F2 Azerbaijan 2023

[Insert Bearman pun here]

Because every single social media account with even a vague interest in F1/F2 has posted “We’re ba(c)k in Baku!”, I’m just going to say it’s the F2 weekend in Azerbaijan. That is all.

Practice: Bearman wins

The weekend started with expectations from many of the drivers of things like points and wins and progression towards championship grandness, which was a bit odd considering the only reasonable expectation ought to have been crashes, safety cars and red flags, in that order. Alpine junior Victor Martins, however, refused to sign up to any expectations. He expected nothing. After his last three rounds, apparently such little hope remained that even vague expectations were too much to ask. Enzo Fittipaldi summarised everything nicely via usage of the words “chaotic, difficult and luck”, which coincidentally is exactly how I would describe the attempt by Richard Verschoor and Dennis Hauger to both go into the pit lane at the same time during the practice session.

It took over 30 minutes before we got the obligatory stuck-in-the-escape-road-having-an-Austin-Powers moment, courtesy this time of Zane Maloney. We then got to check off “someone scraping along the wall” from Baku bingo, thanks to Ollie Bearman, finally followed by “red flag” as Arthur Leclerc spun and stopped in the middle of the track, which was actually a bit surprising because usually they just crash right into a wall.

With only one minute left, the session did not resume. Bearman was top of the time sheets, with Isack Hadjar second and Kush Maini third.

Qualifying: Bearman wins

Qualifying started late because there were no F2 cars or drivers. Once they did turn up, Brad Benavides probably wished he hadn’t bothered, as he pretty much immediately crashed into a wall. The red flags waved and he sat looking distraught at the edge of the track. I hope someone gave him a hug.

Once the session was back underway, the remaining drivers started doing a mix between really fast laps and really looking like they were about to hit a wall at any moment. As the session drew towards the end, everyone was on track and it looked more like some kind of weird F2 car display, with them all driving around slowly together side-by-side. Eventually they sorted it out and went faster, probably too fast for Bearman who hit a wall and made his steering wheel point the wrong way.

The final seconds were flat-out excitement with Hauger going fastest, then Vesti, then Fittipaldi and then Bearman. Bearman? Bearman with the wonky steering? Yes, Bearman delivered a spectacular lap, or “the scariest lap of my life” as he described it. No one could beat him. It was Fittipaldi and Théo Pourchaire who got to make do with second and third.

Sprint Race: Bearman wins

Thanks to the reverse-grid pole, Verschoor got to start the Sprint Race from P1 and he said he was planning to keep it. Second-place Maloney also said he was looking to win, while third-place Martins continued feeling upbeat with no expectations.

Turns out Baku City Circuit had other (more chaotic) plans for Verschoor and Maloney, as Verschoor slid into a wall, damaging his front wing, while Maloney’s car was terminally damaged by Martins running into him. Somehow this left Hauger in the lead, despite him starting sixth. Martins was second, while Jehan Daruvala was third. Then it was Ralph Boschung’s turn to hit the wall. He broke his car and the Safety Car was called.

Retired Boschung watched on from the sidelines as the race got back underway, while Maloney un-retired himself, coming back on track with a mere five-lap gap between him and everyone else.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the race, everyone was getting very close to each other. Fourth-placed Frederik Vesti was the first to make a move, overtaking Daruvala for third. Things didn’t get better for Daruvala, as Bearman also overtook him shortly after.

Ayumu Iwasa was having a similarly bad time, his DRS breaking with a puff of smoke, leaving him trundling around with his DRS flap stuck open and trying not to hit anything. Roy Nissany, however, definitely did hit something. The wall. His car was broken and the Safety Car was sent out.

As the lapped cars were told to un-lap themselves we (or just me) were left questioning if we now had to watch Maloney drive around the track five times on his own while everyone else queued behind the Safety Car. Maloney however clearly wasn’t interested in finding out the answer and promptly went into the pits to retire.

In true Baku style, the Safety Car restart was a bit terrifying. Race leader Hauger seemed to do a Verschoor and just hit the wall, with Martins doing the same. Daruvala crashed into Martins, lodging himself firmly under Martins’ car, while Pourchaire and Leclerc just had no where to go and ended parked up together at the side. Jack Doohan also spun and Hadjar shouted on the radio.

Who wants to win the race anyway?

There was too much F2 car debris and too little time to fix everything so the race finished under the Safety Car, with Bearman being the lucky survivor winner, Vesti second and Jak Crawford third. Bearman was happy while everyone else looked confused and/or surprised. The Ferrari people were out in full force to celebrate Bearman’s victory, while the Red Bull people presumably ran far away because shouty Hadjar was given a five-second time penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car, dropping him from a pointsy eighth place down to a not-pointsy eleventh place.

Feature Race: Bearman wins

As if the spotlight hadn’t shone enough on Bearman already this weekend, it was his time to shine, starting on pole. Fittipaldi and Pourchaire were behind him in second and third.

Understandably, following the Sprint Race incident, everyone was very neat and careful at the start, with the top three remaining the same until eventually Pourchaire decided he’d had enough of Bearman getting all the attention and overtook Fittipaldi and Bearman to take the lead of the race. Pourchaire was flying, but that wasn’t a problem for Bearman who promptly re-took the lead from Pourchaire. Fourth-placed Vesti meanwhile was being told by his team to hurry up and overtake Fittipaldi. A great team pep talk.

Just as most of the field had completed their mandatory pit stops, Brad Benavides crashed his car while trying to get out of a run-off area. Top-level driving here. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed, which then provided the opportunity for another display of high-quality driving professionalism courtesy of Iwasa, who received a five-second time penalty for not doing the VSC properly. Also joining the penalties club was Daruvala, who left the track and nearly crashed into Maloney while rejoining, earning himself a ten-second time penalty for not being very safe.

Once normal racing resumed, Bearman was still scraping walls as he tried to get away from Pourchaire. Pourchaire, however, had other things (Fittipaldi) to worry about. It wasn’t long before Fittipaldi managed to overtake Pourchaire for second place. At this point, Bearman had a four-second lead and probably should have chilled out a bit. Luckily for him though, there was no more Baku drama and he rounded off his 100% record, winning the race and topping every session of the weekend. A confused Fittipaldi came second, although it took him a while to realise, while Pourchaire managed to look disappointed and happy at the same time in third place.

Championship standings: Bearman doesn’t win but he’s close-ish

Despite Bearman being the king of everything at Baku, it is Pourchaire who has made his way to the top of the championship standings (65 points). Vesti is up to second (62 points), while Iwasa is down to third (58 points) after a pretty anonymous weekend. Bearman’s massive points haul means he is now in fourth place (41 points) and if you don’t think this championship is exciting then you have no soul.

F2 Azerbaijan 2023
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