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 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.