F2 Spain 2023

Old new Barcelona!

Good old familiar Barcelona, a track that all the drivers know well, because of testing blah blah blah and where tyre wear is impor… blah blah blah… Is anyone still awake? However, new this year is the last, fast, exciting part of the track, where the final chicane has been removed, thus returning the track to its former glory. Fingers crossed for more fun! Yay!

Practice: New Barcelona, so much to explore

The practice session started smoothly because most of the drivers know the track well blah blah blah, but then Victor Martins wanted to get to know the advertising hoarding better so he ploughed into it. Then there was a red flag to tidy everything up.

There were 15 minutes to go when everyone was allowed back out, except Enzo Fittipaldi, who was having some work done on his car. It didn’t look good, but then neither did Ralph Boschung going so wide he had to use a random escape road.

In the final two minutes, everyone including Fittipaldi seemed to be out having a lap, but it was championship leader Frederik Vesti who was fastest, his Prema teammate Ollie Bearman second and Jehan Daruvala third.

Qualifying: Old Barcelona, still the same

Since everyone knows the track so well, blah, blah, blah, Prema decided not to bother going out for the start of Qualifying, but everyone else did. Jack Doohan was one of the early pole contenders, but he was later usurped by Dennis Hauger who, along with the Prema drivers, was running in the fabled Qualifying Gap; the lull between the first laps and the last laps, when most drivers daren’t go out.

With ten minutes left, it was time for the final phase of Qualifying and everyone was on track to have a go at being on provisional pole: Pourchaire, Fittipaldi, Bearman… the list goes on. (It doesn’t). As the session came to an end, however, no one could go faster than Bearman. All second-place Fittipaldi’s team (Carlin) could do was loudly complain that they believed Bearman had gone off the track during his pole lap (he hadn’t). “Yeeeesssssss!” screamed Bearman, the antithesis to Ayumu Iwasa, quickly followed by him asking his team if they could still hear him because the thought he’d broken his radio. Oh and Doohan came third.

After the session, the stewards decided that Pourchaire impeded Hauger by driving “unnecessarily slowly” and so gave Pourchaire a three-place grid penalty for the Sprint Race, meaning he would start ninth instead of sixth.

Sprint Race: New Barcelona, comes with rain

Shock horror (actual real shock, not in a sarcastic way), the rain poured at the start of the Sprint Race. After all those years of testing and knowing the track well blah blah blah, who knew it could actually rain in Barcelona!? (Shhh I know it’s not an actual desert).

The lucky reverse-grid pole sitter who got to face all the puddles first was, shock horror (yes, again, real shock) Amaury Cordeel. The same Cordeel who hasn’t scored one point all season. He thought that tyre management would be key. I guess that was before he saw the monsoon he would be driving in. Second-place Jak Crawford thought tyre management would be hard, while third place Vesti just said “tyres, blah blah blah” or something.

Due to the horrendous-looking rain, Race Control decided a rolling start would be best, and so roll they did. Cordeel focussed on staying on track, whereas Vesti decided passing Crawford was more important, before the two had contact and Vesti was escaping down the escape road, while Crawford was pitting in the pits. Vesti somehow kept second place behind Cordeel and Martins got promoted to third.

Quite a lot of bashing and overtaking happened next, but there was so much spray from the rain that there was no real proof any of them really existed at all. I am sure, however, that Vesti very quickly went to overtake Cordeel. Vesti nearly lost his car, but recovered in time to see Cordeel going wide and take advantage. Vesti took the lead, and Martins also managed to overtake Cordeel shortly after for second place.

Not making any overtakes was Brad Benavides. He was last before trampling through the gravel to become even more last. A few laps later, the rain stopped and everyone began to question which random driver would be the first to have a go on the dry-weather slick tyres. Not Cordeel, as he couldn’t even keep his car on track and was now down to sixth place. He also had a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits, which seemed a bit harsh as I’m not sure how much control he had over being on track or not. Less harsh was the further ten-second time penalty that he received for not doing the first penalty properly. A classic.

In the closing stages of the race, Daruvala and Maini decided to risk the slick tyres. Daruvala was soon the fastest driver on track. Maini was not. Another early slick tyres adopter, Juan Manuel Correa, was also struggling, straight into a gravel trap where he beached his car and promptly declared, “I’m done.”‘

The Safety Car that followed sent everyone into the pits to get slick tyres, because it’s common knowledge that a damp track + cold slick tyres + a bunch of young racing drivers = very sensible.

As they got ready for the restart, Vesti was still in the lead with Martins second and Hauger third, but not for long. With the race restart, fourth-place Pourchaire saw his opportunity, jumping past Hauger and Martins in quick succession. As Pourchaire began closing on his championship rival Vesti, Vesti decided he was having none of that and put his foot down, earning himself the fastest lap in the process, before crossing the finish line the winner. Pourchaire was second and Martins third, despite Hauger’s best attempts at a podium comeback.

Meanwhile, Daruvala was in the gravel trap thanks to an over ambitious last-minute lunge from Roy Nissany. Nissany promptly received a five-place grid drop for the next race. Also getting a grid drop for the Feature Race (albeit only three places) was Correa, who apparently hit Staněk and caused him to spin. I didn’t see this, so I’m just going to boldly claim it happened amidst all the rain when it was hard to see, and it definitely wasn’t because I didn’t pay proper attention.

Feature Race: Old Barcelona, hard to stay within track limits

As per Qualifying, Bearman was on pole for the Feature Race, with Fittipaldi and Doohan starting second and third. Not that any of it mattered off the starting line, as they went three-wide down to the first corner. Bearman was the first-corner victor, while Doohan was the big loser, dropping from third to fifth behind Fittipaldi, Pourchaire and Iwasa. Suffering even more than Doohan were Isack Hadjar and Clément Novalak, who were both off to the pits for new front wings and Hadjar got the extra bonus of a ten-second time penalty for causing a collision.

What’s the collective noun for F2 drivers?

The next few laps was all jostling for position, black and white warning flags for track limits violations and pit stops for those on the regular tyre strategy. Once the first round of pit stops were done, alternative strategy-ers Martins and Vesti were left at the front, trying to go as fast as they could before they too had to take their mandatory pit stops.

The next few laps was all jostling for position, time penalties for track limits violations and pit stops for those on the alternative tyre strategy. The first of the five-second time penalties went to Benavides and Cordeel, while Benavides also got a ten-second penalty and a drive-though penalty, because who wants to drive on the actual track anyway?

Things got stressful for the regular strategy group (now on hard, slow, old tyres) as the last of the alternative strategy group pitted for the soft, fast, new tyres. Vesti came out of the pits in eighth, behind Hauger, while Martins exited in fifth, behind Doohan. They both proceeded to pick off the drivers in front of them one by one. Vesti encouraged by his team, “Eyes forward now Fred, come on!”

While Vesti and Martins were FAST, Cordeel was too fast, getting a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Similarly, Benavides got another drive-through penalty for failing to take a load of his other penalties correctly. Presumably his team just gave up trying to keep on top of all his pearlites and carried on as normal instead.

With five laps to go, Bearman and Fittipaldi were still in first and second place, while Iwasa, who had clawed his way past Pourchaire, was clinging onto third, albeit with Martins and Vesti right behind him. The battle over third was intense. Vesti threw caution to the wind with his lunges at Martins, but just couldn’t make it past. Martins had more luck in his own overtaking endeavours, despite Iwasa’s robust defence. With just a few laps to go, Martins made it past Iwasa to take the final podium spot, while Iwasa was left defending fourth place against a persistent Vesti.

Despite Vesti’s best last-lap attempts, he couldn’t pass Iwasa. Iwasa finished fourth, behind third-placed Martins, second-placed Fittipaldi and comfortable winner Bearman. Less happy, I presume, was Benavides, who got a ten second stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits…

New and old championship standings

After another successful weekend, Vesti is still leading the championship (110 points), ahead of Pourchaire who is still second (99 points) and Iwasa who is still third (82 points). Bearman’s victory, however, means he now stands clearly in fourth place (70 points), while Hauger has fought off Maloney to claim fifth place for himself (57 points).

Now we have a little break for the world’s greatest race, the Le Mans 24 hours, where F2 fans can cheer on Correa and Prema, as well as a host of ex-F2 drivers such as my old favourites Louis Delétraz and Jack Aitken, before F2 returns in Austria.

F2 Spain 2023
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