F2 Saudi Arabia 2023

All pros, all the time

Amaury Cordeel hit the new low of getting fined even before the weekend began, all because he failed to complete his e-learning modules on time (despite the FIA extending the deadline for him). I would laugh about this more, but it’s giving me flashbacks to all the health and safety e-learning I’ve been forced to do over the years and it’s a dark place, so let’s move on…

Practice: Pros at putting the battery in the right place

Kush Maini confirmed that the Jeddah Corniche is a daunting track when you first see it, but said that after a few laps it should be fine, especially “at this level”, because everyone in F2 are pros and definitely don’t get fines for things like accidentally leaving random batteries on top of a car before sending it out, right Victor Martins and ART?

With just under ten minutes left of the practice session I was thinking how carefully everyone must be driving because there hadn’t been one red flag, but then Cordeel bashed the back of his car into a wall and spun. That was that and the session was over. Oliver Bearman was the fastest, Frederik Vesti second and Martins third.

Qualifying: Pros at putting the tyres in the right place

The first part of Qualifying was all fast laps and drivers daringly brushing against walls; it was terrifying and impressive until Richard Verschoor took it too far and spun, bringing out the red flags. After clearing him away, the rest came back out to try again, but Martins seemed unbeatable, at nearly a second faster than anyone. As they tried to reach his lofty heights (speed heights? Is that a thing?), Arthur Leclerc tapped the wall and broke his car. He was done and so was everyone else, as the red flags waved with only two minutes left to go. Qualifying behind Martins were Bearman (second) and championship leader Théo Pourchaire (third).

Meanwhile, Trident team mates Clément Novalak and Roman Stanek might have felt they had a bad qualifying (11th and 16th respectively), however things didn’t end there as their team failed to deliver their tyres to the appropriate place after the session. Such an egregious offence meant they both received a five-place grid penalty for the race. F2 is super pro remember.

Sprint Race: Pros at not getting locked in a pen

Jak Crawford was on pole for the Sprint Race, with Ralph Boschung and Kush Maini in second and third. Vesti should have been starting fourth, but he was serving his five-place grid penalty from shunting everyone out of the Feature Race in Bahrain.

Crawford started well and apparently no one else did, as Ayumu Iwasa dived past Boschung and Maini before aggressively chasing down Crawford and taking the lead, all in the first two laps. Before Crawford could really do anything about it, Zane Maloney spun and the Safety Car was out. Not that it helped once the race restarted, as Boschung pushed past Crawford for second place, while Iwasa disappeared down the road. Maini wasn’t having any better a time, as Daruvala, Bearman and Martins all barged by, dropping him to seventh, “Daruvala almost pushed me in the wall!” complained Maini, to no avail, as Pourchaire also went past. Daruvala clearly didn’t care either, as he continued his campaign through the field by overtaking Crawford for third place.

Any F2 spectator knows that this kind of frenetic racing never ends well and now Bearman knows this too, as Pourchaire apparently (or accidentally) attempted to lunge past both Martins and Bearman at the same time, resulting in him ramming into the side of Bearman and getting a five-place grid penalty for the next race. The Safety Car came out and Pourchaire and Bearman were forced to go and sit in some weird driver pen, where previous-retiree Maloney was waiting for them.

Fun in the concrete drivers’ pen

Iwasa kept Boschung and Daruvala behind him at the Safety Car restart, while Crawford was overtaken once more, this time by Martins taking fourth place and then as an opportunistic Maini also tried to get by. Crawford and Maini battled it out, until Jack Doohan caught up with them and it was all three-wide chaos, which would have been exciting to watch except that, up front, Daruvala barged past Boschung for second place and then Martins also swept by, leaving Boschung suddenly fourth.

Having got Boschung out the way, the new top three (Iwasa, Daruvala and Martins, just in case it wasn’t crystal clear) started battling it out. Daruvala was first to take his turn at trying to get the lead. Iwasa defended hard leaving Daruvala struggling to recover, allowing Martins to seize the opportunity to squeeze past into second place. Martins also tried to pressure Iwasa, but Iwasa didn’t buckle and kept Martins behind him all the way to the finish line, with Daruvala following in third. A cry of “Yaaay!” was Iwasa’s sole celebration, inexplicably making him my new favourite F2 driver.

Feature Race: Pros at not spinning out of the lead of the race

Martins was on pole and pretty smiley about it, Bearman was second and probably more smiley than he had been the day before, and Doohan was third and is often smiley so probably also was before the race. Note how I have really upped my important analyses game this year.

Martins’ smile presumably only lasted a millisecond as he started badly, allowing Bearman to jump into the lead and leaving Martins instead fighting Doohan to hold onto second place. Behind them, Vesti had somehow managed to jump past Daruvala and Iwasa to take fourth place. Further back, things were looking a little less professional, as Cordeel ran into Benavides, leaving Benavides out of the race and Cordeel with a broken font wing and ten-second time penalty.

After a short Virtual Safety Car, things continued, with Bearman comfortably in the lead, Doohan still trying to get past Martins for second, Vesti in fourth and some kind of five-wide chaos at the back. The only thing we know for sure was that Maini emerged from the chaos with a five-second penalty for pushing someone off the track. Who even knows what was happening (hopefully the stewards, maybe the drivers)? The confusion continued until everyone did their mandatory pit stops. Pitting went well for Vesti and he jumped ahead of Doohan, before speeding up behind a Bearman-Martins battle. After some failed overtaking attempts, Martins breezed past Bearman and Vesti took the opportunity to follow. While Vesti chased after Martins, Bearman gave up on life (the race) and spun himself off the track.

Not giving up was Vesti, as he and Martins engaged in a new battle for the lead. However, Vesti was too strong, and taking inspiration from Bearman, Martins also spun himself out of the race.

After a brief VSC to get things in order, all that was left was for race leader Vesti to bring it home and take his win. Would he spin? He resisted temptation and finished first, with Doohan second and Daruvala third. Vesti was joyous, “Prema family, I love you and I’ve missed you” while Doohan declared “Oh Jesus, so hard to drive”. Seems they had somewhat different experiences there.

Championship standings (calculated by a pro)

Despite Boschung’s less-than-stellar weekend, he apparently did better than Pourchaire, who didn’t score any points, and so is now in the lead of the championship. Iwasa is right behind them in third, with one point between each of them (probably, I didn’t really check the points properly). Exciting times.

F2 Saudi Arabia 2023
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