F2 Austria 2023

Let’s not pretend we won’t talk about track limits

Austria marked the first of the much touted “four races in one month” thing. Hard to tell if it’s actually good or bad so I’ll quickly move on.

Practice: Six drivers don’t exceed track limits

I missed the first ten minutes of Practice, but if the rest was anything to go by, I didn’t miss much. It’s almost as if they’re meant to just drive round in an uneventful way. Luckily Théo Pourchaire didn’t get that memo and livened things up by spinning ten minutes before the end of the session. The red flags waved while he was taken away.

As Practice resumed, with just a few minutes left, Amaury Cordeel also went for a spin. That was all we had time for and the session ended with Enzo Fittipaldi the fastest, Victor Martins second and Frederik Vesti third.

Ralph Boschung ended his practice session less successfully, being handed a three-place grid drop for the Sprint Race because he did a practice start when he shouldn’t have.

Qualifying: Four drivers don’t exceed track limits

Martins set the early pace in Qualifying, despite efforts from others that were mainly thwarted by having their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits. Isack Hadjar’s attempts at being fast, however, were thwarted by his car breaking, as he trundled down the pit lane, billowing black smoke.

With eight minutes to go, everyone came out to try their final fast laps, except Hadjar who was stuck in the pits and looked despairing even with his helmet on. They all went very fast, but Martins was still faster. The last few minutes were just a mass of cars getting in each other’s way, driving through the gravel and having lap times deleted for track limits violations. None of this phased Martins, who ended the session on pole position. “Yesssss!” he declared. Vesti was second and Pourchaire was third.

After the session, the stewards managed to find a brief period where Hadjar had gone out on track, because they handed him a three-place grid penalty for the Sprint Race for impeding Jack Doohan. After qualifying 21st, ahead of only Boschung, the penalties meant that Hadjar would start the Sprint Race in 21st, ahead of only Boschung.

Sprint Race: Eight drivers don’t exceed track limits

Jak Crawford was on reverse-grid pole for the Sprint Race, with Jehan Daruvala starting second and Arthur Leclerc third. It was raining and Leclerc already had a little spin on the way to the grid. Looking good for the race. With a damp track, it was perfect intermediate tyres weather, but since F2 don’t have intermediate tyres, they all chose a random mix of full wets and slicks, ensuring no one would be comfortable.

The opening lap proved that the wet tyres were the better choice for the moment, with wet-tyre starters Leclerc, Pourchaire and Vesti launching themselves past slick-tyre starter Crawford. Doohan presumably also started on slick tyres because he was straight in the gravel, as was Daruvala, who couldn’t get out again and the Safety Car was called.

However, after a couple of laps the wet tyres were apparently no longer a good choice, so everyone on the wet tyres used the Safety Car period as an opportunity to pop into the pits to get new slick tyres. Everyone except race leader Arthur Leclerc and second place Richard Verschoor (and some other further back people). The Safety Car ended. Verschoor spun straight into a wall. “Sorry guys,” he mumbled down the radio as the Safety Car came out again. Verschoor’s demise was apparently enough to scare others on wet tyres into the pits to get slicks, allowing Crawford to retake the lead, with Juan Manuel Correa second and Zane Maloney (who hadn’t yet pitted and was risking it on wets) in third.

The end of the Safety Car period was the beginning of pure chaos. The only thing that could clearly be determined was that Maloney was on the wrong tyres and that Pourchaire got a five-second time penalty for an unsafe pit-lane release into Ollie Bearman. As things settled down enough to sort of tell what order they were in, Crawford was still in the lead, with Correa second and Martins now third, as Maloney had dropped through the field before pitting for tyres more appropriate to the drying track.

A few laps later and Correa was struggling as he was overtaken by Martins and soon after by Novalak and Hadjar. Fittipaldi, meanwhile, had a less successful overtaking attempt on Kush Maini, with Fittipaldi getting squeezed onto the grass by Maini. Fittipaldi was sent into a spin, leaving him out of the race, while Maini got a 20-second time penalty and everyone else got to drive round slowly under the Virtual Safety Car. Apparently the whole thing wasn’t solely Maini’s fault though, as the stewards decided to give Fittipaldi a three-place grid penalty for the Feature Race for contributing to his own accident.

The VSC ended with a few laps to go and a flurry of mid-field overtaking, but the top three remained, despite Hadjar’s best attempt at breaking onto the podium on the final lap. Crawford crossed the finish line, his first F2 win, with Martins behind in second and Novalak third. That is until the stewards stepped in to disqualify Novalak for having tyre pressures below “the limit defined in the Pirelli Technical Preview”. Scandalous. This promoted Hadjar up to third place, not that anyone noticed since Twitter is dead, which is a shame because TWENTY-FIRST TO THIRD!? Also facing the wrath of the post-race stewards was, once again, Boschung, who apparently pushed Cordeel off the track and got a ten-second time penalty for his efforts, but moved up a place anyway due to Novalak’s disqualification. It all makes perfect sense.

Feature Race: Two drivers don’t exceed track limits

Martins was on pole for the Feature Race and seeming much more optimistic than previous weekends. Vesti was second and Pourchaire third, although that didn’t last long, as Vesti’s lightening start propelled him past Martins and into the lead. Passing Martins apparently wasn’t too hard though, as Pourchaire soon flew by him as well as Doohan and Maini. I’d hazard a guess that Martins probably had lost some of his optimism again at this point. Everyone else was driving three-wide and trying desperately not to get pushed off track.

They all struggled on until those on the super soft tyres came into pit for something that would last a bit longer, leaving alternative-tyre-strategy kids Fittipaldi, Verschoor and Iwasa as the top three. After a pause for the pitting, the frantic overtaking continued, or in Staněk’s case, frantic complaining as Hauger weaved over the white line on the way into the pits, “Report Hauger!” Staněk screamed, before Hauger was handed a five-second time penalty. Also getting a five-second time penalty was Maini, for exceeding track limits, except his team didn’t do the penalty properly so he got a three-place grid drop for the next race instead. Verschoor also got a penalty for track limits, but this was quickly cancelled, so it seems like everything was nicely under control in the stewards office.

As wannabe race leader Vesti struggled with his tyres, actual race leader Fittipaldi was flying, to the point where it was becoming less obvious that Vesti would end up in first place again after all the pit stops were completed.

Then the time came for the alternative strategy folk to pit. Iwasa jumped into the pit lane to get his super soft tyres, but just at that moment a wheel fell off Leclerc’s car. Leclerc pulled to one side and his wheel rolled to another. A Virtual Safety Car was called, quickly followed by a full Safety Car. Everyone who hadn’t yet pitted did so.

Leclerc’s tyre tried to make an escape from Leclerc

Safety cars are not created equal, and just as the timing disadvantaged Vesti and crew, Fittipaldi also lost out (presumably he was just at the wrong part of the track when the Safety Car came out compared to the others?). He got a bit shouty angry on the radio as he exited the pits several places behind his fellow alternative strategy runners Verschoor and Iwasa. While Vesti regained the lead of the race, there were ten laps to go and only three cars stood between him and Verschoor on new super fast (which is clearly what they should actually be called) tyres.

The Safety Car ended. The super-softers flew. In no time at all, Verschoor and Iwasa were right behind second-placed Doohan, but Doohan got some relief in the form of Maini getting a puncture (after an incident with Hauger, probably) and a VSC being called to deal with his car. Unluckily for Doohan, it wasn’t long before the VSC ended and Verschoor and Iwasa could get on with overtaking him and chasing after Vesti. A lap later and it was Vesti’s turn. He couldn’t defend on his old tyres and was soon down to third place. It was all very exciting, but I was hoping it would end quickly because I was genuinely worried that commentator Alex Jacques was about to have a heart attack. Iwasa wasn’t concerned about that, however, as he went for a last lap attack on Verschoor. Battling for the win right to the final corner, Verschoor managed to hold on, and thankfully so did Alex. Verschoor was victorious and the orange fans were celebratory. “It was a beautiful race!” declared an emotional Verschoor as he remembered his friend Dilano van ‘t Hoff, who tragically died earlier in the weekend.

Championship standings: Nineteen drivers don’t exceed 100 points

Despite not being able to hang onto the win in the Feature Race, Vesti remains in the lead of the championship (125 points), with Pourchaire close behind in second (105 points). Iwasa is even closer (I realise that probably only makes sense in my head) in third (101 points), with Bearman fourth (81 points) and Verschoor now up to fifth (75 points). Next up is Silverstone, which everyone loves, obviously.

F2 Austria 2023
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