a runaway train.

F2 Spa Preview: is time running out for Leclerc’s challengers?

When Formula 2 returns after the summer break, it enters its final quarter, where the 2017 title will be decided once and for all. It will take a comeback of epic proportions from Oliver Rowland or Artem Markelov to catch Charles Leclerc, but it is far from impossible. The break presents a perfect opportunity to reinvigorate their championship campaigns, and neither is the kind of driver to go down without a fight.

The eighth round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship takes place at the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite of many of the drivers thanks to its incredibly fast, twisting layout. It also marks the first weekend of the second double header of races in F2 this season, with the ninth round at Monza coming just a week later. The pressure is on to deliver, with time fast running out.

The Formula 2 grid lining up in Belgium will look a little different to the one viewers have grown accustomed to. Rookies Louis Deletraz and Nyck de Vries are swapping seats from round eight onwards, with the Swiss driver making the switch to Rapax and the Dutchman joining Racing Enigeering. Though the mechanics behind such a move are unknown to us, it is surprising, considering Racing Engineering’s poor form this year, and de Vries’ relative success with Rapax. Deletraz will not partner Rapax regular, Sergio Canamasas in Spa, but rather ex-Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi, who will be filling in for his fellow Spainaird, who is missing the round due to personal issues.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

As ever, all eyes will be on Charles Leclerc, who will hope to do a repeat of his result at the track in GP3 last year, when he successfully converted pole position into a feature race win. And with rumours growing that he is poised to take one of the Sauber seats in Formula 1 next year, the expectations will be higher than ever that he continues the dominant form that he has been showing all year. After the stripping of his pole in Budapest, he will be looking to get his record back on track, and his team, Prema, will be looking for him to do so as well to help them close the gap to DAMS in the team standings.

His teammate, Antonio Fuoco will also be hoping to draw on his experience from GP3 to help him improve upon his, at best, shaky form of 2017. He, like  Nyck de Vries, qualified well in 2016, and scored one podium over the weekend, picking up a strong haul of points. But for their fellow GP3 graduate, ART’s Alexander Albon, a repeat of last year is far from what he needs, after a poor qualifying saw him pick up only two points over the whole weekend. The Thai driver has looked reliable throughout his rookie season, but has thus far fallen just short of doing something remarkable to turn heads in his direction, Spa represents the latest in a dwindling number of opportunities for him to pull that off.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Albon’s teammate, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita had an ultimately forgettable outing in Belgium last year. However, Matsushita is having one of his better seasons, taking the most recent race win in the sprint race in Hungary. He is a driver, while too far down the standings to actually feature in the title battle, could prove to play a part in the championship outcome if it all comes together for him.

Pertamina Arden’s Norman Nato is another example of a driver who could spoil the fun for the championship leaders. While Arden have struggled at times this year, Nato undoubtedly possesses the ability to win races and score podiums, it is just a matter of have a consistent weekend. That is also the problem for his teammate Sean Gelael, who sits in seventeenth in the driver standings, compared to Nato’s seventh. His season has been plagued with bad luck, but he has also failed to take advantage of fortune when it has come his way. In Spa he will most likely be a driver who occupies the lower points paying positions, rather than a contender for pole or a win.

Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja was one of six drivers who occupied the GP2 podium in Belgium last year, taking second in the sprint race. But, the Spanish team is not at the level they were last year, and while the Swedish driver has scored a podium already this season, Racing Engineering need to conquer their set up demons if Malja, or newcomer Nyck de Vries are to deliver this weekend. It is a similar story for teams such as Campos Racing and MP Motorsport. All three teams tend to run at the back of the field, and though some of their drivers, such as Malja, but also Jordan King (MP Motorsport), have the ability to score points, they are not going to be running with the likes of DAMS, Prema or Russian Time.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Trident, who currently take the record for fielding the most drivers this season, seem to have finalised their line-up for the remainder of 2017, with Santino Ferucci graduating from GP3. The Haas development driver scored points in his debut in Hungary, but in Spa he has a chance to prove whether or not this was simply a case of beginner’s luck, or proving that he has what it takes to step up. Consistency in their line-up will likely help the entire team, and maybe help lift them from last in the team standings.

As they are most weekends, DAMS and Russian Time will be the teams looking to cause trouble for Leclerc. But for Russian Time to get back on terms with their nearest rivals, they need Artem Markelov to recover well from his poor weekend in Hungary – marred by his crash in the feature race. His teammate Luca Ghiotto, meanwhile, needs an upturn in his qualifying performance to deliver the results his race pace warrants. He remains the only driver in the top five not to score a race win in 2017.

Neither team seem quite able to match his and Prema’s one lap pace in qualifying, though DAMS has been steadily improving in this aspect all season, so it would be unfair to count them out just yet. While it is Latifi who is hitting his best form this season, it is his teammate Rowland who needs to deliver in Spa if he wants to stay in the hunt. The Brit cannot afford to let Leclerc extend his lead much further, or he will quickly become impossible to catch and the championship will be over before Formula 2 ever reaches Abu Dhabi.