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

F3 Russia: Vips sees off Armstrong for final sprint race win

Red Bull junior and Hitech driver Juri Vips took victory in the final sprint race of the season in Sochi, seeing off a charge from yesterday’s feature race winner Marcus Armstrong.

Vips was slow away from his reverse grid pole position, which allowed second-placed starter Jake Hughes to challenge him into Turn 2. Behind them, Leo Pulcini went around the outside of Pedro Piquet to take third place while Armstrong got the jump on Robert Shwartzman and Niko Kari to move up to fifth.

Hughes kept up the pressure on Vips throughout the early laps and on lap 4 pulled alongside the Hitech into Turn 13. But Vips closed the door and Hughes dropped back from the lead to come under attack from Pulcini. The Italian driver set up a move on Hughes into Turn 5, but came off worse as the pair banged wheels and Pulcini was spun out of the points.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Their incident allowed Piquet and Armstrong to both pass Hughes for second and third. Armstrong then took second from Piquet at the start of lap 7 only to be repassed by the Trident at Turn 13, but on the following lap Armstrong once again passed Piquet into Turn 2 and got far enough ahead to keep the position.

After breaking out of DRS range of Piquet on lap 10, Armstrong set about reeling in Vips with a series of fastest laps. At the start of lap 14 Vips had an advantage of 3.5 seconds over Armstrong, but this dropped to half by lap 17.

However, Armstrong’s charge faded in the final few laps as his tyres eventually ran out of grip. Vips was able to open the gap back up between them, having two seconds in hand when he crossed the line to take his third win of the season.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

After being demoted by Armstrong, Piquet had been running in a comfortable third for most of the race. But on lap 17 the Brazilian driver pulled over and retired with a mechanical problem, promoting newly-crowned F3 champion Shwartzman to third.

Hughes finished in fourth after his clash with Pulcini, and Kari was fifth for Trident. The battle for the last three points positions raged throughout the final laps with Richard Verschoor, Yuki Tsunoda and Max Fewtrell all changing positions. But in the end Hitech’s Yi Yifei, who was trailing at the back of the trio, took advantage of their fighting and managed to jump all three to take his first points of the season in sixth. Verschoor finished seventh, and Liam Lawson took eighth place after Tsunoda and Fewtrell both ran off the road with fading grip.

With second place and the fastest lap, Armstrong gained enough points from the sprint race to overhaul his Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala for runner-up in the final standings. Daruvala had been due to start from fourth on the grid, but was relegated to a pitlane start due to an engine problem before the formation lap. He then picked up a five-second penalty later in the race for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and ultimately finished in 15th place.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 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.

F3 Russia: Shwartzman clinches title as Armstrong wins feature race

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman sealed the 2019 Formula 3 title in the Sochi feature race, but was denied a home race victory by his Prema teammate Marcus Armstrong.

Shwartzman qualified for the race on pole, his first since the season opener in Barcelona, with his sole remaining title rival Jehan Daruvala alongside him in second. But it was Armstrong starting from third who got the best launch of the three Premas, as he passed Daruvala off the line before slipstreaming Shwartzman for the lead through Turn 3.

While Armstrong went off into the lead ahead of Shwartzman, Daruvala’s chances of taking the title to the final sprint race all but disappeared. Shwartzman’s points gap coming into Sochi meant that Daruvala had to win the feature race to have any chance of snatching away the title, but after being passed by Armstrong he then lost further places to Niko Kari, Christian Lundgaard and Leo Pulcini.

Daruvala managed to repass Lundgaard for fifth on lap two, but struggled to gain any more ground as Pulcini had too much pace ahead of him to present an opportunity.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The early stages of the race were made tricky as light rain fell on some parts of the circuit, while the rest remained dry.

On lap 2 Bent Viscaal put his HWA into the wall at Turn 5, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car. Devlin DeFrancesco and Felipe Drugovich took advantage of the situation to gamble on a switch to wet tyres, although they were the only drivers to do so.

The VSC was withdrawn on lap 3, but on the following lap the full safety car was deployed when Leong Hon Chio, making his series debut with Jenzer, crashed out as well. The safety car remained out for two laps, during which the rain stopped and DeFrancesco and Drugovich both pitted again to switch back to slicks.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Armstrong managed the restart on lap 6 well to pull away from the field, although Shwartzman behind was caught by Kari and demoted to third place. Meanwhile, further back in the top ten Juri Vips hit the rear of Lundgaard while trying to position himself for an overtake, spinning the ART out of the points and earning himself a 10-second time penalty.

Once clear of Shwartzman, Kari set the fastest lap to close up to the back of Armstrong. On lap 9, the Finnish driver then went around the outside of Armstrong into Turn 13 to take the lead.

Armstrong continued fighting back against Kari over the following lap, but on lap 11 Kari’s lead seemed to be secured when Armstrong went deep into Turn 2 trying to retake first and instead dropped to fourth behind Shwartzman and Pulcini.

However, Kari’s time in front didn’t last long, and on lap 13 he was passed by championship leader Shwartzman into Turn 2.

One lap later Armstrong got back into the podium positions after passing Pulcini for third, then managed to work his way back past Kari for second on lap 17.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

With four laps remaining Shwartzman looked to have enough of a buffer to keep ahead of Armstrong, and wrap up the championship with a home race victory. But Armstrong quickly settled into a rhythm and closed steadily up to the back of his teammate.

At the start of the final lap, Armstrong pulled to the inside of Turn 2 and took the lead away from Shwartzman, who offered little defence with the title on the line. Armstrong then crossed the line with just over a second in hand over Shwartzman, to take his third win of the season and his first in a feature race.

Kari held on to third for his second podium of the year, with Pulcini fourth ahead of Daruvala, Pedro Piquet and Jake Hughes, who also took two points for the fastest lap. Vips managed to finish third on the road ahead of Kari, but with his time penalty dropped to eighth and will start on reverse grid pole tomorrow morning.

Sauber Junior Team’s Raoul Hyman scored his first points of the season in ninth, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

David Schumacher, making his F3 debut for Campos in place of the injured Alex Peroni, finished in P22 after being spun around by Keyvan Andres on lap 11.

Sauber’s Fabio Scherer retired on lap 9, while the team’s third driver Lirim Zendelli withdrew from the round ahead of the race.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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

F3 Russia preview: Down to the wire

The fight for the 2019 FIA Formula 3 title comes to an end this weekend, as the championship heads to Russia’s Sochi Autodrom for its eighth and final round.

Runaway championship leader Robert Shwartzman has about as good a chance as he can hope for of claiming the title at his home race. The Prema driver has only one challenger remaining who can snatch the title away from him—his teammate Jehan Daruvala. But with 33 points between them against only 48 on offer this weekend, Daruvala’s chances are looking slim at best.

Discounting the points for pole and fastest lap, Daruvala must finish the feature race in first or second while hoping Shwartzman fails to score to even take the title fight to the final sprint race on Sunday. Meanwhile, a top two finish for Shwartzman in the feature race will earn him the title with one race to spare, regardless of how Daruvala scores.

If Shwartzman does leave Sochi with the F3 title, it will cap off a season in which the Russian has claimed three victories, five further podiums and helped Prema to clinch the year’s teams’ championship.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

While Shwartzman and Daruvala chase the top honours, there is a fierce fight behind them for third in the standings, between Hitech’s Juri Vips and Prema’s Marcus Amstrong.

Vips was a title contender back in the summer after victories in Austria and Great Britain, but has endured a run of pointless finishes since the Spa feature race. This has left him 58 points adrift of Shwartzman and only two ahead of Armstrong, whose two sprint race wins in Hungary and Belgium have propelled him up the standings.

Both drivers have plenty to prove by taking the coveted third spot. For Armstrong, that he can lead Prema’s title charge when Shwartzman likely graduates from F3 next season. And for Vips, that he still deserves Red Bull’s focus as their next best junior progression to Formula 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Two new faces will be joining the F3 grid for the Sochi finale.

The first is 2017 Asian Formula Renault and Chinese F4 champion, Hon Chio Leong of Macau. Leong will race in the third Jenzer car, which has been notable for its revolving lineup this season with Artem Petrov, Giorgio Carrara and Federico Malvestiti all contesting at least one race as teammate to regular drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Andreas Estner.

Leong will also be with Jenzer at F3’s post-season test in Valencia, with the aim of competing on home soil at the non-championship Macau Grand Prix.

The second new driver is David Schumacher, son of former F1 driver Ralf and cousin to Prema F2 driver Mick. Schumacher joins Campos in place of Alex Peroni, who is missing the Sochi finale after fracturing his vertebrae in a crash at the last round at Monza.

UPDATE: There will be one further change this weekend, as ART’s David Beckmann will skip the Sochi finale due to a family emergency. He will not be substituted, meaning ART will field only two cars for Christian Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Russian Grand Prix Preview: Ferrari’s revival to continue in Sochi?

‘From Russia with love’ – there wasn’t much love, however, from Daniil Kvyat when he came together with Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner in Singapore. He may wish to keep his nose out of trouble at his home Grand Prix this time, as he returns to the track which saw his career take a bit of a nose dive, when he collided with Sebastian Vettel and lost his seat at Red Bull in 2016.

And, invariably, Vettel would much prefer to complete this year’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrome without incident, to build on his first F1 win in 392 days last time out at Marina Bay.

That victory gave us the hand-rubbing prospect of an intra-team war at Ferrari between Vettel and team-mate Charles Leclerc, with the latter leaving Singapore unhappy at the team’s decision to pit Vettel first. The undercut resulted in the four-time champion winning the race ahead of his upstart team-mate who, demonstrating brilliance and maturity in his debut season with Ferrari and only his second season in the sport, had taken his fifth pole position the day before.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2019 – DOMENICA 22/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

However, despite the tension at Ferrari, they nonetheless sent a message to Mercedes and Red Bull with their first one-two finish since the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2017, at a track where we expected the Prancing Horses to falter under the superiority of their rivals on what is a downforce-orientated circuit.

This, coupled with the fact that Lewis Hamilton seemed concerned by Ferrari’s sudden upturn, will hopefully lead us into an exciting Russian Grand Prix this weekend.

With lots of 90-degree turns, a couple of lengthy straights, and a twisty middle sector, you would lean towards Mercedes having the upper hand, but Ferrari’s surprising performance last race has tossed things up in the air.

Further down the grid, Carlos Sainz comes into this weekend seeking some improved fortune. He retired from the Italian Grand Prix due to leaving the pits with a loose wheel, and then a collision with Nico Hulkenberg on the first lap in Singapore all but ended his race. He did recover to 12th, though, as McLaren continue to supersede the works Renault team with the French manufacturer’s own engines in the back of their papaya car.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL34

Romain Grosjean did little to back up Haas boss Guenther Steiner’s decision to keep him on for the 2020 season by wiping out George Russell, while Kevin Magnussen will be dodging Russian plastic bags, with a bag getting caught in his front wing in Singapore, costing him a points finish and seeing him finish last of the runners.

Antonio Giovinazzi must now build on his point-score in Singapore with a strong result in Russia, as his seat at Alfa Romeo is still not secure. Nico Hulkenberg, out of a seat next season but continuing to perform impressively, is knocking on a few doors in search of a drive, having lost out on the Haas seat for next season.

The 2019 season had its dramatic flame reignited under the sweltering heat of Singapore, but will Ferrari’s revival cool with the weather as we head to Russia? Mercedes will certainly want to make that happens this weekend.

 

[Featured image – 2018 Russian Grand Prix, Saturday, Wolfgang Wilhelm]

F1 2018: Russian Grand Prix Preview

Twisting and turning through Russia’s “summer capital” is the Sochi Autodrom, the first and only F1 track built in the country.

The 5.8-kilometre circuit takes the drivers past some impressive structures, among them a number previously used for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the stadium used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, showing how Sochi has turned into both a popular destination for tourists and a great sporting town.

Each of the four races held at the circuit since its debut have been won by Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton winning the first race in 2014 and Valtteri Bottas taking his first win in F1 for the world champions in 2017.

This Mercedes dominance is a trend that may well end this year. Sochi is generally a power track, and we have seen the Ferrari engine overtake the Mercedes engine this year. If Mercedes are to win, then, they will face a stern test from the Prancing Horse.

Großer Preis von Russland 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Christian Horner has said that Russia will be a race to forget for Red Bull, as they are expecting engine penalties and they are even thought to be returning to the B-Spec Renault engine after several teething issues with the engine used in Singapore. It said a lot when even the works Renault team themselves didn’t use the new spec engine, nor did their other customer McLaren.

This weekend will be the home race of Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin, who scored his first point of the season in Italy after Romain Grosjean’s disqualification, and he will hoping to add more to his tally. He certainly got some positive attention in Singapore with some brilliant defending against Sergio Perez, only for Perez to seemingly swing across the track and hit him. This, however, will be another tricky weekend for a Williams team that has suffered one of their worst ever seasons in F1 this year.

Races around the Sochi Autodrom generally don’t toss up much drama, but the first chicane is something to keep an eye on. It is a place which has seen a crash in each of the four races in the circuit’s short history, the most notorious being Daniil Kvyat twice hitting the back of Sebastian Vettel. It was a home race to forget for Kvyat and he was demoted to Toro Rosso after the race, giving way to the astronomical rise of Max Verstappen.

Großer Preis von Russland 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Sebastian Vettel arrives into the weekend some 40 points behind Lewis Hamilton in the championship, meaning that he realistically has to win each of the remaining six races of 2018 to be in with a realistic chance of claiming a fifth title.

It will be a tough challenge, but Ferrari’s championship demise has been of their own doing once again this year, and if there is to be a miracle turnaround for Vettel, it is one that must start in Sochi.