F2 Italy Report: Schumacher’s Stars Align

As we move well into the second half of the 2020 Formula 2 season, each race becomes more and more decisive and important as the stakes for winning the F2 championship in 2020 become higher and higher, with a few seats surely in the offing in Formula 1 for 2021 for the victor.

The momentum the last few weeks has brought some competition towards the two title contenders for much of the season: Ferrari academy drivers Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott. Last weekend’s action in Belgium brought Honda’s Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher — another Ferrari academy driver — and Nikita Mazepin into the equation.

After a double podium at Spa, it was another weekend to remember for Mick Schumacher, won finally won his first race of the season and his first feature race win in Formula 2. He was slightly fortuitous from the point of view that Callum Ilott was in control before stalling during his one and only pitstop but Schumacher was set for a strong result after an absolutely mega-start from P7 (having crashed the car in qualifying) to rise to P2.

Ilott’s stall wasn’t the only thing that went right for Schumacher over the weekend.

Former title leader Robert Shwartzman’s poor qualifying (one of the many drivers who did not get a chance to set a lap time at the end of qualifying due to Schumacher’s crash bringing out the red flag) meant he started from 16th on the grid and ended up finishing in 9th place for the feature race as Schumacher won. The Russian would then finish behind Schumacher again in the sprint race, picking up fifth place but dropping more points to his teammate…

Yuki Tsunoda’s poor start left him with work to do but eventually finished the feature race in fourth. Unluckily for Tsunoda, he was struck by reliability issues in the sprint race, finishing multiple laps down in the end. Similar issues struck Nikita Mazepin during the feature race, and the Russian’s only point from the weekend came by way of Dan Ticktum’s disqualification in the sprint race.

All of these things lined up for Schumacher, with Ticktum’s disqualification from the race win, yes, bumping Callum Ilott to first but it also promoted Schumacher to third — his eighth podium of the season.

With another double podium weekend — and his fifth in a row, sixth in the last seven races — Schumacher has jumped ahead of Robert Shwartzman for second place and sits just six points behind Ilott with four more race weekends to go.

I wrote last week the only thing missing from Schumacher — who was a fringe contender after last weekend — was a feature race win. He’s got it, and now he’s very much a title contender.

Callum Ilott I’m sure will have mixed feelings on the weekend.

On the one sense, he can be happy that he leaves Monza with the title lead once again and I’m sure he’ll be happy to inherit the sprint race victory after Ticktum’s disqualification. However…he should have left Monza with both victories.

Ilott was unquestionably the quickest driver in the feature race on Saturday and, just like Spain, that race was his to win. However, a stall in the pits (which comes down usually to driver error) marred what should have been a lights-to-flag victory. It’s not the first time this season Ilott has stalled the car. Fortunately, it didn’t lead to retirement like it did at Silverstone while in a podium spot.

Ilott’s charge through the field at a track where it’s difficult to overtake in DRS/slipstream trains marked an excellent recovery drive where he finished 6th, giving him a chance to at least salvage some points from the sprint race (which he took).

While you could argue that Mick Schumacher has been as, if not, more consistent that Ilott now, I still think Ilott has been the fastest driver of the 2020 F2 grid. Driver error has cost him (as well some other events outside of his control) but Ilott is still right there.

Robert Shwartzman can similarly count himself fortunate he isn’t further behind in the standings, still just nine points behind Ilott, three behind Schumacher.

Qualifying was obviously a tough one for Shwartzman. Even though the Schumacher red flag didn’t help, qualifying hasn’t been a strong-suit for the Russian driver this season. While he did manage to pick up a few points in the feature race, he agonisingly slipped out of reverse-grid pole in the latter stages, unable to keep the alternate strategy runners behind.

All in all, to be just nine points away from the lead of the title despite a tough weekend, Shwartzman should be content enough heading to Mugello.

Certainly, he should be a lot more content than Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin, who slid further away after technical woes (and Roy Nissany, in the case of Mazepin) cost them points this weekend. Tsunoda is still within touching distance — sitting 26 points behind Ilott — but Mazepin is now 47 points away, the momentum heading into this weekend now gone.

Guanyu Zhou can also be pretty peeved with how this weekend went. He had a brilliant feature race, recovering from 17th on the grid to finish 5th and was running well in the sprint race before being struck by the , seemingly, same issues that struck Tsunoda and Mazepin.

Christian Lundgaard enjoyed his best weekend in F2 in a number of weeks, the Dane taking two trophies home from Monza after finishing P3 in the feature race and P2 in the sprint race.

As a result, he vaulted ahead of both Zhou and Mazepin and isn’t completely out of the running for the title either — 33 points adrift of Ilott — but would very much on the outside fringes looking in. Not that it would do much for Lundgaard — nor any Renault academy driver — to win the F2 title this season…

Dan Ticktum drove an excellent, controlled sprint race but his victory was short-lived as he was disqualified after DAMS were unable to provide a fuel sample to the FIA after the race, with Ticktum having to stop on track after the chequered flag. Ticktum sounded pretty worried that he would lose his victory when Rachel Brooks interviewed him and his worries had solid foundation.

I’m sure Ticktum was annoyed at that and DAMS are also pretty annoyed with the FIA about the disqualification too

What else from the weekend…

Oh yes, Roy Nissany. So, there was a lot of Roy Nissany talk over the weekend since he featured (again) in FP1 for Williams. After that, Nissany qualified in P5 (certainly helped by the Schumacher red flag at the end), his best effort on Friday BY FAR.

Now, I wasn’t buying this for a minute. Having watched Roy Nissany in F2 in 2018 and this year, I’ve watched enough to know that… He. Is. Not. Good. So it was no surprise to me that he (a) caused an accident as he forced Mazepin off onto the gravel after the first chicane and (b) he finished absolutely no where (P19 in the feature race). Then, for good measure, Nissany whacked the back of Felipe Drugovich and the Brazilian was unable to keep the car going, forcing the MP into retirement.

Normal service is resumed, carry on…

The two pink HWA cars — piloted by Guilano Alesi and Artem Markelov — have been absolutely no where this year and it was only this weekend that I realised that the struggles of those two are probably more down to the car than the drivers themselves. There’s hardly been anything to separate them and it’s not a situation like Jack Aitken and Samaia, where Aitken is consistently much higher than his Campos teammate. But yeah, willing to give a free pass (to an extent) to Alesi and Markelov for their struggles this year. Anyone who has watched F2 knows this isn’t Artem Markelov.

Not a ton else to say really… Solid weekends for Luca Ghiotto, Louis Deletraz, Jehan Daruvala, and Juri Vips finally finished somewhere other than 11th (finishing P9 in the sprint race).

Just one last thing on the title race…

With three Ferrari drivers aiming for the F2 title — and the F2 title winner being unable to return to F2 the following year — the winner of this year’s F2 title should be the one to grab an Alfa Romeo seat. Schumacher will likely end up in it anyways and I think Shwartzman will end up in F1 at some point (the progression from winning in F3 to winning in F2 straightaway is usually followed with a quick rise to F1), this might be Ilott’s best chance — and he’s taking it to Schumacher and Shwartzman.

Whoever wins the title will fully deserve an F1 seat, and should get the F1 seat. Whether that’s how things actually work out remains to be seen…

Yuki Tsunoda has an ever increasing chance of a seat at Alpha Tauri but, per the Sky Sports broadcast, needs to finish fourth in the standings to acquire enough points for his superlicence — he’s currently in fourth with a 13 lead over Christian Lundgaard.

With all of these things on the line, it’s only going to make for a thrilling end to an amazing 2020 F2 season that has seen 10 different winners.

And it happens all again next week at Mugello. Should be fantastic…

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