The second round of the 2022 F2 Championship took us to Jeddah Corniche Circuit and gave us a boatload of controversy. Discussions around track safety, decisions from race control, and penalties galore served as the backdrop for an action-packed weekend, which gave us more surprises than we anticipated. Let’s look at the main takeaways from the weekend.
By Oorjit Mishra
ART GP’s weekend to forget
Theo Pourchaire arrived in Jeddah as championship leader and race winner, having bounced back from a DNF in the sprint race at Bahrain to win the feature race. However, his hopes of keeping up that form were harmed when he smacked the barriers in practice, leaving his ART heavily damaged.
Some quick work from the French team saw him back out in qualifying, but that proved to be for no reward, as a fire saw the Sauber junior out of qualifying without setting a lap. His teammate, Frederik Vesti, who’d had a tough time in Bahrain, didn’t fare much better, as he only went P16, and that was before a penalty for impeding Ralph Boschung.
The sprint race was also a write-off for ART, as the constant safety car interruptions stalled any hope of climbing up the order. While Sunday may have brought new hopes for the French team, it didn’t bring them any points. Pourchaire, who made good progress in the early stages, climbing up towards the top 10, was forced to retire with an electrical issue on just lap 4, capping off a horror weekend for one of the pre-season title favourites.
Vesti, meanwhile, struggled to make an impression in the race, as he battled for positions outside the top 10 for most of the feature race before a spin on the last lap of the race saw him stall the car, capping off a difficult weekend for ART.
Drugovich dominant on all three days
Felipe Drugovich started his 2022 campaign in a solid, but unspectacular fashion, scoring 2 top-10s at Bahrain, but he turned up the heat at Jeddah. Making the most of the interrupted qualifying session, he took pole in spectacular fashion, going three tenths faster than anyone else with a blistering lap at the last second.
Starting from 10th in the sprint race, he made the most of the limited racing laps, scything his way up to 4th, which became 3rd following Hughes’ disqualification. Where Drugovich really set himself apart was in his sustained performance throughout the weekend, as he drove a dominant race on Sunday to cap his weekend off.
Starting from pole, the Brazilian maximised his first stint, building a gap to Richard Verschoor and keeping the net lead after the pit stops. From then on, he put on a masterclass in race management, driving consistently fast laps that helped him build a buffer, and put him in a comfortable position to deny Verschoor’s late charge.
This performance was hugely impressive from Drugovich, as he became the first driver to put together a whole weekend this year and took the championship lead as a result. As a third-year driver, these are the sort of performances that could separate the Brazilian from the rest of the field, and his dominance this weekend puts the other front-runners under real pressure to perform consistently.
Prema’s tale of two races
Friday qualifying proved to be difficult for F2’s reigning champions, as both Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala suffered because of new rules that prevent refuelling during qualifying sessions and missed out on running on a rapidly improving track towards the end of the session. The silver lining for the Italian outfit was that Hauger would line up on pole for the sprint race, giving him an opportunity to open the scoring in style.
This opportunity, however, slipped away in dramatic and controversial fashion, as the Norwegian lost 11 positions after driving into a closed pit lane under the 2nd safety car period. There was further insult to injury for Prema, as Hauger received a 10-second stop-go penalty for the infraction, despite the seemingly conflicting instructions from race control.
Daruvala, meanwhile, made his way to 7th, little consolation for a team of perennial winners. Sunday, however, proved to be a welcome change in fortune for the Italian team, as both Daruvala and Hauger made up places in the opening laps, putting them in good strategic positions. Daruvala, who pitted early, drove a clean and consistent race, maintaining a pace that proved enough to get him past the likes of Marcus Armstrong and Jake Hughes, and into an eventual 3rd place finish.
Hauger, who opted for the alternate strategy, led a large part of the race and hoped for a safety car which never came. He was, however, able to use his pace advantage in clear air to seal a 6th place finish, giving him his first points of the season. This was a good comeback, and Prema will be hoping that they can take this momentum into the next round at Imola.
Trident are back!
Adding to the problems that the big teams have, it seems as though Trident are well and truly back in the hunt for wins and podiums. After ending a win-drought that lasted well over five years in Bahrain, the blue, white and red cars found good pace in qualifying, with Verschoor 2nd and Calan Williams 7th.
Starting well from 3rd, Williams ran close to Hauger in 2nd, inheriting the lead after the safety car fiasco. After the restart, however, the Australian lost places to the soft-tyre clad machine of Hughes as well as the likes of Liam Lawson, Jüri Vips and Drugovich. A late-race charge for Verschoor saw him finish behind his teammate in 5th place, in the end, giving Trident a double top-5 finish.
Verschoor carried his impressive pace into the feature race, starting well from 2nd on the grid. While he wasn’t quite able to match the pace of Drugovich, he maintained 2nd throughout the race, and secured an important 18 points, vaulting him up to 3rd in the standings. It seems as though Verschoor is a credible contender for the championship, a huge turnaround for a driver who didn’t have a seat until the last minute.
VAR mean business
One of the oldest and most decorated teams on the F1 junior ladder, Van Amersfoort Racing (VAR) are no strangers to success. Despite this, few expected the Dutch outfit, who were taking over the assets of the struggling HWA team, to show such impressive pace in 2022. Qualifying in the top 10 for both weekends so far, Hughes has shown good pace in race trim, too, as he ran as high as 9th before a crash in the Bahrain sprint race, and finished 9th in the feature race.
Starting on the front row for the sprint race, Hughes opted to gamble on the chance of a safety car, by putting on the soft tyre. A poor start squashed Hughes chances for a race win, but Hughes battled hard for the podium positions, finishing less than a tenth of a second behind Vips, and taking his first F2 podium. It was not to last, however, as excessive wear on his plank saw him disqualified from the race.
Sunday proved to be an even more impressive day for the Hughes-VAR combo, however, as they went toe-to-toe with the likes of Carlin and Hitech in the feature race. Starting well from 9th, Hughes made his way past Ayumu Iwasa and Armstrong, and held on from there, taking advantage of Lawson’s issues to net himself an impressive P4. If VAR can keep this form up when F2 returns to action at Imola, they could well find themselves competing for podiums and wins against the established big guns.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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