Coming into Round 6 of the FIA Formula 2 Championship in the unique location of Baku in Azerbaijan, we expected chaos, and we certainly got it. Two rookie winners, plenty of collisions, and wild Safety Car restarts made for an exciting weekend’s worth of action.
By Tyler Foster
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Over the weekend, we spoke to the likes of Jüri Vips, Frederik Vesti and Dennis Hauger about how they approached the challenges of the Baku City Circuit. Join F1 Feeder Series as we review the racing from the City of Winds with our five key takeaways.
Vips goes from hero to zero
Some fans consider the most talented driver currently on the Formula 2 grid to be Vips. The 21-year-old Hitech driver made his first appearance in a Formula 1 race weekend in Free Practice 1 in Barcelona earlier this year. Vips has shown over the last season and a half that he is capable of fighting for the F2 title. This year, he has scored three podiums and two pole positions, taking his second in Baku after a very impressive Qualifying performance.
Starting on pole, Vips had the chance to recreate the Feature Race win he took in Baku last season as part of his double victory. Despite a crazy race, it all seemed to be going somewhat smoothly for Vips, and even after two safety cars, the Estonian found himself leading the race with just ten minutes remaining on the race clock.
However, as he has proven at times throughout his career, he is prone to making big mistakes at key moments, just as he did in Imola earlier in the year. Unfortunately, after his Hitech teammate Marcus Armstrong tagged him from the rear at the second safety car restart, Vips began to struggle with instability under braking. This led him to lose control of his car and crash out from the lead at the castle section.
It is the second time that Vips has walked away from a weekend with no points in the two races after taking pole position. He sits seventh in the standings, and if he has any hope of improving his championship position, he needs to take advantage of the chances that he creates for himself come Sunday’s Feature Race.
Hauger leaps up to fifth
Norway’s Hauger, the reigning Formula 3 champion, has begun to turn his season around after a slow start. After victory from the front row in the Sprint Race in Monaco, Hauger has appeared visibly more confident in and comfortable with his Prema. While his teammate Jehan Daruvala had outperformed him in the opening rounds, Baku may have marked a change in the status quo.
Hauger’s poor Feature Race record this year has been facilitated by his struggles in Qualifying. However, Hauger had his best Qualifying of the season with third in Baku, out-qualifying his teammate in the process. After retiring in the Sprint Race when he crashed at Turn 3 attempting an over-ambitious overtake, Hauger aimed to maximise his points haul on Sunday.
If you are going to make a big mistake, do it on Saturday and not on Sunday, when more points are available. With Vips’ error, fellow Red Bull junior Hauger stole the Feature Race win in dramatic style.
Hauger’s controlled performance on Sunday yielded the most critical win of his career. He now sits fifth in the standings, ahead of Vips and only 18 points behind Daruvala. We’ll see in a few weeks whether Hauger can continue his rise in performance during the hectic month of July.
Vesti’s maiden F2 win
Vesti has had a very similar season to that of Hauger, especially as a rookie coming from F3 in 2021. The Dane had a breakthrough in Round 4 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, scoring points in both races, including a maiden podium in the Feature Race.
Qualifying ninth in Baku and starting P2 for the Sprint Race, Vesti set himself up to fight for the win on Saturday. With reverse-grid polesitter Jake Hughes struggling from the start, it became a two-way battle between Vesti and Daruvala, who had taken the lead on the opening lap. On the second of three safety car restarts, Daruvala, under pressure from Vesti, made a mistake into Turn 1, enabling the ART Grand Prix driver to get past and collect his maiden victory in Formula 2.
With a seventh-place finish in the Feature Race a day later, Vesti moved up to twelfth in the standings with 41 points, only 18 points off fourth. Under the spotlight as the eldest Mercedes junior, Vesti is beginning to illustrate his worth at the Formula 2 level.
A Feature Race of attrition
Though we have already mentioned the battle for the Feature Race win between Vips and Hauger, it certainly wasn’t just about them. In total, there were at least five drivers who at one point looked viable for the race win.
Liam Lawson qualified second and achieved an impressive podium on Saturday but suffered a puncture halfway through the Feature Race, which ruined his chances of a strong result. Armstrong started P4 and at one point had the net race lead, but he had to pit after locking up massively and ramming Vips at the second restart. Meanwhile, Logan Sargeant, who started seventh, climbed all the way up to second and secured his first F2 Feature Race podium with a clean performance.
Two drivers missing from the points for a few rounds returned to score in Baku. Trident driver Richard Verschoor had an immense start to his campaign, winning the first race of the season and taking a double points finish, including a Feature Race podium, in Round 2, but he had taken no points since. On Sunday in Baku, Verschoor broke his pointless streak with fifth after recovering from last place early in the race.
Secondly, Ralph Boschung missed two rounds of action for Campos after suffering neck pain since Round 3 in Imola. Returning for the races last weekend, he finished ninth in the Feature Race despite starting from the back of the grid.
Drugovich increases his lead
Finally, one driver yet to be mentioned is championship leader Felipe Drugovich. His dominant season has been impressive, but he was rather quiet in Baku despite scoring in both races and finishing third in the chaos of the Feature Race.
Starting sixth for the Sprint Race, Drugovich rose one place to finish fifth. On Sunday, the Brazilian was rarely in the picture, but he nevertheless maintained pace with the leaders and took full advantage of both Hitechs’ failure to score from the front. He spent most of the race behind Hauger and Sargeant and stayed there until the chequered flag. With a good points haul, he has increased his lead over second-placed Théo Pourchaire to 49 points after the Frenchman only scored two points all weekend.
For Drugovich, July will be a big test, with four race weekends in the span of five weeks and the opportunity to compete at some of the most iconic circuits on the calendar. Formula 2 action next returns on 1 July at ‘the home of British motor racing’, Silverstone, alongside Formula 1, Formula 3 and W Series.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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