The story begins
F2 is back! (Is there any other way to start a new-season post, because I seriously haven’t seen one). There’s lots of new people and plenty of familiar faces too, including the full-time return of Juan-Manuel Correa who said he felt more like a rookie than a veteran because so much has changed in F2 since he last raced in the series. Good thing I gave him his own section in F2’s most important flowchart then.
Practice: The same old story
Having already done all their pre-season testing in Bahrain, no one seemed overly excited about getting out on track, although maybe last year’s champion Felipe Drugovich wouldn’t have minded as he stood watching on the sidelines, his hopes of an F1 race start destroyed by Lance Stroll’s high pain threshold. New Red-Bull junior Enzo Fittipaldi probably also wasn’t too thrilled about where he was on the track: parked up with a broken car. The first red flag of the season was out.
The second red flag of the season came courtesy of F2-lifer Ralph Boschung’s car also breaking down. With only six minutes left of the session, they decided to call it a day. King of pre-season testing, Théo Pourchaire was fastest once more, last year’s F3 champion Victor Martins was second and third fastest went to Arthur Leclerc, who is still most definitely in the wrong colour car. After all, nothing screams “I should have a red car” like being a Ferrari Academy driver, with a brother who is also famously a Ferrari driver.
Qualifying: A short story
Pourchaire placed himself firmly at the top of the timing screens early in Qualifying, with many trying to beat him and not even coming close. While everyone fought it out over second, Pourchaire went even faster, securing his pole position ahead of Martins and F2 returnee Richard Verschoor.
Apparently someone was watching what the other drivers were up to because, after the session, the stewards handed Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti a three-place grid drop for the Sprint Race for impeding Leclerc. Great start to the season there.
Sprint Race: A redemption story
Boschung was on pole, having managed to secure 10th place in Qualifying and take advantage of the reverse grid format used for the Sprint Race. Roman Stanek was second and Leclerc third. Leclerc was expecting it to be a hard race, Stanek was just going to do his best and Boschung was hoping to win.
Leclerc was not wrong about it being a hard race, as he had a ten-second stop/go penalty heading his way before things even started, thanks to his team not managing to get off the grid in time. Also messing up at the start were Hitech, with Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar suffering the same fate as Leclerc. Things were going slightly better for Brad Benavides, who stalled on the formation lap but did at least manage to get going again.
Uncharacteristically for F2 (but still characteristically tense to watch), they made it safely round the first few corners and we could all stop holding our (collective audience) breath. Boschung made a great start, retaining his lead, Leclerc jumped up to second place and Iwasa fought his way into third. Martins, Hauger and Pourchaire all managed to barge past Stanek, leaving him suddenly in seventh (how Pourchaire even got there, having started tenth, I do not know).
After a few more overtakes and Leclerc and Hadjar stopping for their penalties, Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa and Alpine junior Victor Martins were second and third behind Boschung, who disappeared up the road. Martins and Iwasa continued to battle each other for several laps, until eventually Martins made it past. Pourchaire attempted to follow Martins through, but Iwasa fought hard to retain the place. Then Dennis Hauger came along and overtook them both, claiming third for himself.
Further back, Jak Crawford was given a five-second penalty for overtaking Clément Novalak off track, Amaury Cordeel got a five-second penalty for ignoring track limits, Vesti was making an unexplained pit stop and Verschoor had retired.
None of that mattered though, because the excitement was all at the front. Well, Boschung was so far in the lead we never saw him, but Hauger was making an excellent bid for second place, overtaking Martins in an exciting penultimate lap move. He might not have won the race, but Hauger was winner of the big Red Bull junior competition, which, given how many drivers they have, is basically the same thing as F2 at this point.
Then we all learnt a lesson about being patient, as Boschung crossed the line to win his first F2 race after 95 other tries, while happily declaring, “Better late than never!”
No one looked like they wanted to be at the press conference, despite Boschung claiming to be really happy, Hauger saying he enjoyed himself and Martins saying he is proud of his race. Boschung was wary of saying he will get into the title battle because life has beaten him down too many times in the past.
Feature Race: A confusing story
As per qualifying, Pourchaire started on pole, Martins second and Verschoor third. Cordeel was supposed to start near the back, but he stalled on the formation lap and got downgraded to a pit-lane start instead.
Pourchaire got away well and firmly asserted himself in the lead of the race. Behind him was inexplicably Kush Maini, who started sixth, as full F2 eight-wide-in-one-corner chaos was unleashed. Verschoor spun around, Hauger lost all the places, Stanek parked in the middle of nowhere and Martins and Vesti were randomly out, as was the Safety Car. All I know is that it was Vesti’s fault because he got a five-place grid drop for the next race. Once they sorted themselves out, Pourchaire was still in the lead, Maini was second and Boschung had rocketed to third (after starting tenth).
After the Safety Car restart, Boschung barged past his team mate Maini to take second place, all while screaming “Attack! Attack!” and then speeding off towards Pourchaire. Not that Pourchaire was going to be outdone today.
As everyone settled into their positions and tried to manage their tyres, Hauger’s team sent him back out, six laps down, to toil around at the back and get some practice in. Then it was time for pit stops. Once pit stops were completed and the drivers’ focus turned to battles with their on-track neighbours, Red Bull junior Zane Maloney was suddenly flying through the field on his new tyres, even hustling along his teammate Fittipaldi, while Fittipaldi complained, “Tell Zane it’s a long race.” Maloney responded by asking “Is Enzo just going to sit there for the whole race?” before speeding past.
Most just got fresh new tyres from their trips to the pits, but Jack Doohan and Jehan Daruvala also had five-second time penalties for a pit-lane infringement and speeding in the pit lane, respectively. Pourchaire was still miles in the lead, Boschung was still second and Maloney was told to “full push” as he had made it to fourth and his team were eyeing the podium places. Mid-field everyone was overtaking everyone else, rendering the timing board basically useless and giving me the opportunity to learn my new favourite word “omni-brawl,” courtesy of Alex Jacques.
On the penultimate lap, Maloney, who started in 18th, was right behind third-placed Maini. That is until Maloney flew past him, finishing the race behind very happy winner Pourchaire and a maybe even more happy second-placed Boschung (despite having finished a full 19 seconds behind Pourchaire).
At the post-race conference, everyone actually looked happy to be there and there was much love for the sponsors and teams. Although there was probably slightly less love later on for Boschung’s sponsors after they got banned from the F1, F2 and F3 paddocks for the rest of the season having been told off for wandering about in the pit-lane during the race.
The championship standings story
The opening round belonged to Pourchaire and Boschung, with Pourchaire taking an early lead in the championship standings (32 points) and Boschung in second place (28 points). Everyone else is miles behind.