RACE DEBRIEF

    It isn’t just the circus of Formula 1 which will make its long-awaited return in Austria, the top tier of junior motorsport is also set to get back to racing action at the Red Bull Ring this weekend.

    And what’s more, the Formula 2 field is seriously stacked this season. The 22 drivers on the grid this year have a bumper tally of 24 titles, from various championships and events, between them.

    READ MORE: 5 things the Virtual Grand Prix series tells us about the 2020 F1 season

    F2 is also bursting at the seams with F1 junior talent this year, boasting five Ferrari juniors, as well as drivers from the Renault, Red Bull, Haas and Williams driver programmes. The F2 machinery has had a makeover too, with the brand-spanking-new 18-inch Pirelli tyres set for their first taste of racing action this year.

    Returning with its usual combination of two races per weekend – a Feature Race on Saturday and a Sprint Race on Sunday with a reverse grid of the top eight Feature Race finishers – we take a look at what you need to know ahead of the opener.

    AP-23AF5U1G92111_hires_jpeg_24bit_rgb.jpg
    The new-look 18-inch Pirelli tyres make their debut in F2 this season

    New tyres

    Fans will get a glimpse into the future this season, as F2 debuts the 18-inch Pirelli rims ahead of Formula 1, showcasing the championship as the perfect training ground, not only for drivers, but also for technology and machinery. F1 will follow suit with the larger rims in 2022.

    Adding 30kg of weight, the new Pirelli’s have certainly beefed up the cars, and thanks to the scrupulous work of the F2 team, they haven’t lost any performance either. We got a first look at the grid with the new tyres back in pre-season testing at Bahrain, where we learned that the cars were not just matching the 2019 incarnations, but at times, bettering them, with speeds of around 295 km/h - despite that extra weight.

    READ MORE: How F1’s feeder series dealt with COVID-19 – and prepared to go back to racing

    This is thanks to a multitude of cost-effective modifications, which have resulted in what is effectively a brand-new car, with entirely different characteristics. The primary changes involve a revision of the aerodynamic properties of the car, and an addition of 20 more horsepower. For more details on the exact changes, check out F2’s handy guide.

    Not only will this give fans fresh machinery to the enjoy, it will also open up the field. Teams and drivers have effectively started from scratch, lessening the importance of experience.

    1142954682
    Jack Aitken (L) stays with Campos, Guanyu Zhou (R) remains at UNI-Virtuosi, and Nicholas Latifi (Centre) has graduated to F1 with Williams

    Established names

    With Champion Nyck de Vries moving to Formula E, and vice-champion Nicholas Latifi earning promotion to F1 with Williams, there’s a raft of talent waiting in the wings to step up and stake their claim for the title.

    Of last season’s rookies, first in line will be Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou, who enjoyed a stellar debut in F2 last year, taking five podiums to finish as the highest placed rookie, in seventh. Retaining his seat at frontrunners UNI-Virtuosi, the Chinese racer will be expected to deliver a title challenge at very least.

    Taking the other seat in the Virtuosi garage is Ferrari junior Callum Ilott, who finished as the third highest rookie in 2019. You’ll want to keep an eye out for their blossoming bromance too. The pair have known each other since karting and were PREMA team mates in European F3, back in 2017.

    READ MORE: Who are the big F3 names to watch in 2020?

    WATCH: Mick Schumacher climbs from P18 to P4 in F2 Sprint Race, Austria 2019

    More will be expected of Mick Schumacher in 2020 if he is to earn a fairytale move to F1. Though, if the PREMA man can perform anywhere near the levels of his 2018 European F3 title-winning campaign, where he stormed to eight wins and 14 podiums from 30 races, then he’ll be a shoe-in.

    For fans who want to know what he’s all about, we suggest taking a look at his drive from 18th to fourth in Austria last season.

    PODCAST: Mick Schumacher on living up to the family name

    Schumacher isn’t the only famous name on the grid. Fellow Ferrari junior Giuliano Alesi is the son of Jean Alesi and will race for BWT HWA RACELAB this season. His eighth and fifth place finishes in the season finale in Abu Dhabi suggest he could surprise a few. Haas test driver Louis Deletraz, son of former F1 driver Jean-Denis Deletraz, will also return for a fourth season of F2 with Charouz.

    F2 will be welcoming back some familiar faces with fan-favourite Artem Markelov in the second seat at HWA, after a year away. Williams test driver Roy Nissany will return to the grid with Trident, and there is of course also space for his fellow Williams academy driver Jack Aitken, who remains with Campos after a fifth-place finish last season.

    READ MORE: The Williams Driver Academy – A pursuit of talent with a commercial upside

    Formula One World Championship
    Williams F1 test driver Roy Nissany returns with Trident

    Exciting newcomers

    F3 champion Robert Shwartzman leads the list of newcomers in F2 this season, partnering Schumacher at PREMA in what looks set to be a mega team mate battle. The Russian is a lethal overtaker and should push the German every step of the way, following a gigantic season in F3, with three wins and 10 podiums from 10 rounds.

    Taking over Nyck De Vries’ title-winning machinery at ART Grand Prix will be the rookie pairing of Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong and Renault protege Christian Lundgaard. Big things are expected of Armstrong in particular, who finished second to Shwartzman in F3.

    Filling the shoes of De Vries won’t faze the cool-headed Kiwi, who possesses searing speed and will be looking to move out of the shadow of his former team mate Shwartzman in F2 this year.

    READ MORE: Formula 2 grid adds 11th team for 2020

    1183013306
    Yuki Tsunoda was one of the surprise packages in F3 last season. Can he impress in F2 this year?

    While PREMA will be hosting an all Ferrari battle, Carlin have taken a double-helping of Red Bull juniors, snapping up Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala. The duo were arguably the surprise packages of F3 last season, with the latter challenging Shwartzman for the title.

    READ MORE: WATCH: F1 2020 game trailer shows how you can create your own F1 squad in 'My Team' mode and recruit F2 drivers

    More surprising was the emergence of Japanese driver Tsunoda. The youngster had never raced in Europe prior to 2019, and had little-to-no-experience with any of the tracks. After a quiet opening few rounds, he burst onto the scene with Jenzer, enjoying an incredible run of three podiums in a row between Belgium and Italy, with second place, third place and victory in the Monza Sprint Race. Don’t rule any of them out…

    The F2 season will kick off on the same weekend as F1, July 3-5 July, in Austria. Don't want to miss a minute? Subscribe to F1 TV Pro for every single session live and visit the official F2 website for more.