F2 Belgian Grand Prix Report: No Longer a Party of Two

The Formula 2 title race took another twist across the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix, one that saw Yuki Tsunoda and Robert Shwartzman claim crucial victories at the expense of a difficult weekend for championship contender Callum Ilott.

Ilott had struggled for much of the weekend and for the first time this season found himself down the order after qualifying, where he qualified 12th for the feature race. Ilott was unable to recover to reverse grid pole as he took 10th place and one singular point, and any hopes of a good result in the sprint race was taken away as he was punted by Yuki Tsunoda after Les Combes.

Ilott has been a very consistent performer all year (the most consistent, in fact) and it says a lot about this season of Formula 2 that the one weekend Ilott was off the pace, he’s overtaken in the standings. However, there’s a lot of season left for Ilott to get back on the top step of the podium and back on top of the standings, where he now trails Robert Shwartzman by just 10 points.

Speaking of the Russian driver, a solid haul of points returns him to the top of the standings once again — P5 in the feature race and a very straightforward sprint race victory. There’s not a whole lot to say about the feature race but Shwartzman benefitted from the collision between Roy Nissany and Dan Ticktum, who were contesting the lead of the race while Shwartzman sat behind in third.

Once Shwartzman got through, that was that. Ticktum’s pace deficit after the incident backed the pack up as the Russian driver just pulled away and never looked back. The stars truly did align for Shwartzman on the Sunday, between that incident, Ticktum holding everyone else up — allowing Shwartzman to drive away from the field — and Yuki Tsunoda taking Callum Ilott out of the race whilst finishing outside of the points himself after receiving a penalty for said accident.

His lead at the top of the standings is only 10 points but it’s the lead nevertheless. The only issue is now Shwartzman and Ilott aren’t the only title contenders anymore…

Which brings us nicely to the aforementioned Yuki Tsunoda…

Tsunoda was the pace-setter for much of the weekend but a slower pitstop than Nikita Mazepin put the Japanese driver behind the Russian. Tsunoda caught Mazepin late-on but couldn’t find a way past, with Mazepin firm in his defence of the lead. On the slow-down lap after the race, Mazepin was slammed with a 5-second penalty, promoting Tsunoda to the top-step of the podium.

We’ll talk about Mazepin later but Tsunoda deserved to win that feature race — he was the quickest driver across the weekend. Sadly for him, he couldn’t complete the weekend in the sprint race, punting the back of Callum Ilott on the opening lap and very much in the thick of the Tickum-Train, meaning he kept in that group without much chance to pull out the gap he needed to stay in the points once his penalty was applied when crossing the line.

Not sure why he wasn’t slapped with a grid penalty for the next race, 5-seconds seems far too lenient for knocking someone else out of the race but alas…

Sprint race aside, Tsunoda is now officially a title contender, sitting just 11 points adrift of Callum Ilott and 21 points off of Robert Shwartzman for the lead of the title. I remember writing earlier in the season that Tsunoda had the pace to be towards the front but his consistency was the problem — he picked up 24 points in Styria between his pole and 2nd place in the feature race but drew blanks in Austria as well as Budapest. However, since the Great Britain, Tsunoda has been consistently scoring, the consistency he needed.

Now, thanks to that, Tsunoda is very much in the title hunt with a quite a ways yet to go in this championship.

Another driver who has shown consistency from Great Britain is Nikita Mazepin.

Mazepin found himself at the sharp end for the feature race and jumped Tsunoda in the pits. His defence of first place was firm, too firm in the eyes of the stewards which saw him slapped with a 5-second penalty and the race victory he worked hard to hold onto taken away.

The common thinking, from everything you hear on team radio and what you see on the track to confirm this, is that not many feel very comfortable racing Mazepin. Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher weren’t too pleased with some of the driving from Mazepin, who many seem to label as dangerous. He’s a hard racer, sure, but a very boneheaded racer in some situations too.

Mazepin can be slightly ticked off for how his race win was taken away (it could’ve easily gone either way) but what was unacceptable was his behaviour afterwards. Yes, it’s fine to be mad but to act in the way he did with the position-board in parc-ferme, his interview after the race, his behaviour on the podium and almost walking away from the the afters where the podium finishers held up a French flag to honour Anthoine Hubert.

Mazepin was hit with a suspended 5-place grid drop for the board incident but there shouldn’t be anything suspended about it: that very nearly hit Yuki Tsunoda.

That being said, even with his 2nd place in the feature race, Mazepin is now a fringe title contender, sitting in 5th place in the standings 31 points behind Shwartzman — that’s not incredibly far and Mazepin has showed pace to win races.

However, Mazepin simply doesn’t have the maturity — on or off the track — for F1 right now, even if he is one of the most improved drivers in F2 this season. He does have the financial backing though, which is a little more worrying (in that money does find a way to get a drive in F1).

If Yuki Tsunoda is now a title contender, then Mick Schumacher has to be in the same conversation too.

A very solid weekend for Schumacher, whose love of this track is well documented. A double podium (3rd in the feature race after a great start, 2nd in the sprint race) for Schumacher launches him into contention, sitting in 4th place on 106 points, 5 behind Tsunoda, 16 behind Ilott and 26 behind Shwartzman.

Schumacher has shown pace all season long and can count himself very unlucky he isn’t leading the title itself after missing an opportunity in Austria in the feature race from the top-3 and a fire extinguisher putting out his hopes while running in P3 in Styria.

What’s missing for Schumacher however — the one thing those in front (and some behind) have — is a feature race victory: Schumacher needs to pick one up to have any hope of hanging in this title fight. If he can knock that monkey off of his back, then we’re talking.

Dan Ticktum did very well to make up for a lack of running on Friday after an inconclusive Covid test meant that he couldn’t run in practice. Of course, that wasn’t the talking point for the weekend with Ticktum, who collided with sprint race pole sitter Roy Nissany in the early exchanges of the sprint race. I thought Ticktum was through around the outside of Les Combes (a contentious overtaking spot across the weekend) and Nissany should have gotten out of it, but he didn’t, he made contact with Ticktum which forced Ticktum off of the track and when the Brit rejoined the track the curb spat him into Nissany, who ended up in the wall and out of the race.

Having to carry on with the damage, Ticktum did well to hold on for as long as he did (as Shwartzman, and then Schumacher and Zhou escaped up the road once Ticktum was overtaken) but could not prevent the train he created from overtaking him. Again, he did well to hold on for as long as he did but had nothing to show for it in the end.

Looking at some other drivers across the weekend, a solid weekend for Guanyu Zhou has lifted him to 92 points and 6th place in the standings, solid podium for the sprint race. Still a little disappointing on the season overall though, and like Schumacher, could do with a feature race win.

Louis Delatraz also enjoyed a solid weekend, and is putting together a decent season (as one should maybe expect for someone as experienced in F2 as him).

Artem Markelov finally scores his first point of the season in the sprint race, so congratulations to him.

Juri Vips made his F2 debut over the weekend in place of the injured Sean Galael and, despite starting at the back in the feature race and stalling on the grid in the sprint race, Vips was very impressive over the weekend.

…I think that about covers all I care to write about for F2 this weekend. It was an emotional one, given what happened last year. It was on the minds of everyone (which was another reason why Mazepin’s tirade after the feature race was so embarrassing on his behalf because there were clearly bigger things going on this weekend) and, honestly, I was scared watching the action live, hoping everyone would get through unscathed.

Thankfully, they did, and I’d call that a success over everything else.

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