Much of the headlines in the final round of the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship have been centered about one man: George Russell. The ART Grand Prix driver led the championship with a healthy points gap to Alexander Albon going into the final round. By the Feature Race, the worry was over. Russell was crowned the series’ champion!
Following on from their victories in Sochi over a month ago, Russell and Albon both set their eyes on the title, hoping to grab the title before their departure from the series awaited. It was advantage Russell heading to the Yas Marina Circuit, and it remained that throughout Practice and Qualifying when the ART driver set the fastest times in both sessions, whilst Albon was down in the midfield. Russell was able to clinch pole, adding four more points to his championship lead and placed the DAMS driver in a tough position.
The feature race started dramatically when Arjun Maini crashed into the back of Nicholas Latifi, who stalled whilst starting in third place. The spectacular crash resulted in debris all over the start line and forced a safety car to come out. Both drivers were out of their cars and sustained no injuries from the crash. Whilst that was happening, Albon also stalled and put his championship aspirations in great danger. He was able to get going again, but a lap down and all hope for the title started to wash away.
The safety car helped drivers extend their strategies, especially to those who opted to start on the alternative strategy and managed to escape the start line crash. One person who massively benefited from it was Luca Ghiotto, who started the race down in sixteenth. His strategy allowed him to go long and once the front runners have pitted, the Campos Vexatec Racing driver led the race, and led strongly! Ghiotto even had a healthy gap to Russell in second towards the latter stages of the race, a gap of 25 seconds that would put him in a strong position to challenge a win come his pit stop. But thanks to a lock-up at Turn 9, Ghiotto skipped the corner and gained time, which resulted in him gaining a five second penalty in his pit stop. The Italian dropped down to fifth, with five minutes on the clock left. But on fresh rubber, Ghiotto was able to put the hammer down and claim a podium finish in third, passing Lando Norris and Nyck de Vries.
Back at the front, Russell was in control throughout the race and led with a healthy gap to second place Artem Markelov. Even with a brief battle with the Russian and with de Vries, Russell was able to stay focus and placed a strong drive that showed why throughout the season, he was the leader of the series. With victory secured, the title race was over. He won the second season of F2, joining a special club along with Charles Leclerc to have won the GP3 Series and F2 Series in their rookie seasons.
In the Sprint race the following day, Charouz Racing System‘s Antonio Fuoco grabbed the last win of the season, after passing pole sitter Roberto Merhi down the run towards Turn 1. The race was one lap shorter than originally planned after Sean Gelael in the Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing car stalled and failed to park his car correctly in the grid slot. He would later cause more troubles when he made a very ambitious and somewhat clumsy move, which ended the race for himself, Tadasuke Makino and Niko Kari. Norris in the Carlin Motorsport car was able to round off his final race at the team before moving to F1 with second, even celebrating early by spinning at the start finish line in front of his mechanics. Merhi held second for most of the race before Norris passed him at the end of the race, but managed to capture third and the final podium spot of the year.
In his final weekend of F2 racing, Markelov managed to grab one final podium in the weekend with second place in the Feature race. But in the Sprint race, the well-loved Russian was frustrated being stuck behind Louis Delétraz, causing Markelov to make mistakes on track. He was able to end his last ever race in seventh place, cementing a top five finish in the drivers’ title in 2018.
In the final round of the championship, runner-up in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship Dan Ticktum made his debut with BWT Arden, replacing Maxmilian Günther who left the series for the ABB FIA Formula E Series. Ticktum got use to the new F2 car, a vehicle he hasn’t driven since winter testing. The Brit set the fourteenth best time in the session and would end his first race in eleventh. A gearbox failure during the Sprint race halted any chance of a points finish in the last race of the season.
The Sprint race had one unusual factor that played some diffidence to the racing, a lack of DRS. During the midway stage of the race, both Russell and Markelov reported in about DRS failing for all cars during the race, meaning everyone had to get their elbows out and do the old school method of racing. Whilst it took a while for cars to pass each other as most of the field were trying to save their tyres in the heat of the Abu Dhabi desert, Norris’ battle with Merhi in the end showed that passing without the drag reduction system was possible.
After completing their first season back in the series, Carlin were able to clinch the F2 Teams’ title away from veterans ART and DAMS. Consistent point scoring from Norris and Sergio Sette Câmara throughout the whole season helped the Surrey based team push against their French rivals. Despite only picking up one win, they managed to capture seventeen podium appearances over the course of the year between their two driver, compare to ART’s thirteen. Norris’ fifth and second place was enough to promote him to second place in the championship, surpassing Albon who was mathematically still in the title fight until Russell’s win in race one. Albon’s one point in the Sprint race wasn’t enough to earn him the runner-up spot.
With the season now over and the prize gala party taken place, where the teams and drivers celebrated their season and achievements over the year, they quickly turn their attention to next year with testing taking over the course of this week at the Yas Marina Circuit.