The Debrief - Round 1 Austria
The hills around the Red Bull Ring were quiet. COVID-19 had put an end to all motorsport for what felt like an eternity; for teams, drivers and fans alike.
But after four months of patience, and more e-racing than even Lando Norris could keep up with, Formula 2’s engines roared into life for what has been seen by many as arguably the most stacked Formula 2 Championship driver lineup ever.
Things were very different the first weekend back. Gone were exuberant podium celebrations and hugs with team members after the race and in came social distancing and masks, as the new ‘norm’ was adopted by the Formula 2 circus.
The same high quality, ‘fly by the seat of your pants‘ racing that F2 is well known for didn’t disappoint as two new winners were crowned – with UNI-Virtuosi sophomore Callum IIott nabbing the Feature Race and the championship lead, while MP Motorsport’s newest recruit Felipe Drugovich took the Sprint Race.
As one side of the Virtuosi garage celebrated a good weekend and the drivers’ championship lead, the other side of the garage was left wondering what might have been.
Virtuosi’s Guanyu Zhou started out promising for the first race weekend of the season with the Chinese driver fastest in practice and in qualifying. He put in a dominating lap that was nearly half a second quicker than the field and looked set to add to the four points he had earned in qualifying.
But a sluggish getaway from pole coupled with a pitstop put him behind both his Virtuosi teammate IIott, and PREMA’s Mick Schumacher. A technical issue later in the Feature Race sent him tumbling down the order and out of the points. His Sprint Race was hampered from the beginning.
Starting in 17th place was perhaps too much of an ask, to make up for the day before and he ended his weekend in a lowly 14th place.
PREMA too were wondering what might have been after a promising but winless start to the season which saw Formula 3 Champion Robert Shwartzman bag a podium and a fourth-place finish in his first race weekend in a Formula 2 car.
Schumacher also secured points in the Sprint Race with a seventh place finish but was unable to move up the order after being hampered by MP’s Nobuharu Matsushita, who made his car extra wide in order to block the German.
After fighting for the lead with Ilott and Zhou, Schumacher took a tour of the gravel trap, falling to 11th behind Trident’s Roy Nissany. This was down to cold tyres on the race restart following the deployment of the safety car.
MP Motorsport’s weekend got off to a blinding start with Felipe Drugovich producing a stunning qualifying lap to bag a second place on the grid for the Feature Race. However, the Brazilian had a sluggish start and dropped back to eighth. The advantage to this being he’d take pole position the next day.
From the Sprint Race start Drugovich was unstoppable and dominated every lap to take his maiden win, much to the delight of the MP team who had a tough 2019. Fending off the pack to maintain the lead after three separate safety car deployments, Felipe fully deserved his winner’s trophy.
It wasn’t to be a repeat of 2019 for Matsushita who looked out of sorts in practice. He struggled to match the pace of his rookie teammate, Drugovic, and the fifth-year veteran started in 21st place next to the floundering Marino Sato. The Honda junior did manage to salvage his Austrian weekend with two points-scoring finishes.
ART Grand Prix’s rookie lineup of Marcus Armstrong and Christian Lundgaard both had excellent weekends. Armstrong bagged a second place in the Feature Race before suffering a technical failure in the Sprint Race that saw the Kiwi stuck in the middle of the circuit bringing out the safety car.
Lundgaard, on the other hand, had two solid top-five finishes to cap off a good weekend for the Dane, who had missed pre-season testing in Bahrain, after being held in quarantine in Tenerife along with his Renault Junior Academy teammates.
Defending team champions DAMS had a mixed weekend as the much-anticipated Dan Ticktum got his first podium in Formula 2 with third in the Sprint Race. Whilst DAMS second car, driven by Sean Gelael, had a double DNF in Austria to cap off a challenging weekend for the Indonesian.
Charouz Racing System finished Austria with a podium for Louis Delétraz who claimed second place in the Sprint Race. Offering redemption from last year’s race, where Delétraz lost his second place after a violent shunt at Turn 1.
Louis’ teammate Pedro Piquet had a quiet start to his Formula 2 career as the son of three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet kept his nose clean to finish both races. Albeit with no championship points.
The much-fancied Campos Racing team had a tough start to the 2020 season as Jack Aitken came away from Austria with a single point. Yellow flags in qualifying wrecked his quick lap. The Williams junior fought back from the midfield to pass Callum IIott in the final stages of the Sprint Race.
Aitken’s teammate Guilherme Samaia had a quiet debut F2 weekend as the Brazilian managed a 15th and 16th place in what was a learning weekend for the twenty-three year-old native of São Paulo.
Artem Markelov had a challenging return to Formula 2 in Austria as the Russian was off the pace. His HWA Racelab struggled to keep up with the front runners in practice and qualifying with Markelov only able to manage 20th on the grid.
Things didn’t improve in the Feature Race as the Russian lost drive and had to retire on Lap 26. The Sprint Race saw him pit for a replacement wing, losing a lap to the leaders.
Markelov’s HWA teammate Giuliano Alesi had an up and down weekend that began with a disappointing qualifying session. He kissed the barrier after going too hot into the Niki Lauda Kurve.
But Alesi repaid his team and father’s investment with a mighty drive from 18th on the grid to secure sixth place, and with it his team’s only points of the weekend.
Alesi, however, was denied a chance to add more points after his Mecachrome engine gave up the fight after just two laps of the Sprint Race, launching the first of three safety cars.
Hitech suffered a baptism of fire in their first race weekend in Formula 2 with multiple technical issues costing Nikita Mazepin and Luca Ghiotto viable track time and points in the process.
Mazepin’s tough weekend began with his car refusing to start for practice causing him to miss the morning session and from then on the former ART driver was on the back foot as he spun on the exit of the Würth Kurve, bringing out the yellow flag. Thus affecting an exciting final qualifying shoot-out for the other drivers.
Luca Ghiotto’s return to F2, after briefly leaving the series, showed promise with the good pace he showed in qualifying. Unfortunately he retired his Hitech on the formation lap.
The Sprint Race was the icing on the bad luck cake for Ghiotto as he was punted into the gravel trap by Carlin’s Jehan Daruvala at Schlossgold putting an early end to what had been an egregious weekend for the Italian.
Carlin didn’t have as good a start to the 2020 season as they hoped. Daruvala and his Japanese teammate Yuki Tsunoda made contact during the Feature Race. And the following day, Daruvala clipped the back of Ghiotto in the Sprint Race.
Trident, got their season off to a decent start. Roy Nissany picked up their first point of the season by holding off Mick Schumacher in the final laps of the Feature Race to snatch 10th place after 12 months away from the sport.
Whilst Nissany enjoyed the sweet taste of points, Marino Sato had a testing weekend with a spin in practice and qualifying. An early retirement in the Feature Race was followed by a 17th place in the Sprint.
So… you’ve had the rundown of the weekend now let’s look insideF2.com’s “W3” for Round 1 in Austria.
Who took the spoils this weekend:
Callum IIott – In what could effectively be a shootout for an Alfa Romeo Racing seat in next season’s Formula 1 Championship, IIott couldn’t have started any better with a cool headed Feature Race win, that saw him jump ahead of Zhou in the pit stops as well as holding off the hard-charging Schumacher. It seems the twenty-one year-old Brit has ironed out errors from 2019 and could be a serious threat for the title if he keeps this momentum up.
Felipe Drugovich – Going into Austria you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who would have backed a Drugovich race win on the basis of his Formula 3 record. But the Brazilian silenced several doubters by qualifying well and then using excellent race craft to wrap his first win. If Drugovich keeps this momentum up he could be a serious contender for the championship. Judging by his performance this weekend, you would be brave to bet against him.
Dan Ticktum – First F2 podium – check. Beating your teammate – check. Out-finishing your Formula 3 rival in both races – check. Dan’s first weekend for DAMS Racing couldn’t have started any better as the Williams’ junior proved several doubters wrong. Driving with focus and determination to a convincing fifth place in the Feature Race, and his first podium for third place in the Sprint Race race, Dan’s already put himself fourth in the drivers’ standings. Ticktum’s subtle return to motorsport has seen him make a statement – he’s here to race. He’s here to win.
What didn’t go well:
Marino Sato – It seems that everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Marino Sato who had a flawed debut weekend for Trident. Having spent more time in the gravel traps and pits than on track with two spins in practice and qualifying. Technical issues saw him out early in the Feature Race. It’s put Sato on the back foot a little going into round two. However, the unpredictability of Formula 2 means Sato still has as good a chance as any to have a great season.
Carlin- Last year Carlin claimed the Feature Race win thanks to Nobuharu Matsushita. However, this year was a different story when both of their charges collided. Tsunoda hit Daruvala from behind on lap one. It wasn’t the end of their race by any means. They went on to take 12th and 18th place. The Sprint Race saw Tsunoda take 11th place, whilst Daruvala made contact with the luckless Ghiotto to finish in 16th.
Luca Ghiotto- After the first race weekend in Austria it wouldn’t be surprising if Ghiotto believed he had a voodoo curse placed on him, following a non-start in the Feature Race, and a DNF in the Sprint Race. With the announcement that his GT programme with Aston Martin wouldn’t come to fruition, it seems that the Italian has to hope his luck will change in the coming weeks, both on and off the track.
Why these drivers deserve the praise:
Felipe Drugovich – In what could have been a baptism of fire in Austria, Drugovich proved the doubters wrong and with it the surprise top performer for the weekend in what could be the first of many top performances.
Callum IIott – The standout performer of the Feature Race, IIott lost our top position due to having a lacklustre Sprint Race. Nevertheless he can be happy with his weekend’s efforts which saw him break his F2 duck.
Giuliano Alesi – On the back of Friday, it might have appeared unlikely to see Alesi in the top three performers. However, the Frenchman drove a magnificent Feature Race to secure essential points. His father, Jean, can feel happy with his son’s weekend overall.
Thank you for following InsideF2.com. Do check out our latest news and we hope to see you on next week’s event page throughout the entire weekend for the preview to the next race, all the lap-by-lap action, leaderboards, race results – post session, and weekend debrief.
Writer: Ed Spencer
Editor: L.A. Wils
Media Edit: James Porter
Image Credit: LAT FIA Formula 2 Images