Spoiler alert: Schumacher doesn’t win
Practice: 2019 is go!
Normally I wound’t be so excited by an F2 practice, they can seem more like a 45 minute blip on a long weekend of racing. But not this time. This was the first time we got to glimpse the new F2 field out on track (aside from those six full days of testing earlier). Who is going to be fastest (Sette Câmara), how will Mick Schumacher do (12th), who is going to crash (Ilott and Raghunathan) and who is going to get their car stuck in safe mode on their installation lap (Delétraz)?
So with those important questions answered, let’s consider the practice highlight that was Jack Aitken’s track walk video. How many times have we seen drivers doing dull track walks where they wander along, head down, and mumble? Not Jack. He literally pirouettes between corners. He’s now my new favourite F2 person.
Qualifying: Are any of these drivers human?
Qualifying was typical F2 levels of eventful, but essentially Ghiotto, Delétraz and De Vries were the top three (boring) and Raghunathan crashed (I see a pattern emerging…). Skip to the post qualifying interview, which I expected to be some mutterings about lap times, and out emerges Louis Delétraz. I was all ready to write Delétraz off as a quite good, but ultimately boring driver who I would regularly ignore, but wait! Was he funny, witty, quirky, effervescent? No, but he was like a normal human person, which was quite the contrast to ‘my mouth says “I’m really really happy” but my eyes say “I want to silently murder you all”’ Ghiotto, and robotic De Vries, who looks like he alphabetises his socks (it’s a shame he and Ron Dennis both got kicked out of McLaren because it looks like they would have been perfect together). Delétraz is definitely my new favourite (sorry Jack).
Feature Race: Latifi’s experience shows
It turns out Ghiotto’s murderous look wasn’t unwarranted as, in the Feature Race, he struggled with clutch issues off the start and dropped from first down to sixth place before even reaching the first corner. At least clutch issues were suspected, but his team were too frightened to talk to him over the radio so they just guessed. So it was Delétraz in the lead, with Latifi and De Vries just behind, and everyone else fighting it out in a confusing free for all. The only thing that was certain was that Sette Câmara’s engine was “a piece of shit”.
By lap nine, Latifi had made it past Delétraz for the lead, leaving co-commentator Johnny Herbert very unimpressed with Delétraz’s poor defence. Back off Johnny.
Ghiotto was on the attack too, and, having already got past Jack Aitken, overtook Matsushita for fourth place in a move that, conversely, Johnny was very impressed by. Meanwhile, Mick Schumacher had also overtaken someone, just like his dad.
Up front, Latifi was pulling out a commanding lead thanks to his tyre preserving skills. Johnny loves a driver who can look after his tyres. Johnny also likes a driver who knows when he wants to change his tyres, and that was Sette Câmara, who told his team he wasn’t going to come in for tyres now so they just had to wait.
Coming into the pits, Latifi had a bit of a slow stop, but didn’t struggle to regain the lead on his fresh tyres. Ghiotto, also on newer tyres was having no problem dispatching those who lay in his way, even simultaneously overtaking Sette Câmara and Delétraz and getting up to second place.
At the end of the race, the top three were: Latifi, Ghiotto and Sette Câmara. Latifi was very happy, it being his first Feature Race win, having previously won two Sprint Races. Sette Câmara seemed happy, although he hasn’t won a race since 2017, and Ghiotto said he was happy and attempted something he must have believed was a smile.
De Vries and his ancient tyres got mugged by everyone towards the end of the race, dropping from first at one point down to sixth by the end. Mick Schumacher hunted down a struggling Matsushita to take eighth (aka reverse grid pole for Sunday’s Sprint Race) on the last lap, just like his father. Alesi, meanwhile finished in an anonymous 12th place, also just like his father.
Sprint Race: Schumacher on pole!
Sunday’s Sprint Race was set up to be fantastic. Having the Schumacher name on pole must have been all the F2 people ever dreamed of, what a ratings boost! Great that the F1 TV service worked so well. Oh no, that’s right, it didn’t work at all and we only had audio for the majority of the race. By the time we got the picture back Schumacher was nowhere to be seen (well, he was like eighth having basically been overtaken by all the older boys).
Anyway… after watching it on replay…
Schumacher got a great start! Wow! He kept his lead while Aitken and De Vries behind him fought it out. Delétraz, who started in fourth was causing problems for everyone else and barely saw the need to stay on the track. There was just one mass of cars, as is standard for the start of an F2 race, and the whole thing was so confusing that despite everyone being under investigation from the stewards, no action was taken.
By lap four, Sette Câmara, Ghiotto and Latifi had all got past Schumacher, with no real trouble at all, and Ghiotto had also passed Sette Câmara to take the lead. Maybe Schumi was playing the long game, or maybe he just wasn’t as good as the more experienced drivers (shock horror).
Doing “The Leclerc”
Meanwhile, there was much discussion over whether pit stops were going to happen (even though they’re not required in the Sprint Race), as we all reminisced about Charles Leclerc’s glorious win from two years ago, when he (the team) realised that new tyres were faster than old tyres, even with the time taken for a pit stop.
Around lap 13, Ghiotto pitted from the lead. Clearly going for The Leclerc. He came out in 14th, while rivals Sette Câmara and Latifi stayed out, occupying first and second.
While Ghiotto worked his way back up through the field, Sérgio hasn’t-won-a-race-since-2017 Sette Câmara and Nicholas Latifi battled it out for the lead, slowing each other down and playing directly into the hands of Charles LeGhiotto. But Sette Câmara didn’t want to know “the fucking gap to Ghiotto”, and so they carried on their fight.
By lap 21, Ghiotto had caught both Latifi and Sette Câmara and passed them with relative ease, taking the win that was so cruelly taken away from him in the previous race by a faulty clutch, and offering us a familiar looking podium with Ghiotto, Sette Câmara and Latifi.
Schumacher finished in sixth and De Vries finished seventh, while also taking two points for the fastest lap. Alesi got disqualified for having a right-side tyre on the left side of his car, which you would think would be the most ridiculous penalty of the weekend, but no. That award instead went to Raghunathan who got a ten-place grid penalty at the next race for passing the chequered flag twice, but at least he didn’t crash.
At the end of the first round, the top three in the championship are, unsurprisingly, Ghiotto, Latifi and Sette Câmara who were the only three to see the podium all weekend, which totally ruins my (and everyone else’s) assumption that De Vries would own this championship, but as we hear so often, Bahrain is an outlier, so we can all save some face.