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When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 5, Boschung in third started putting in fastest laps to close the distance to Lawson ahead.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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