F2 Jeddah preview: experience leads the way into Round 2

After an action-packed season opener in Bahrain last week, Formula 2 is back again this weekend for Round 2 of the championship at Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

After last weekend’s races it’s experience that leads the way heading to Jeddah. Richard Verschoor and Theo Pourchaire took the two victories in Bahrain, and the remaining podium places were claimed by Jehan Daruvala, Liam Lawson and Juri Vips. In the championship picture it’s Pourchaire who leads the standings ahead of Lawson and Vips, with Ralph Boschung in fourth place.

The only “true” rookie to score in Bahrain was Ayumu Iwasa, who finished eighth in the sprint race despite starting from the very back of the field after an error in qualifying. However Logan Sargeant, Jake Hughes and Jack Doohan – who all made a handful of F2 starts at the end of last year – managed to score as well, with Doohan even taking pole for the feature race.

Ayumu Iwasa, DAMS (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

With a Formula 2 weekend now under their belts and no long break in between, those rookies will be coming to Jeddah looking to take the fight to the more experienced drivers on the grid. For drivers like Doohan and Iwasa that will mean bringing the same rapid speed shown in Bahrain but without the errors and incidents that cost them larger points hauls, while Sargeant’s job will be to unlock the same speed in his Carlin found by teammate Lawson.

The fight at the front is wide open

Although Bahrain was just one round in a long season, the early signs from the weekend are that we can expect plenty of close fights for victory from right across the field.

Pourchaire will come to Jeddah as an obvious favourite for pole and victory, given his position as championship leader. But it’s worth noting the ART driver only leads the standings by a single point, while Lawson’s double Sakhir podium is an impressive marker to lay down at the start of a season.

Felipe Drugovich was another driver who showed pace to watch for last weekend. Seemingly rejuvenated now he’s back at MP Motorsport, the Brazilian looked like he was going to take pole position until Doohan pipped him to it. His new teammate Clement Novalak was also very fast in practice last week, even if that wasn’t converted to points, so expect to see MP Motorsport near the front again in Jeddah.

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport (Clive Mason, Getty Images / FIA F2)

And if Bahrain pace is anything to go by, keep an eye out for Boschung at Campos this weekend. The Swiss driver took a pair of fourth places in Sakhir after fighting with the frontrunners, but more than that he’s also returning to the site of one of his two podium finishes from last year. Boschung has always run well at street circuits and seems to be bedded in with Campos enough to bring out another great result this year.

Hauger needs a result after a tough first round

One driver who will be hoping to be in the fight at the front this weekend is Prema’s Dennis Hauger. After being tipped as a championship favourite for this year, Hauger opened the season just outside the points in Bahrain’s sprint race, then retired in the pits after being released with only three tyres attached in the feature race.

There’s nothing Hauger can do to avoid a repeat of that pitstop incident. But as for not missing out on points in the race, the key right now will be improving his qualifying. Hauger qualified in 15th in Bahrain and nearly a full second off of Doohan’s pole time, which meant he couldn’t benefit from the sprint race’s reversed top 8 and had to fight hard just to get into contention.

Getting on top of that this weekend will be difficult, as the Jeddah street circuit is completely new to Hauger but known from last year to key rivals like Pourchaire, Lawson and Vips. But Hauger also took nearly half of the available pole positions in his Formula 3 campaign last year, so if he can get to grips with the track early on there’s no reason he can’t be fighting at the front on Friday’s qualifying session.

Dennis Hauger, Prema (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Extreme E Season 2: All You Need to Know

With Extreme E’s second season kicking off in NEOM, Saudi Arabia this weekend, here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming season.

Picture courtesy of Extreme.E

A New Challenger:

Car and racing giant McLaren has entered Extreme E for the championship’s second season. The Woking based team have become just the second car manufacturer to participate in the series, after ABT Cupra joined in Season 1.

Speaking at the car launch, sporting director Mark Grain said: “This is about as different as it gets from other racing series, and it is going to be a huge learning experience in terms of the different terrains in which we race as well as the environmental challenges these parts of the world face.”

Driver Musical Chairs:

Over the off-season the teams have been busy signing up the drivers they believe can deliver them the title this coming season.

One of the most notable swaps was at reigning champions Rosberg X Racing (RXR). The German team decided they did not want to keep their winning team and asked swede Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky to race for them this time around. Molly Taylor, who was previously at RXR, has done a direct swap and joined Ahlin-Kottulinsky’s former team JBXE.

Previous Xite-Energy driver Christine GZ has replaced the out-going Jamie Chadwick at Veloce Racing, with GZ’s seat at Xite Energy being filled by new-comer Klara Andersson. Unfortunately, Andersson will have to wait for her debut after testing positive for Covid-19. Championship driver Tamara Molinaro will take her place for the Desert X-Prix this weekend.

Joining GZ at Veloce will be Lance Woolridge. The South-African was Veloce’s reserve driver for much of last season but has been promoted after the team parted ways with Stephane Sarrazin.

ABT Cupra’s Mattias Ekstrom has also left the series, with four time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah partnering Jutta Kleinschmidt instead.

However, the driver pairing that drummed up the most excitement was McLaren Extreme E’s. Towards the end of last year the Woking team announced that New Zealander Emma Gilmour would partner American Tanner Foust. Foust has won multiple rally championships and also co-hosted the American Top Gear from 2010-2016. This was a major coup for the team.

The full driver line-up is as follows:

Veloce Racing – Christine GZ and Lance Woolridge

RXR – Johan Kristofferson and Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky

JBXE – Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor

Andretti United – Katie Munnings and Timmy Hansen

X44 – Christina Gutierrez and Sebastian Loeb

Acciona Sainz – Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz

McLaren Extreme E – Emma Gilmour and Tanner Foust

Chip Ganassi – Sara Price and Kyle Leduc

ABT Cupra – Jutta Kleinschmidt and Nasser Al-Attiyah

Xite Energy – Oliver Bennett and Klara Andersson (Klara Anderson will be replaced by Tamara Molinaro for the Desert X-Prix whilst she recovers from Covid-19).

Calendar Shake-Up:

The racing calendar has been switched up a little this year with a combination of returning locations as well as some new ones.

The first race of the season stays in Saudi Arabia but has been moved from Al-Ula to NEOM. The Desert X-Prix, as it is to be called, will also take place a couple of months earlier this year than the last, meaning temperature won’t be as much of a factor.

Following the Desert X-Prix, the Island X-Prix will take place in Sardinia, Italy on the 7th-8th May. Extreme E will return to Sardinia after it filled in for the cancelled Amazon X-Prix in 2021.

The location of the third race of the season is still yet to be decided, with the two main candidates being a return trip to Senegal, or a new location in Scotland. At the time of writing it is due to take place on the 9th-10th July.

The final two races of the season will be on an entirely new continent for Extreme E. Exploring South America, the all-electric racing series will go to Antofagasta, Chile on the 10th-11th September and Punta del Este, Uruguay on the 26th-27th November.

The provisional race calendar is as follows:

19th-20th February Desert X-Prix NEOM, Saudi Arabia
7th-8th May Island X-Prix Sardinia, Italy
9th-10th July TBC Scotland/Senegal
10th-11th September Copper X-Prix Antofagasta, Chile
26th-27th November Energy X-Prix Punta del Este, Uruguay

Alternative Format:

If you’d just got used to Extreme E’s weekend format from last year, they’ve changed it again!

Qualifying has had a complete make-over for this season with the extra team on the grid causing a few headaches for the organisers.

Now, qualifying position will be determined by races, with each team being put into one of two five-car heats.  Over the course of qualifying day each heat will run twice, once in each qualifying session. The grids for Qualifying 1 will be set by a lottery draw, whereas the grids in Qualifying 2 will be based on the finishing positions from the previous heats.

Each heat offers intermediate points (points that do not count towards the championship) 5 through to 1 based on your finishing position of that heat.

After both Qualifying sessions have been completed, the points are added up and the teams will be ordered from highest to lowest. Any ties on points will be separated by time through the continental traction challenge (which has a greatly diminished role this year).

The teams placed in first, fourth and fifth will be put into semi final one, whilst teams second, third, and sixth will be placed into semi final two. The bottom four teams will compete in the Crazy Race.

Finals day remains relatively unchanged, with the top two teams from each semi final and the winner of the crazy race progressing to the final.

Here’s how championship points will be awarded on finals day:

1st 25 Points Final 1st Place
2nd 18 Points Final 2nd Place
3rd 15 Points Final 3rd Place
4th 12 Points Final 4th Place
5th 10 Points Final 5th Place
6th 8 Points Semi Final 1/2 3rd Place*
7th 6 Points Semi Final 1/2 3rd Place*
8th 4 Points Crazy Race 2nd Place
9th 2 Points Crazy Race 3rd Place
10th 1 Point Crazy Race 4th Place

*6th position will be awarded to the semi final 3rd place team with the fastest time through the continental traction challenge.

Desert X-Prix:

This weekend sees Extreme E return to Saudi Arabia for its season opener. The different sand conditions at NEOM will provide a tough challenge for the drivers as they try to negotiate the rocks, dunes, and bushes.

As always, Extreme E is committed to leaving a positive impact wherever it goes. For this race we will see a continuation of last year’s legacy programme, which was aimed at protecting the endangered turtle species.

With the Ba’a Foundation they have taken on a five-year initiative to help conserve the endangered Green Turtle and the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle. The project hopes to: clean beaches of pollution, build fencing around the beach to protect nesting turtles, improve beach management, and import sand to raise the beach to an appropriate level for nesting. Over the years the levels have sand have decreased along the Red Sea Coast due to sea-level rise and dust storms.

As with last year you can find out how and when to watch the Desert X-Prix by heading over to Extreme E’s official website. This is sure to be a weekend you won’t want to miss!

F2 Jeddah: Armstrong pounces on maiden win in first sprint race

Marcus Armstrong took advantage of a front row start in the first Jeddah sprint race to take his first win in the series, seeing off polesitter Liam Lawson.

Armstrong had wheelspin off the line and looked to drop behind Lawson, but found better acceleration in the second phase of the start. The two cars went into the first corner chicane side by side, but Armstrong muscled Lawson to the edge of the track and came out ahead.

Behind them, Ralph Boschung improved from fourth to third by passing Juri Vips. Further back there was contact between Guilherme Samaia and Marino Sato into the Turn 4 chicane, which left both cars stranded and brought out the safety car.

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Dan Mullan, Getty Images / FIA F2)

When the race restarted again on lap 4 it only lasted a few corners, as title contender Guanyu Zhou was tipped into a spin trying to pass Christian Lundgaard for sixth. Zhou managed to keep the car going albeit at the back of the field and with a broken front wing, and a brief virtual safety car was deployed to clear away the debris.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 5, Boschung in third started putting in fastest laps to close the distance to Lawson ahead. But with overtaking so difficult around Jeddah he wasn’t able to make a move for second place, and Boschung instead burned through his tyres and came under attack from Vips.

On lap 10 Vips blasted past Boschung for third under DRS on the start/ finish straight. At the same point on the following lap Boschung lost fourth place to Felipe Drugovich, and by the end of lap 13 he’d been passed by Robert Shwartzman, Lundgaard, Theo Pourchaire and Oscar Piastri to drop out of the points.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Bryn Lennon, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

The safety car made another appearance in the closing stages of the race when Pourchaire spun into the wall at Turn 22, the same place Charles Leclerc crashed during FP2.

When the race resumed it was with just three laps to go, and at the front Lawson put a renewed attack on Armstrong. The Hitech driver managed to hound the DAMS by just a few tenths of a second across the closing laps, but Armstrong’s defensive driving saw him hold off Lawson until the chequered flag and keep first place.

Lawson finished second ahead of Hitech teammate Vips, with Drugovich in fourth. Shwartzman crossed the line in fifth but dropped to sixth due to a penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage earlier in the race.

Jehan Daruvala benefited from the penalty to finish fifth, after a bold move at the restart saw him pass both Lundgaard and Piastri. Lundgaard finished seventh behind Daruvala and Shwartzman, and Dan Ticktum took eighth place after passing Piastri for the final point on the last lap.

Piastri finished ninth and Bent Viscaal took reverse grid pole for the second race with tenth place. Jack Doohan was the highest of the F3 graduates making their debut this weekend with a P11 finish.

F2 Jeddah preview: who can keep the focus as the title approaches?

Formula 2 returns after a long absence this weekend, for the penultimate round of the 2021 championship at Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Street Circuit.

When the cars take to the track in Jeddah, it will have been nearly 10 weeks since the last race of the championship in Sochi. The previous longest gap this season was eight weeks between Silverstone and Monza, and it was evident in the three races in Italy that several drivers were rusty after such a long time away from the track.

At this late stage in the season, with just two rounds and six races left to run, it’s going to be more important than ever for the drivers to renew their focus fast. And that’s especially true for the title protagonists Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou, as the championship could mathematically be decided in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)

Piastri currently leads Zhou by 36 points with 130 remaining in the final two rounds. That sounds like a slim chance to wrap up the title by this Sunday, but if Piastri outscores Zhou by 29 points across the weekend — the amount for a feature race pole and win — the title will be his.

It will be tough for Piastri to make up that kind of ground this weekend without some major misfortune befalling Zhou. But with such a long time off between races, that’s exactly the kind of scenario that could play out if the rust isn’t shaken off in practice.

But Piastri will have to watch out, too. With 130 points still to be won, everyone down to Richard Verschoor in tenth is still technically able to take the title. Most of those will likely be eliminated this weekend, but not all of them can be written off completely.

Robert Shwartzman, Dan Ticktum and Theo Pourchaire sit third, fourth and fifth in the standings with multiple wins so far. Any slip-up by Piastri or Zhou will be gratefully received by this trio of drivers, who still have time to launch a late dark-horse bid for the crown.

What to expect from Jeddah

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

With Jeddah being a brand-new circuit and coming after such a long gap, there’s not much to go on when looking ahead to the race.

Piastri would be a good bet for feature race pole this weekend, given that he’s taken the last three poles in a row. But another driver who should come to Jeddah with high hopes is Juri Vips.

What we do know about Jeddah is that it’s a high-speed street circuit, which immediately brings comparisons to the “Monza with walls” sections of Baku. And during F2’s visit to Baku this year, Vips was decisively the driver to beat as he swept up two wins in a row and launched himself up the championship table.

Speaking of street circuit specialists, Ralph Boschung could be one to watch as well. The Swiss driver has scored six points finishes this year and each one has come at previous street tracks — not only that but they’ve all been top-six results, with the highlight being fourth place at Monaco.

Boschung and Campos are unlikely to be challenging for wins or pole this weekend, but a podium appearance could well be on the cards.

Driver changes

 

We might be nearing the end of the year but that hasn’t stopped the F2 grid changing up once again before Jeddah, as four drivers from the 2021 Formula 3 season are stepping up this weekend.

F3 vice-champion Jack Doohan will be making his F2 debut at MP Motorsport, taking the #11 car driven by Verschoor all season. He’ll be joined by Clement Novalak, who replaces Lirim Zendelli in the #12 and will be preparing himself for next year when he joins MP Motorsport full-time.

Olli Caldwell, who raced for Prema in F3 this year, will become the latest driver in the #20 Campos, which has been piloted by Gianluca Petecof, Matteo Nannini and David Beckmann throughout the year so far. Lastly, recent Williams F1 academy signing Logan Sargeant will replace Jake Hughes in the #22 HWA.

Extreme E’s Saudi Legacy

Last weekend’s Extreme E burst onto the motor racing scene with an enthralling opener in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. But whilst Rosberg X Racing’s Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor were (metaphorically) tearing it up on the track, important environmental work was happening off it. In the build-up to the inaugural round, Extreme E placed heavy focus on to the championship’s desire to leave a positive, lasting impact on the local environment. They claim that not only will each event be completely carbon neutral, but a “legacy program” will also be set up in each location.

For the Saudi Arabia X-Prix, desertification and plastic pollution were the main areas that were focused on, with the legacy program seeing Extreme E support the Ba’a Foundation to help with turtle conservation on the Red Sea coastline. In particular, the program aims to protect the endangered Green turtle, and the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle, both of which are suffering from entanglement, rising sand temperatures, and nest flooding due to rising sea levels. Many of the drivers also took part in a clean up of the Ras Baridi beach.

The drivers have come together to support Extreme E’s causes off the track – Courtesy of Charly Lopez

At the start of each session, the all-electric off-road series broadcast information regarding the issue of desertification, and how it is affecting local communities. Desertification is the process by which fertile land is transformed into a desert, typically brought on by drought, rising temperatures, or improper land management. The effects of this can be catastrophic. As the deserts grow, the amount of land available for farming crops diminishes, which results in the loss of food for the community and increases famine. The amount of available water is also reduced, and Extreme E regularly highlighted this across the weekend.

Throughout its first race weekend, Extreme E also implemented several other measures that ensured it would be the most sustainable sport possible. No single-use plastics were used on site, communal water stations were placed, and food packaging was made from Polymateria (a biodegradable plastic). The batteries themselves were charged using hydrogen fuel cells manufactured by AFC Energy. These are completely emission free and only have water as a byproduct. The water from the fuel cell was collected and either used to clean the cars, or shared between local communities. AFC Energy also signed a memorandum of understanding with Altaaqa, operator of a large mobile diesel generator rental fleet, meaning both companies share a common goal of transitioning the region away from fossil fuel dependence, and towards zero emission energy. This, however, is not legally binding.

On the whole, it appears that Extreme E’s inaugural event was a big success both on and off the track. It is already clear that the series doing many things to ensure the only trace they leave is a positive legacy.

Alejandro Agag: “This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.

Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.

The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.

The St Helena logistics ship. Courtesy of Colin McMaster.

Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.

Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Courtesy of Extreme E

Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.

One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.

It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.

Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E, with all the drivers lined up in the background. Courtesy of Steven Tee.

But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:

“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”

“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”

“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”

Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.

“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”

On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:

“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”

There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.

On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns:  “I’m not too concerned. “

“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”

The Problems With The Provisional F1 2021 Calendar

Earlier this week Liberty Media released the provisional calendar for the 2021 Formula One season. While there were minimal surprises, it raised some eyebrows about the integrity of the sport.

Many believe that the idea of racing in countries with less than ideal human rights records contradicts the mantra “We Race As One” that Formula One has been pushing so often this year. With races in Bahrain and China, as well as the new Saudi Arabia race, many believe that F1 should not be holding races, and thereby drawing in fans, in countries where seemingly dodgy political regimes can reap the economic rewards.

To counter that, some have argued that it isn’t fair to punish the inhabitants (for whom many will not have had a say in who runs their country) by not allowing any international sport to be held for them to see. Ultimately though, money talks and therefore Formula One is unlikely to avoid controversial venues if they have suitable funds.

Another issue some have raised is Liberty Media’s insistence on quantity over quality. Initial plans are for a 23-race season sometimes covering tracks that have famously struggled to produce exciting racing. F1 is entertainment as much as sport, and as a result fan enjoyment should be a top priority. If you were to ask F1 fans to create their dream race calendar, very few would have as many as 23 venues, and even fewer would include the likes of France and Spain.

By focusing on the number of races over the quality of the racing the track produces, some believe you run the risk of wearing the fans out. Yes, we love racing, but if you’re tuning in every weekend to watch very little of it, you’re going to get worn out and lose some love for the sport. This is all without mentioning the impact on the teams being away from their families for so long.

At the end of the day, Formula One is seen by the owners as a business over a form of entertainment and therefore Liberty Media are certain to want a race calendar that can maximise their profit. Fan opinion is just an aside.

Feature image courtesy of Racing Point F1 Media

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