F2 Sakhir: Zhou storms to victory in frantic feature race

Guanyu Zhou took the final win of Formula 2’s Sakhir weekend, in a feature race dominated by changing tyre performance and a dramatic late collision for title hopeful Oscar Piastri.

Zhou started the race from pole, but it was anything but an easy drive from the front for the Alpine junior. He was slow away off the line and lost the lead to Christian Lundgaard at Turn 1, then dropped to third behind teammate Felipe Drugovich at Turn 4.

After a brief safety car in the early laps when Roy Nissany was spun out by Robert Shwartzman, Zhou then found himself under pressure from Piastri. The Prema driver, who had started on softs as opposed to Zhou’s hard tyres, picked off Zhou for third on lap 4 and set off after Drugovich and Lundgaard, while Zhou lost another position to Marcus Armstrong on lap 8.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

By lap 12 Piastri had passed Drugovich and closed within half a second of Lundgaard, before overtaking the ART for the lead at the start of the following lap. By then the pit window was open and Lundgaard become the first to stop for hards at the end of lap 13, followed by Drugovich on lap 14 and Piastri himself on lap 16. Meanwhile, Zhou made his stop for soft tyres on the alternate strategy on lap 15, and came out of the pits just behind Drugovich.

Another safety car was deployed in the middle of the pit phase when Gianluca Petecof’s cockpit fire extinguisher went off and forced him to retire. The timing of this second safety car benefited Armstrong and Richard Verschoor, who had been shuffled to the head of the field and were able to stop while the pack was slowed down. Armstrong came out of the pits still in the lead, while Verschoor emerged in third between Piastri and Lundgaard.

At the restart on lap 19 however Armstrong immediately fell back, as Piastri and Verschoor both passed him for first and second respectively. Lundgaard also struggled for pace and lost fourth to Drugovich at Turn 4, then fifth to Zhou at Turn 10. Drugovich and Zhou then toppled Armstrong from third on lap 20, before Zhou overtook his teammate for the podium position a lap later.

Felipe Drugovich, UNI-Virtuosi (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

As Zhou returned to the podium positions, Verschoor took the lead from Piastri on lap 20 and set about building a two-second gap as his softs had more initial pace than Piastri’s hards. That pace deficit allowed Zhou — as well as Dan Ticktum and Liam Lawson, who were also charging through on softs — to close up to Piastri and challenge him for second.

Zhou took the position from Piastri on lap 23 and started reeling in Verschoor, who was struggling as his softs then started losing grip. But despite being on the same compound, Zhou was able to keep his tyres in better condition than the MP Motorsport ahead and he took the lead of the race at Turn 4 on lap 28.

As Zhou then leaped clear in the lead, Ticktum started challenging Piastri for third as the Prema couldn’t find pace on the hard tyres. After being rebuffed at the inside of Turn 1 and the outside of Turn 4 on lap 29, Ticktum was much closer at the start of lap 30. He pulled to the inside and got momentarily ahead, before the two cars made contact and Piastri was spun into a stall and out of the race.

Ticktum continued on in third, and after a brief virtual safety car to recover Piastri he improved to second with a pass on Verschoor. Lawson also overtook Verschoor on the final lap to take his second podium finish of the weekend.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA Formula 2)

Verschoor was able to hold onto fourth at the flag ahead of Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala. Shwartzman recovered from a drive-through penalty for hitting Nissany at the start to take seventh and the fastest lap, while Theo Pourchaire, Drugovich and Matteo Nannini rounded out the final points positions.

Zhou now leaves Bahrain in the lead of the championship by 11 points from Liam Lawson, and Piastri drops to fourth behind Daruvala. Carlin now lead the teams’ standings on 47 points, ahead of UNI-Virtuosi (43) and Prema (37).

Formula 2 returns on 20–23 May in support of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F1 testing: Bottas fastest on day 2 despite more Mercedes problems

Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.

Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.

Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.

Courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.

Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.

Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.

Courtesy of Alpine Racing Media

Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).

However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.

Day 2 classification:

Pos. Driver Team Time Laps
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.289 58
2 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +0.124 87
3 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +0.171 70
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +0.297 52
5 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +0.471 124
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.597 73
7 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1.383 132
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +1.393 117
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1.926 52
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +2.050 127
11 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +2.395 57
12 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2.594 88
13 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +2.783 56
14 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2.812 76
15 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +3.110 58
16 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +8.560 10

F2 Bahrain: Shwartzman wins sprint race as Ilott crashes out of points

Robert Shwartzman took his fourth win of the season and first since Spa in the Bahrain sprint race, while Callum Ilott’s championship hopes took a big hit after a collision with Jehan Daruvala.

Shwartzman got a clean launch from reverse grid pole to hold the lead from Yuki Tsunoda, who jumped Marcus Armstrong for second off the line. Nikita Mazepin was slow away, allowing Daruvala and Mick Schumacher to take fourth and fifth respectively.

Tsunoda had strong pace to pressure Shwartzman through the opening sequence of corners, but before the end of the lap the Carlin driver picked up a right rear puncture and was forced to pit.

Without Tsunoda to defend from, Shwartzman was able to start putting in fastest laps and pull out a gap over Armstrong. Further back, Mazepin recovered from his slow start by taking fourth from Schumacher on lap 4, then demoting Daruvala off the podium a lap later.

Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images

Shwartzman had a gap of almost three seconds over Armstrong at the start of lap 6. But this was wiped out when Theo Pourchaire stopped on track after his fire extinguisher went off in the cockpit, and the safety car was deployed.

The race restarted on lap 7, with Mazepin putting immediate pressure on Armstrong and Schumacher battling to hold fifth over title rival Ilott.

Schumacher had a big lockup going into Turn 10 and looked to be heading off the track. Ilott took advantage of the error by diving to the inside of his rival, but ended up locking his own tyres and spearing into Daruvala ahead.

Daruvala retired on the spot while Ilott tumbled out of the points with damage to his front wing and nose. Schumacher managed to get away without any contact, although he lost position to Pedro Piquet, who navigated the incident to emerge in fourth before the virtual safety car was called.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 9 Armstrong reacted well to put pressure on Shwartzman, but was unable to make a move for the lead stick. Armstrong ended up losing second instead to Mazepin after locking up at T1, then was passed for third by Piquet on lap 12.

But although Mazepin had much more pace than Piquet and Armstrong behind him, he didn’t have enough to make any impact on Shwartzman’s lead. Having been able to conserve his tyres out front while Mazepin hurt his fighting through the field, Shwartzman continued to pull away over the second half of the race and took the chequered flag with five seconds in hand over Mazepin.

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

Behind the podium battles Schumacher was running in fifth but didn’t have the tyre life to take any more advantage of Ilott dropping out of the points. On lap 15 he was dropped to sixth by Guanyu Zhou, then immediately came under fire from Christian Lundgaard.

Schumacher got some brief respite on lap 17 when an unsuccessful move from Lundgaard at Turn 4 left the Dane instead defending from Felipe Drugovich in eighth. But shortly after the trio were caught by Louis Deletraz, who had taken the chance to pit under the earlier safety car and had the advantage of much fresher tyres.

Over the next five laps, Deletraz picked off Drugovich, Lundgaard, Schumacher, Zhou and Armstrong to run fourth behind his Charouz teammate Piquet. This then became third on lap 22, when Piquet pulled to the side of the road with a mechanical problem.

Armstrong managed to hold on to fourth ahead of Zhou, while Lundgaard pipped Schumacher for sixth on the final lap and Drugovich took the final point in eighth.

Shwartzman’s win means the Russian moves to fourth in the championship and is still mathematically in contention for the title. With Ilott failing to score, Schumacher now has a 14-point lead over his nearest rival going into the final round next week.

Full race result:

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

 

How to deal with an F1 heartbreak, Leclerc style

Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain hotel room ought to have been marked a no-go zone. It’s a testament to the Monegasque, humble and self-examining in his conduct, that it would be the first place he gives himself chance to vent. He navigated each interview with professionalism betraying his years, out of the car, onto the podium and back down the steps on his way to an apologetic Scuderia.

Never has it been as easy to forget, that this is a day on which a driver achieved their first podium in Formula 1, for the most historic racing team of all time. This should have been cause for celebration. Instead, Leclerc would be forgiven for wanting to slump in the corner of said room and attempt to retcon his most recent memory with force.

Having taken his first pole position, Leclerc was adamant both to his team and the breathtaken media that the job wasn’t over – “I am trying to stay as cool as possible, because there are no points for pole position”. He knew Sunday, his true date with destiny, awaited him. With a red tuxedo immaculate and a metaphorical tie millimetre-aligned, Leclerc spent 47 laps wooing to the utmost only to be stood up at the table in the night’s dying moments.

Ferrari Media

The term ‘bitter blow’ doesn’t do it justice. Leclerc was faultless, a messy first lap aside, on a day where the infectious seeds of inconsistency were sprouting up all across the grid. Mercedes had collapsed pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel relapsed into troubles of the recent past. Pierre Gasly was again cast in the sea of the midfield, and Red Bull were in no position to put up a fight. The only one who had both the machine, and the disposition to utilise it, was him.

But, as we know in F1, the Gods can strike at any time. Again, Leclerc was humble in his approach to the media after the race – “It happens, it’s part of motorsport”. The fabric of not only his successes, but his career and person, is a stoicism that affords clarity, and a rigid confidence in the ripples of outside influence evening themselves out over seasons and careers.

To make it big in racing, all drivers have to learn this the hard way. The biggest surprise is how Leclerc exudes this sense he was born with it. His ability to think long-term is an offshoot of his acceptance that outside variables can’t be changed, and as we’ve seen many a time through his interviews he likes to instead look inwards at every opportunity, and obsessively hold himself to account wherever he can. It’s beyond admirable.

Ferrari Media

It’s a sign of being in control, even when every single thing outside of your mind and body wants to break you down. That losing yourself is improbable, bordering on impossible, because there’s a foundation of introspection that can’t be shaken. Leclerc’s painfully emotional F2 win in Baku is proof of this; his father had passed away mere days ago, the pressure of his ‘next big thing’ tag was weighing down on him, and the race was as chaotic as they come. His focus that day was as though those issues were denied access into the confines of his cockpit.

He’d go on to suffer a troublesome first three races with Sauber, visibly struggling to tame an unpredictable car. Instead of looking to deflect, or simply carry on as normal, Leclerc opted instead to ask himself difficult questions, more so than with his team. He certainly helped Sauber develop the C37 into a midfield mainstay, but the hardest treatment was placed by himself, on himself. No one was willing to do it with a rookie who hadn’t even been driving poorly, but let it be known Leclerc holds himself to world-class standards.

And he does this because each and every time, it’s allowed him to blossom. Even when most other drivers want an arm around the shoulder from their team, and an easy time of it in the press pen, Leclerc doesn’t allow himself the satisfaction of such comforts until he’s improved in a way no one would even have noticed but himself. The mental solidity that takes, when locked in the furnace of Formula One, is unfathomable.

So if anyone can handle the pain of having the most glorious win of any driver’s career – a maiden victory with Scuderia Ferrari – kissed away into the wind, it is Leclerc. As much as we’d all understand if he locked himself away with a whisky bottle until the pain numbed, it is not, never has been and never will be his way of dealing with issues. Leclerc always bounces back, and every ounce of adversity only serves to make him stronger.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari media]

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘very, very lucky’ at Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes were ‘very, very lucky’ to claim a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc’s power unit issue putting a stop to what was otherwise a very dominant performance by the Monegasque.

Hamilton had started the race in P3 but fought his way past Sebastian Vettel on lap 38 to claim P2. Then, with under fifteen laps to go, the other Ferrari of  Leclerc developed a power issue that cost him roughly 30mph in speed on the straights; in just two laps Hamilton had wiped out Leclerc’s nine-second lead and passed him with ease to take the 74th Grand Prix victory of his career.

“It was very tricky out there today,” Hamilton said, “and I had to give it everything I had. We were very, very lucky to get this 1-2, Ferrari outperformed us all weekend.

“Ultimately you want to have a real fight and want to pass someone because you’re quicker, so it feels a bit weird and you can’t quite believe your luck in these scenarios.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton praised Leclerc for his performance nonetheless and offered some words of consolation to him in the post-race cool down room. He is under no illusion about Mercedes’ pace relative to Ferrari, and is bracing himself for some tough races to come.

“I have been in similar situations [to Leclerc] and I know how it feels, but Charles did a great job all weekend long and has a beautiful, bright future ahead of him,” he added.

“We’ve only had two races; one where we were rapid and far ahead, one where Ferrari had the upper hand. It’s hard to say how the next races are going to pan out, but I anticipate that it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.

“We need to keep working hard to see where we went wrong this weekend and to see where we can improve the car. But as we saw today, reliability also plays an important role, so we need to keep working on all areas.

“We’ll take the points we got today and move forward to China.”

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Bahrain Grand Prix: Ferrari reliability problem ‘unacceptable’

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto has labelled the reliability issue that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix as ‘unacceptable’ and something that the team are investigating to prevent from happening again.

Leclerc had dominated the Bahrain race weekend, finishing top of the timing sheets in FP1 and FP3 and claiming his first ever pole position in F1 on Saturday by almost three tenths.

He slipped back to third at the start but recovered to retake the lead by lap five and dominated thereafter. That was, until he developed a power unit problem with just fifteen laps to go, one which cost him several seconds per lap. The two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas caught and passed him, but Leclerc was saved from losing any more positions by the safety car brought out to recover both Renaults. He came home third, his first podium in F1 but one tinged with disappointment.

Speaking of the power unit issue, Mattia Binotto said, “It was a shame for Charles. He was in the lead for much of the race and showed that he was particularly comfortable here in Bahrain, also setting the race fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

“He deserved to win and it was only the reliability problem, which we must now investigate, which prevented him from doing so. That is something unacceptable from us and it shows how important it is to get every last detail right in order to win.”

Leclerc added, “It’s part of motorsport, we know that. Sometimes it’s not your day to win and today wasn’t ours. In the final part of the race we had an issue with the power unit and I had to slow down.

“It’s a shame because the race seemed to me to be under control. The team is disappointed and I am disappointed but there are a lot of positives to take home from this weekend.

“These things happen in motorsport: we took the best out of it anyway. It’s my first podium even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I wanted. It’s life, it happens, we’ll come back stronger”.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]