ROAD TO F1: Mercedes and Renault youngsters in brilliant Baku fightbacks
It seems the astonishing and chaotic nature of Formula 1’s start to the new season has filtered down to Formula 2. After an action-packed double-header in Bahrain, the second round of the championship in Azerbaijan provided yet more thrills and spills…
Feature Race (29 laps, compulsory pit stop)
The feature race was won in spectacular style by current Sauber star Charles Leclerc last year. This time it was Alexander Albon who negotiated the chaos and tamed the Baku City Circuit.
The pole-sitting DAMS driver didn't have it all his own way, though, and was made to work hard by Mercedes protege George Russell early on - but he ultimately took advantage of his rival's misfortune to take a memorable victory.
Jack Aitken, Renault’s F1 reserve driver, also produced an astonishing performance for ART Grand Prix to bounce back from a stall at the race start, which meant a re-start from the pit lane, and force his way through the field for his first podium finish in F2, a superb P2.
After Lando Norris’ formation-lap stall on the front row also forced him to start from the pit lane, Russell looked to take advantage by immediately attacking pole-sitter Albon. The pair were involved in an exciting tussle, and Russell was on course for a victory after taking the lead when Albon was held in his pitbox to avoid an unsafe release - ultimately dropping him to P3.
But that was until an ambitious lap-21 attack from Nyck de Vries, following the second re-start of the race, forced both drivers to use a run-off area.
That incident dropped Russell all the way down to P15 and led to Antonio Fuoco leading for series newcomers Charouz. The Ferrari junior, however, would ultimately have to settle for P3 after first Albon regained his lead and then Aitken completed his remarkable recovery with a penultimate-lap lunge to move into second.
Overtakes, crashes and heartbreak - this F2 race had everything.
Sprint Race (21 laps, no compulsory pit stop)
Russell was devastated after seeing a Saturday victory slip through his fingers, but he responded in emphatic fashion with a charge from 12th on the grid to take his first F2 win. The sprint showdown certainly picked up where the feature race left off, with fightbacks all the way through the field.
It was a mature performance from Russell, who got off to a great start by moving to fifth in the opening corners, and he kept his nerve to hold off the challenge of Sergio Sette Camara. The pair, as shown below, were involved in numerous tussles during the exciting encounter, and it was the Briton who came out on top to stand tallest on the podium.
Camara came home second, but stopped on track on his way back to the pits due to a lack of fuel. He was forced to run back to the pits and up to the podium, arriving just in time to receive his trophy.
However, he didn't hold onto it for long. As he was unable to provide the minimum required 0.8kg sample of fuel post-race, the stewards disqualified him. That promoted Prema's De Vries to second and Force India F1 reserve Nicholas Latifi to P3.
Elsewhere, Norris recovered to salvage fifth at the flag after being forced off at Turn 1 when fighting for second place, but it was a miserable weekend for Artem Markelov. Engine problems forced the Russian out of both races.
DRIVER OF THE WEEKEND - George Russell
Aitken (below) certainly deserves a special mention for his superb drive in the feature race but it’s fellow Brit Russell who takes this honour after round two. The Mercedes junior displayed true character to recover from his Saturday disappointment to win a day later. But it wasn’t just his mentality that proved vital in this victory. His true attacking intent from the start to fight his way up through the field on a track where it's easy to make mistakes before defending his position to take home his maiden F2 victory.
THE KEY QUOTE
“I had the worst night’s sleep of the year last night just thinking about what happened [on Saturday] and if there was anything I could have done differently. I was really disappointed that we threw away a win and after Bahrain when we stalled on the grid and had nothing to show for it. I’m incredibly happy and delighted to get that win and have something to show for it rather than ifs and buts.” – George Russell
Norris may not have featured on the podium in Azerbaijan, but he was still able to extend his championship lead. Prior to his disqualification, Camara had reduced his Carlin team mate's lead to just one point, but is now third and some 15 points behind. The pair are split by second-placed Albon, who trails Norris by 14.
|3||Sergio Sette Camara||Carlin||40|
|4||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||30|
|5||Nyck De Vries||Prema||28|
The next F2 double-header takes place in Barcelona in support of the Spanish Grand Prix, which runs from May 11-13.
For more information on the FIA Formula 2 Championship, click here.