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…

F2 Report 70th Anniversary: A season-defining weekend?

Another week, another weekend of racing action at Silverstone, this time for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Last weekend was a weekend where Callum Ilott should have taken the lead of the championship from Robert Shwartzman, who would’ve been relieved (and lucky) to leave that Round 4 with the championship lead after posting a blank at Silverstone the first time around. However, a unforced error from Ilott while running in the podium places forced Ilott into a retirement…

Ilott righted the wrongs from last week as he took a dominant victory in the feature racing this time around — converting the victory from pole position — and was able to add a few more points in the sprint race too.

The upshot of it all (in a very successful weekend for Ilott) is that he now takes a 19 point lead of the championship, which officially (as of right now) reached the halfway point.

But it’s not a 19 point lead ahead of Robert Shwartzman — it’s Christian Lundgaard who he leads now. Such was the weekend (and last weekend too) that Shwartzman has dropped down to 3rd in the standings, 21 points adrift of Ilott now.

In a sense, Shwartzman only has himself to blame and in another sense he’s very unlucky.

Having led for most of the way during the sprint race, he was the victim of Mick Schumacher’s swipe into Brooklands, misjudging where his teammate was — 15 points (or, 12 at least) gone in the blink of an eye, and a 21 point deficit too.

That said, Shwartzman was, again, like last week, nowhere in qualifying and, thus, not in contention for a podium spot in the feature race (but, to be fair, was able to climb to reverse grid pole this time around).

I’m sure Shwartzman will be delighted to see the back of Silverstone, scoring a total of four points across four races while Ilott has scored 43 points, Lundgaard scored a very blessed 44 points and Mazepin — now only 14 points adrift of Shwartzman — also collected 44 points across the two Grand Prix weekends at Silverstone.

To win a title, you have to be able to perform anywhere and everywhere. Callum Ilott has shown the ability to do that so far. Unfortunately for Shwartzman, the track where he could not do that happened to host two Grand Prix weekends and four races… Ilott has been there or thereabouts every race so far.

Of the man who also jumped Shwartzman this weekend, a good weekend for Christian Lundgaard.

His place in the standings took a big hit after a tough weekend in Hungary but a strong feature race in which he took 2nd place means he takes the exact same position in the standings, just 19 points behind leader Ilott.

The sprint race was a weird one for him as he suffered from tyre issues and, eventually, a left-front puncture but a strong weekend from the Dane.

At this rate now, he’s probably moved himself ahead of, the slightly unlucky at times this season, Guanyu Zhou in the Renault academy. Lundgaard has enjoyed a much better season so far and, for what it’s worth, is 19 years old — 2 year younger than Zhou. If I was Renault, I’d explore the idea of sticking Lundgaard in that Renault for a testing session of some sort, get him some sort of experience in an F1 car.

Again, it’s a horrible time to be a Renault junior driver, given how limited opportunities have been for young drivers in their program to actually race for Renault now that Fernando Alonso has been confirmed for 2021 and 2022 and Esteban Ocon under contract for 2021.

Former Renault academy driver (by choice) Jack Aitken decided to show up for the 2020 F2 season after a double podium finish on the weekend, his first of the season. The sprint race podium a little fortunate after the Schumacher/Shwartzman incident dropped Shwartzman out of the points but even still… Aitken had qualified well last weekend but it just fell apart in the race. Not so this time.

What Aitken needs to do is follow this on next time out in Spain and not do what Luca Ghiotto has done where he’s had one good Grand Prix weekend on the season and hasn’t scored since (as he hasn’t done since Hungary).

Yuki Tsunoda took the sprint race victory but it’s fairer to say he inherited the sprint race victory after Schumacher and Shwartzman collided. To be fair to Tsunoda though, he was right there when that accident happened: he was part of the leading trio which were well clear of the rest of the field, they were in a class of their own on Sunday.

Tsunoda, on his day, is as quick as some of the front-runners but has shown inconsistency. If he can put together a run, he’d potentially make Red Bull’s decision (worth remembering Tsunoda is a Honda junior driver) in terms of their driver lineup for Alpha Tauri more difficult for 2021, with matters as unclear as they are between Alex Albon at Red Bull and then Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat at Alpha Tauri.

All Tsunoda has to do is stringing together performances similar to this.

Let’s do a general round-up: a few quick hitters.

Some great overtaking at Silverstone this weekend. Louis Delatraz with a number of moves at the exit of the Vale complex (very solid weekend for Delatraz overall), Guanyu Zhou had a great one in the sprint race (Zhou was strong in the sprint race)…some really good racing this weekend.

This overtake from Mazepin was very brave as the Russian continued his fine form.

Dan Ticktum still hasn’t learned a damn thing… It’s incredible.

An awful weekend for Ticktum, falling from a strong qualifying position of 4th to finish 15th in the feature race but fared better in the sprint race as he finished in 7th from 15th.

Marcus Armstrong started the season well but has really struggled of late and did so again over the weekend. Armstrong hasn’t scored a point since the Styrian sprint race: three race weekends now. Tough going, especially seeing the recent form of teammate Lundgaard.

We probably saw the best of Artem Markelov this weekend so far this season. Now, that isn’t saying much (considering his ‘best’ weekend so far consisted of an 11th place finish in the sprint race. Alas…

This was nice though.

So, Callum Ilott is the leader of the championship once again as we reach the “halfway” point.

Now, I don’t think we’re actually at the halfway mark of the season. Officially, yes, we are, but I imagine we’ll see confirmation of some races at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi once those venues are confirmed for F1 to finish the season.

Whatever the case, Robert Shwartzman has work to do… His, at one point, strong championship lead is well and truly gone.

F2 Hungary Report: Shwartzman takes charge

You could’ve looked in a number of different directions across the F2 grid after the first two Grand Prix weekends for potential contenders (you can catch up on that here).

However, as F2 departs Hungary for Silverstone for a back-to-back slog, a couple of drivers have taken big steps forwards, while others have taken a step back in the context of the championship.

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman led the way heading into the weekend despite a driver error forcing him into a DNF from the sprint race in Styria. He now leaves Hungary with a strong 18 point lead after taking victory in the feature race and P4 in the sprint race.

This was such a weird weekend in F2.

Firstly, practice running was ran in damp conditions and qualifying took on the same turn of fate. A red flag towards the end of qualy really helped the Virtuosi pair of Callum Ilott and Guanyu Zhou, who had set their times just before the flag and lined up first and third ahead of the feature race.

Things looked bad for Shwartzman, who lined up in P11 and behind many of his rivals, including main rival Ilott who obviously sat on pole position.

No one, however, could’ve predicted how the feature race would’ve unfolded.

The alternate strategy isn’t always one that works out in the feature race and you don’t see too many drivers opt for it, no matter their grid position. However, a few took the plunge, including Shwartzman: a gamble from P11, with a good chance of reverse grid pole.

A poor start from Zhou meant he was swallowed at the start whereas Shwartzman, on the medium tyre, vaulted into a quick P6, a fantastic return on the harder tyre off of the line. The race unfolded as you’d expect to start off: those on softs eventually peeled in to swap onto the mediums. Some, like Dan Ticktum, chose to do so at the first possible opportunity. Others, like Mick Schumacher, opted to go a little farther.

With limited running in dry conditions, the drivers who pitted from softs found out that the medium tyre just fell apart and those who started on the mediums seemed to fare far better, with Shwartzman leading the majority of the race on them. You don’t want to make a second stop in F2, which meant everyone just had to manage or limp onwards on their mediums, which made for a lot of ‘chop-and-change’ throughout the grid.

Once those who started on the mediums pitted for softs towards the end of the race, they just absolutely gobbled those on the old mediums. Once Shwartzman overtook Schumacher for the lead, he was five seconds clear within a lap and never looked back. The others on the alternate strategy like Nikita Mazepin, Jehan Daruvala and Felipe Drugovich scored some strong points (including a maiden podium for Mazepin) — it was clearly the much quicker race strategy as it turned out.

The Virtuosi pair sank like a stone in the race (P8 for Ilott, P10 for Zhou) but some of the more experienced heads had a better time of it this weekend, such as Luca Ghiotto and Louis Delatraz (and that’s generally speaking).

The sprint race also threw up a surprise.

Normally, it’s a race from lights-to-flag with no pitstops. Some took the plunge, using the knowledge of the tyres that they discovered from the feature race and fitted the soft tyres while others, like Luca Ghiotto, elected to stay out in hope they wouldn’t be caught and passed by those who stopped. Some were caught and passed but Ghiotto was able to just about hold on from the charging Ilott to take victory, who probably needed one more corner to take victory.

It was a weird weekend in general, one where the strategy dictated the final result more so than driver skill and overall pace (though, an element of that was obviously required when it came to tyre management) — a bit of a rarity in F2. With no disrespect to Nikita Mazepin, he’s never contending for a podium without extraordinary tyre circumstances like what we saw in the feature race, it was that much of a factor.

Shwartzman, though, was the star of the show, victor of his second straight feature race. Irregardless of how the tyres in feature race played out, his start on the harder medium tyre put him in a great position to be a factor from P11. The way the strategy played meant that it wasn’t even close, but victory would’ve been a possibility regardless after that point.

Ilott charged well during the sprint race but faded a bit in the weird feature race before being gobbled by all of those who chose the alternate strategy. He’ll be satisfied enough the gap isn’t larger to Shwartzman and has still shown great improvements from last year.

A tough weekend for Guanyu Zhou. A fortuitous P3 in qualifying after the red flag but he couldn’t convert that grid position and a poor start in the feature race stuck him in the pack. He had a chance of reverse grid pole but that was struck away late on as he was overtaken. After setting the pace in Austria, with how things have worked out, it seems he will not be a contending driver for the F2 title this year, and that’ll work out fine since there’s no way to jump to Renault in 2021 with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso already confirmed.

The ART pair of Christian Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong had a weekend to forget: zero points for either driver. Lundgaard was unlucky as a late reaction from Ghiotto cut the front tyre off of Lundgaard’s car in the feature race and that was it for his weekend from there, effectively.

Dan Ticktum had a rough weekend. Problems in the sprint race meant he didn’t finish, and he in particular really struggled with the mediums in the feature race and he also sank like a stone, finishing in P9. He’s had a strong season but he’s one of a few drivers who will be happy to see Hungary behind him. It was just a weekend to forget for all Williams academy drivers: Jack Aitken was just nowhere, and Roy Nissany ploughed into his teammate in the feature race on cold tyres.

Really strong weekend for Mick Schumacher: a double podium weekend at the track he took the sprint race victory last year. Schumacher was the quickest of the drivers who started from the softs and fitted the mediums in the feature race. Under different circumstances with the tyres, he probably wins that feature race, or finishes close with Shwartzman at the very least, but given the weirdness of it, he did well to finish P3 in the feature race. Schumacher has shown strong pace all season so far, he deserved a weekend where it came together.

Jehan Daruvala is worth a brief mention here too. He obviously benefitted massively from the alternate strategy in the feature race but he put three successive moves around the outside of the final corner, and that was very fun to watch. Alternate strategy or not, that’s an impressive feat.

Looking at the bigger championship picture…

Shwartzman and Ilott were able to pull away this weekend, and it says a lot about the weekend and how everyone else struggled when Lundgaard — who scored no points this weekend — was able to remain in P3 when all was said and done.

Right now, it’s Shwartzman’s and Ilott’s title to challenge for, and even though there are (right now) still 12 total races to run across six Grand Prix weekends, it’s hard to imagine anyone else bursting onto the scene to contend with the leading pair — especially given the fact the gap from Shwartzman to Lundgaard in third is 38 points.

Schumacher has shown he has pace across all weekends so far, but will obviously need slip ups from both Shwartzman and Ilott along the way to have any hope of contention, as well as no further mistakes from Schumacher himself: no more excursions like the one during the Austrian feature race.

Robert Shwartzman has been the class of the field so far, and is surely one step closer to Formula 1…