F2 Tuscany Report: The Great Dane

Another week, another weekend of drama in the ever twisting title tale of the most fiercely contested title battle for many seasons in Formula 2, this time — and for the first time — around the mighty Mugello.

Fringe contender Christian Lundgaard took a great pole position on Friday, giving him a great chance to make some inroads on the points leaders ahead of him as he looked to continue his good run of form.

While Lundgaard was the first to pit onto the hards, he was very much in control of proceedings at the front having to make many overtakes (on those who had yet to pit) to get back to P1. While we don’t know how the end of the race would have shaken out with the tyres, Lundgaard was in control before the safety car was deployed, where the race flipped on its head for Lundgaard as it brought the field close together again, undoing his work and, perhaps more worryingly, bringing those on softs close to the action.

The first safety car restart was well handled by Lundgaard but was overtaken by the Luca Ghiotto on the second safety car restart and was promptly overtaken by Nikita Mazepin on soft tyres. Lundgaard was then picked off by more soft-compound runners in the form of Felipe Drugovich, Louis Deletraz and Mick Schumacher, leaving Lundgaard to eventually finish the feature race in 6th place.

Safety cars can be cruel in F2 and this one definitely hurt Lundgaard, who was set to take the full 25 points on a day where Robert Shwartzman DNF’d, Mick Schumacher running outside of the top-10 and Tsunoda and Ilott obviously behind the ART driver.

However, he was able to make some sort of amends with one of the more dominant victories of the season as he finished 14 seconds ahead of Deletraz in the sprint race after a great start vaulted him past Juri Vips and Artem Markelov. By the time those with the pace passed Markelov, Lundgaard was clear and could control the race and his tyres.

The upshot of it is that Lundgaard is now very much in title contention, moving up to 3rd in the standings — 16 points adrift of Mick Schumacher with three rounds and six races to go.

Again, it’s worth mentioning that Lundgaard has seemingly no immediate route into F1 for 2021 with both Renault seats filled and Fernando Alonso already confirmed for 2022. Winning the F2 title would put him in an interesting spot as to where Lundgaard would drive in 2021 (since champions cannot return to F2) but let’s see what happens.

It was a weekend that began very nicely for Callum Ilott, who qualified 3rd while his main title rivals — Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher — qualified 9th and 15th respectively.

However, Ilott’s start was poor, falling down to 7th place at the start. It was a bit of a slow-grind for Ilott to get through the field but he fought back up the order and was looking very good to increase his lead at the top of the championship, with Schumacher down the pack on the alternate strategy and Shwartzman running into bad luck and a DNF in the feature race.

The entire race flipped on its head when a safety car was deployed after Guliano Alesi’s car was unable to be recovered in the first sector after an engine failure (to which father Jean Alesi was less than enthused), giving the opportunity to those who had recently pitted onto the alternate strategy to close up to the hard runners, leaving them vulnerable.

The safety car restart was chaos and Ilott found himself in trouble, forced to pit and replace his front wing. We didn’t see what happened that required the wing to be replaced but he and Schumacher were running side-by-side after the restart, perhaps some contact happened there?

Regardless, it put Ilott well out of contention for the reverse grid — finishing 12th — but did well to fight back up the field to help his grid position for it, helped in that regard by the second safety car, required for the three-car collision between Guanyu Zhou, Mick Schumacher and Jack Aitken.

From P12 in the sprint race, Ilott did well to score some points on the weekend — sixth in the sprint race — and his pace throughout the weekend was clear to see. While his start in the feature race wasn’t great and left him with more work than he needed to do, he was very much one of the victims of the first safety car, sitting in fifth place when it was deployed having just been overtaken by Yuki Tsunoda.

Ilott can consider himself fortunate that the gap between himself and Mick Schumacher is just eight points heading to Sochi in a fortnight.

Speaking of the German…he can also consider himself very lucky this weekend.

An error in qualifying — one he was lucky to avoid stuffing it into the barrier again — meant he was on the back-foot with a damaged car and could only qualify 15th. He was one of the drivers who gambled on the alternate strategy, and while there was no safety car to be found while those at the front who pitted onto hards from softs fought through the field, there was eventually safety car to bring those new soft runners — like Schumacher — closer to the fray.

On the safety car restart, Schumacher can count himself lucky that he (a) wasn’t sent into the barrier after contact with the sandwiched Guanyu Zhou and (b) was largely unaffected/undamaged from the hit he sustained and could carry on.

After that, Schumacher was able to bring it home in P5 to pick up 10 unlikely points and the championship lead.

Schumacher extended his slender lead to eight points with a P4 in the sprint race to complete a successful weekend where his rivals dropped points in one fashion or another (other than Lundgaard, who wasn’t the most immediate threat heading into the weekend). An eight point lead isn’t much, but it’s a lead nevertheless. Schumacher has had the pace all season long, as well as the consistency. Now that he’s in front, can he see it out?

Moving on, what is there to say for Robert Shwartzman?

Qualifying in the P9-range isn’t anything too unusual for Shwartzman but while running ahead of Schumacher, Zhou and Deletraz on the alternate strategy, the Russian being forced into a DNF in the feature race was just about the worst thing that could have happened for his weekend.

His drive in the sprint race from the back was fantastic but his efforts went unrewarded, finishing P9 after being overtaken by Marino Sato on soft tyres after pitting under the VSC.

All of a sudden, Shwartzman is now on the outside looking in, suddenly dropping to fourth place in the standings but is still just 21 points behind Schumacher. Not impossible but he will have to beat the other three drivers in the process, starting in qualifying first and foremost — can’t contend for a title qualifying outside the top-5 as consistently as Shwartzman has. Not now, not when there’s this many contenders for the title now.

Speaking of another driver who has slid down in the standings, a rough weekend for Yuki Tsunoda.

Tsunoda was in P4 after the safety car restart and attacking Dan Ticktum for third, only to make contact with the DAMS driver before falling down the field as he, like many, was overtaken by those on softs before a five second penalty for the collision with Ticktum took him out of the top 10, finishing in 16th place.

In the sprint race, Tsunoda then damaged his wing after hitting the rear of Felipe Drugovich and was shown a black and orange flag, forcing him to pit and any hopes of points for Tsunoda disappeared.

Tsunoda is now in sixth in the standings on 123 points, now 38 points behind Schumacher. More importantly though than the title is the fact Tsunoda, I believe, needs fourth place in the standings for sufficient superlicence points and he’s now 17 points behind the man who holds that position: Robert Shwartzman.

Tsunoda has a legitimate shot at an Alpha Tauri seat for 2021 and he’ll need to find a way to stay out of trouble in these last three rounds and needs to show the pace everyone knows he’s capable of to get back to that P4. He was unlucky in terms of the timing of the safety car but hitting Ticktum wasn’t what he needed to do.

The man who jumped ahead of Tsunoda in the standings was feature race winner Nikita Mazepin. I don’t have a ton to say here but Mazepin got lucky with the safety car as he was one of the alternate strategy runners, made up a few positions in the first corner on the restart before jumping up to P3 and quickly took the lead after the second restart and there you go: a winner from P14 on the grid. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, sometimes you’re not.

Mazepin then took his teammate, Luca Ghiotto, out in the sprint race and finished in a well-deserved 18th place and only served to further influence people to dislike him with a radio meltdown after he was boxed by Hitech after the collision with his teammate.

Mazepin sits 34 points behind Schumacher and is still on the fringes of contention ahead of his home grand prix.

Alright, quick-hitters…

  • A solid weekend for Luca Ghiotto: holding onto P2 on hards in the feature race was a fantastic showing…before being taken out by his teammate in the sprint race.
  • Gunayu Zhou can consider himself unlucky to be squeezed by Jack Aitken (who it seemed like just didn’t realise Zhou had a car on his right-hand side) and into retirement when Mazepin was behind him when the race restarted. However, Zhou’s drive from the back of the field to finish P5 in the sprint race.
  • Dan Ticktum was another driver who was screwed by the safety car in the feature race and then hit by Tsunoda to take him out of podium contention but cannot continue these radio tirades. They’re just embarrassing. That said, it was hilarious to hear Ticktum ask what he did to ‘deserve this bad luck’. HMMMMMMMMM. LET ME THINK ABOUT THAT FOR TWO SECONDS, HUH.
  • Finally, a weekend and long awaited points for Juri Vips finally came his way in Mugello, with the Estonian collecting the P3 trophy having just fallen short of snatching second away from Louis Deletraz.
  • Speaking of Deletraz, a double podium on the weekend means he’s now just one point behind Yuki Tsunoda and four points behind Nikita Mazepin. A quietly good season for Deletraz, who still chases a maiden victory in F2. He’s becoming the Nick Heidfeld of F2 (no disrespect there, I loved Nick Heidfeld).
  • Poor old Marcus Armstrong was relatively on pace this weekend and scored his first points since STYRIA. That’s how long ago it was.
  • We finally saw Artem Markelov at the front of an F2 grid again, sitting on pole position for the sprint race after his eighth place finish but could not hold on and found himself sliding down the field before being forced to pit with wing damage and finished last of all in the sprint race.

I think that covers it.

Mick Schumacher is the one who leads the way now but the chasing pack draws close. Too close to comfort and too close to have to wait another two weeks to see the next instalment of FIA Formula 2…

The title fight carries on…

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