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…

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.

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 Great Britain Report: Hope and Pain

Just when things looked like they were going one way, the Formula 2 championship took a big swing at the British Grand Prix.

Championship leader Robert Shwartzman held a strong lead with seemingly no sign of letting up after his success at Hungary, but the Russian driver had a really tough time of it from the very beginning of the weekend, even from practice. Shwartzman just never looked comfortable and trailed his teammate and fellow Ferrari academy driver Mick Schumacher for much of the weekend.

Shwartzman’s feature race in Silverstone was the feature race I perhaps expected to unfold in Hungary for him when he started in 11th, only this time the tyre dilemma/alternate strategy couldn’t save Shwartzman at Silverstone. This time he couldn’t make it to reverse grid pole, finishing P14 in the feature race and P13 in the sprint race — a double non-points finish for the championship leader.

We’ll talk about it as we talk about other events from the weekend, but Shwartzman does still emerge from Silverstone in the lead of the championship despite scoring zero points during Round 4. All things considered, that can be considered the one positive for Shwartzman from the weekend.

Shwartman’s closest championship rival, Callum Ilott, was seemingly in prime contention to take a big slice out of Shwartman’s lead in the feature race — starting from P2 while Shwartman starting 18th — but an issue meant that he had to forfeit his front row starting slot for the pitlane. Somehow, Ilott recovered to finish in P5 in the feature race — a fantastic turnaround. Sure, who knows what was possible for Ilott had he started from the front row not but Ilott had seemingly turned a disaster into something, and gave himself a chance for the sprint race too.

However, during said sprint race, with Ilott running in a strong P2 he spun the car around and could not prevent the car from stalling and was forced to retire from the race.

Really disappointing for Ilott, who would’ve surely taken the lead of the championship had he managed to keep it pointing in the right direction. Had he been able to pull a strong result in that sprint race, it would have completed a remarkable recovery weekend from the debacle at the start of the sprint race — it would have been a champions weekend.

As disappointing as it was to see Ilott make a driver-error like that, he’s still in a great position after Shwartzman’s difficult weekend — trailing by just eight points. It could’ve been worse for Ilott, but it could’ve so much better. He could have left Silverstone with the championship lead.

Alas… Plenty of time left for Ilott.

Ilott wasn’t the only Virtuosi who lost a good result in the sprint race. Guanyu Zhou had driven a strong feature race to finish P2 and was running well in the sprint race too but a spin on the last lap pulled him down to 9th and out of the scoring. Had he held on, he could’ve found himself in 4th place in the standings, ahead of Nikita Mazepin and Dan Ticktum. Instead, Zhou finds himself down in 6th place.

Speaking of Nikita Mazepin, I haven’t been a fan of his. When he caused that incident in Russia, so soon after what happened in Spa…that was bad, really, really bad. The stupidity was incredible.

I thought Mazepin lucked his way somewhat into his maiden podium finish in Hungary, being one of the few drivers who benefitted with the — as it turned out — massively superior alternate strategy, and I still feel that was the case.

That said, Mazepin thoroughly earned his victory during the feature race at Silverstone — it was very much deserved and he controlled proceedings very maturely. Mazepin enjoyed a very strong weekend all around as he picked up a P5 in the sprint race and vaulted himself up to 4th in the standings having scored 57 of his 58 points in the last two rounds.

Mazepin is very much the driver in form in F2, and a return to Silverstone next week can only be a good thing for the Russian driver.

Dan Ticktum took the victory from reverse pole in the sprint race to take his tally for the season up to 57 points, one point behind Mazepin in 4th. Ticktum’s success in F2 this season has come more so through the sprint race this year than in the feature race: 37 of his 57 points have come in the sprint race this season. Still, Ticktum did well to deal with the pressure of Christian Lundgaard late on and he has been solid this season. A good time to shine with fellow Williams academy drivers Jack Aitken and Roy Nissany struggling this season.

Speaking of the aforementioned Renault junior driver, Lundgaard had a much better time at Silverstone — picking up 26 points on the weekend thanks to P4 and P2 finishes respectively — compared to Hungary where he went scoreless in both races in Budapest.

Having pit under the safety car during the sprint race, perhaps Lundgaard will be disappointed not to have taken victory away from Ticktum but with a difficult weekend for others around him, Lundgaard should be pretty happy with his points haul from the weekend. He’s very much back in the hunt.

Now going through some brief mentions, Mick Schumacher had a difficult weekend. He was running well in the feature race but sank like a stone late on and fell all the way down to 9th, missing out on reverse pole for the sprint race.

Louis Delatraz enjoyed a strong weekend as he picked up P6 and P3 respectively — he seems to be the top performer of F2’s more experienced group (your Luca Ghiotto’s, Nobaharu Matsushita’s etc.)

Jack Aitken had another weekend to forget. He was running well in the feature race after qualifying 6th but ended up finishing 13th in the feature race…

With Shwartzman’s difficulties, and even with Ilott’s error in the sprint race, the championship is very much open.

Ilott is obviously right back in the hunt and should another weekend like that for Shwartzman — and a weekend like Mazepin’s for any of the top-6, anyone can get right into the title hunt, and with Sochi now added to the equation we have a great season ahead.

Same track next week? Sure, let’s do it.

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…