A race of chance
With so many races in quick succession, who can even remember what any of the the tracks are anymore?
This week it was time for F2 Hungary! Apparently an often hectic and technical track that some drivers love and some drivers don’t, depending on how much of a geek they are. Look out for grumpy drivers and happy drivers!
Practice: A chance of something happening
Apparently it wasn’t only me that found the practice session a little uneventful (i.e. going to plan for all the teams and drivers), because the F1 TV people cut away from the “action” to show a little montage of drivers making tiny mistakes, such as Ralph Boschung going a bit wide and Roy Nissany locking up a wheel. The rest of the time was just drivers going about completing their run plans and Clément Novalak sitting in his car with a laptop balanced on what I feel an urge to describe as the car bonnet, but I expect that definitely isn’t what it’s called on an F2 car… Anyway, that was all until 40 seconds before the end when Enzo Fittipaldi stalled at the end of the pit lane.
Ayumu Iwasa was the fastest, Frederik Vesti was second and Victor Martins was third.
Qualifying: A chance of rain
Qualifying became automatically exciting because we were told there was a chance of rain. Ayumu Iwasa joined in, “I’m starting to see some rain.” Suspenseful. The imminent threat of rain also made it all the more exciting when second-in-the-championship Théo Pourchaire had his lap time deleted. Would the rain come before he could set a lap and leave him fighting for the title from the back of the grid!? It didn’t. Pourchaire, however, still struggled to go as fast as championship rival Vesti, along with everyone else, as Vesti held onto his spot on provisional pole, probably hoping the rain would make an appearance soon. It didn’t. Instead Roman Staněk crashed into the barriers bringing out the red flags.
After a short interruption, the session resumed and the weather had changed. It was sunny. Vesti and Pourchaire fought over pole position, which genuinely felt like a thrilling championship battle, probably because F1 is starving us of any championship battling to the point that an F2 quali battle suddenly seems like the most exciting racing action that ever happened. The Alpine juniors apparently didn’t get the memo though as, in the last few minutes, they jumped in, taking the top two spots for themselves and leaving Vesti and Pourchaire to settle with third and fourth respectively. However, Vesti and Pourchaire probably weren’t as disappointed as Juan Manuel Correa (and his hoards of fans, i.e. everyone) as, after the session, the stewards decided that he impeded Amaury Cordeel and gave him a three-place grid drop for the Sprint Race, dropping him from 16th to 19th.
Sprint Race: A chance of a race
Reverse-grid pole went to Kush Maini who said he wanted to keep everyone behind him and do his race. Someone tell him he’s supposed to say he’s looking forward to a close battle but is sure he can win, or something. Behind Maini was Dennis Hauger, who thought it would be interesting to see how things go out front, apparently damaged from the memory of some of his previous disaster weekends where he’s just been hanging out in the lower mid-field. Starting in third was Jehan Daruvala who said he thought it would be hard to overtake and so his plan was to just send it into turn one, apparently damaged from his memory of when he claimed he would definitely be trying to overtake in Monaco. Oh how we laughed.
Things looked good for Maini for a few seconds as he had a good start, but all that crumbled before the first corner where Hauger overtook him, quickly followed by Iwasa who magically appeared after starting fifth. Ollie Bearman temporarily took third place, before Maini had enough and wrestled back the position. Maini’s team tried to console him by telling him it will be a race at the end (or maybe that was more of a warning?) Regardless, we all hoped it would be a race at the end because after the first few laps it wasn’t looking like much of a race.
Novalak tried to spice up the action by crashing into Boschung while attempting an overtake, leaving Arthur Leclerc little choice but to also run into Boschung and Race Control little choice but to deploy the Virtual Safety Car. “Novalak crashed into me again, again. I’m out,” a not-too-happy Boschung informed his team. Novalak was also out and probably not too happy when he was handed his punishment in the form of a five-place grid drop for the Feature Race.
At the VSC restart, Pourchaire seized his opportunity to take fourth place from Bearman, which Bearman complained about before retracting his complaint when he watched the replay. Meanwhile Leclerc was complaining about his “seat moving massively” while he logged the fastest lap of the race. Correa was presumably also complaining while he retired for a moment due to “a steering wheel problem” (very technical info from the team there) before unretiring shortly after and getting a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Not complaining was Iwasa, who, with ten laps to go, asked his team “let me know when I can push”. The team immediately responded “you can push”. It’s time.
Everyone sprang into action and started chasing down the car in front of them, which meant leader Hauger also had to go for it. As Iwasa chased Hauger, the fight for third place intensified. Pourchaire lunged past Maini, the pair making the slightest contact, allowing Bearman to push past Maini as well. Bearman then lunged past Pourchaire. The two fought it out for a bit, but eventually Bearman kept third place.
By the final lap, Iwasa’s attack was long over and Hauger won with a four second lead. Bearman held onto third place. Bearman’s defeat over Pourchaire meant that Vesti remained one point in the lead of the championship, himself not having scored any points after finishing ninth. Hauger didn’t look pleased but said winning was great, so take his word for it.
Feature Race: A chance of getting frustrated with the car in front
The Hungarian Feature Race marked Doohan’s first pole of the season, a strong contrast to how things went in 2022 (probably, my memory is bad). In his pre-race interview, Doohan uttered the phrases “better late than never” and “what’s meant to be will be”, displaying Martins-level disenchantment that must be taught in the Alpine Academy to manage driver expectations. Luckily for Doohan, what was meant to be was him getting a good start and keeping the lead while second and third-place Martins and Vesti fought it out. Vesti took second place leaving Martins down in third. Less lucky was Novalak, who stopped at the side of the track, his race over while everything else just carried on like nothing had happened.
Throughout the field, everyone was grumpy, including the usually cheerful-looking Correa who was grumbling to his team about being stuck behind Bearman, while Red Bull juniors Jak Crawford and Zane Maloney were having a lively competition over 19th place. Or to be more exact, Maloney was trying to pass Crawford but Crawford was just squeezing Maloney off track. The battle continued for a few laps, until, after one too many shoves, Maloney shoved back, forcing Crawford wide and taking the position for himself. No rest for the Red Bull juniors.
Fellow Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar was also having a frustrating battle. After taking his pit stop he got stuck behind Amaury Cordeel who was on a different strategy and yet to pit. Cordeel decided to buck the time-honoured tradition of not fighting too hard with people on a different strategy and instead defended hard against Hadjar, which apparently frustrated Hadjar (who was busy trying to catch Pourchaire ahead) as he somewhat less-than-politely enquired “what the fuck is he doing!?” Thankfully for Hadjar, his opportunity to pass Pourchaire came a little later on when Pourchaire went wide trying to overtake Martins for third place.
After everyone had made their pit stops, Doohan was still comfortably in the lead, over six seconds ahead of second-placed Vesti. Martins had held onto third, with Hadjar and Pourchaire behind him. Sixth-place Iwasa, however, was on the alternative strategy and charging on his faster new tyres. After passing Pourchaire for fifth, he bided his time behind Hadjar, looking for an appropriate moment. When that moment didn’t come easily, he went for the latest of late lunges and flew by for fourth place.
Up front, Martins was hoping to make a similar move on Vesti but couldn’t, and so they crossed the line with Doohan nine seconds ahead, Vesti second and Martins third. Somewhere near the back, Maini also tried to do some last-lap overtaking, but spun instead.
A chance of winning the championship (standings)
With Vesti on the podium in the Feature Race and Pourchaire slipping down to sixth place, Vesti (153 points) has achieved his goal of rebuilding a gap in the championship, sitting at the top of the leader board and 11 points ahead of second-place Pourchaire. Third-place Iwasa’s (132 points) consistency over the weekend bagged him enough points to stay in contention for the championship title, while Martins (105 points) and Doohan (100 points) are fourth and fifth. There’s no time for anyone to celebrate/commiserate though as we (ok, they – I’m not going anywhere, let’s face it) are straight off to Belgium!