The FIA Formula 2 Championship, formerly known as the GP2 Series, has seen its drivers come and go. Some leave their mark as one of the best drivers in the series by winning a title during their tenure, whilst others jump in and out of the championship. But in its history, there’s only been one driver who started out as a young, unknown rookie before developing into one of the series’ well loved drivers in a space of five years.
Most people associate this driver a racer who makes the most daring of overtakes look simple. He once passed three cars at once in the final moments of the Feature race in Austria this year. His first ever win in the series came thanks to the Virtual Safety Car in Monaco, creating one of the most confusing and unbelievable results in the GP2 series history. He’s somewhat become a driver that started out as a nobody, and turned into a somebody over the years. He proved that the alternative strategy can turn your weekend around and became a master in tyre management with the Pirelli tyres.
At the end of the 2018 FIA Formula 2 season, Artem Markelov announced on his Instagram profile that he would leave the series at the end of the year, citing new aspirations in the Motorsport world. He did just that, as well as his Russian Time team who stuck with the Moscow born driver since his entry in the series back in 2014. Back then he was a different man compare to now.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Fresh from finishing second in the 2013 German Formula 3 Championship, Markelov joined the GP2 Series with the 2013 team champions’ Russian Time. The then nineteen-year old Russian was partnered up alongside Mitch Evans, the 2012 GP3 series Champion and coming off from his first year in the series with Arden. In a highly contested field with the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Jolyon Palmer, Felipe Nasr, Raffaelle Marciello etc., Markelov would have to find his feet quickly at the first race in Bahrain within the twenty-six car field. He qualified last, over two seconds slower than pole sitter Palmer. The Russian ended his first weekend fifteenth and tenth, narrowly missing out on the points in his first attempt. But the season proved to be challenging and could only one points finish throughout the whole season, with a seventh place at Spa-Francorchamps in the Feature Race. He ended the year down in 24th with six points to his name. By comparison, Evans ended the year fourth overall with two wins to his name.
The following year in 2015, Markelov remained at Russian Time for another year alongside Evans and needed to prove to everyone that he was a racer who can compete in the GP2 Series. After a shaky start, the Russian was able to get points on the board more frequently compare to the year before. But his breakthrough was once again in the Feature race at Spa, where he claimed his first ever podium in the series with third place. This result helped Markelov to push for more points finishes at Monza and at the second Bahrain round in the latter stage of the season. He ended the year thirteenth overall, a big improvement to where he was the year before but some work needed to be done in order for him to be more consistent with the Dallara GP2/11 car and chase for more podium appearances.
In 2016, Markelov stayed for another year with Russian Time but had fresh competition in the opposite car with Raffaelle Marciello joining the team in place for Evans. A strong start to the season saw Markelov among-st the top five in the championship after taking two fourth places at the opening round in Barcelona. But a setback happened during Monaco qualifying, put him out of place for the Feature race in fifteenth place. Monaco is notorious for being a track where passing is near impossible and where qualifying and opting for the right strategy call can make a difference to your result. With the Russian down the field, the team chose to start him on the alternative strategy for the race, starting on the softest tyres and plan to pit later in the race. This trait and the outcome of the race became one of many blueprints and skills the Russian gained in his time in the series.
A MIRACLE BREAKTHROUGH WIN
The Feature race started with Sergey Sirotkin on pole but after a bad start, Norman Nato took over the lead at Turn 1. The race was filled with multiple incidents and crashes, including one from Sirotkin in second place who slammed into the barrier at the exit of the swimming pool section. Multiple Virtual Safety Cars were called out to clean debris and stranded cars around the Monte-Carlo circuit. All whilst that was happening, Markelov kept his nose clean and followed the plan as scheduled. But after a fourth VSC caused by Jordan King for colliding with the barrier and damaging his car. On Lap 29, the race changed on its head when Markelov took over the lead of the race when leaders Nato, Alex Lynn, Oliver Rowland and Evans pitted in. A slow wheel change in Nato’s stopped allowed Markelov more time up front as the Russian was yet to pit. But miraculously, the drivers who made their stops were slower compare to Markelov on worn tyres and struggled to close down the gap to the Russian Time driver. With single digit amount of laps left and with Markelov yet to pit, two more VSCs came out and gave the Russian the upper hand. On Lap 39, he finally made his stop for the Supersoft tyres. He narrowly managed to get out ahead of Nato and with the race shortened due to the amount of VSCs, reducing the race from 42 laps to 40, Markelov held on and claimed his first ever win in the series!
His victory became memorable and controversial relating with the amount of time he gained thanks to the late VSCs. Nato was less than impressed when he lost out on victory whilst third place man Rowland was pleased to grab his first podium with third. After the Monaco Sprint race where the Russian ended in eighth place, he was one point away from the championship leader Nato heading into the next round in Azerbaijan. But ultimately, Markelov’s season after Monaco wasn’t as consistent and didn’t make another trip to the rostrum until the Feature race at the final round in Abu Dhabi. Markelov would round off the year in the top ten of the drivers’ championship for the first time, but was short off team-mate Marciello who ended the year in fourth place despite not winning a race.
THE TITLE CHARGE
Change arrived in 2017 when the GP2 Series became the platform we know today: The FIA Formula 2 Championship. For a fourth season in a row, Markelov would be racing at Russian Time again. But would find a new team-mate in Luca Ghiotto, who was fresh from his rookie year at Trident where like Markelov, won a race in 2016. The series would stick to the GP2 car Markelov has been use to since 2014, but this would be the final year of the Dallara car before a new model is introduced. At the first race of the season in Bahrain, the Russian found himself being one of the pace makers, settling himself in the top three at the opening stages of the race. His tyre management in the race helped him in the opening stint whilst Charles Leclerc and Nato were squabbling for the lead, affecting their tyres. The pair pitted in early whilst the Russian Time driver stayed out later, taking up younger tyres behind Nato and Leclerc in the lead. By Lap 29, the pair in front started to struggle on their tyres and Markelov soon made his attack on the drivers ahead. The Russian passed the pairing and took the lead of the race with three laps to go, taking the first win of the new F2 season.
The victory would set the tone for Markelov’s season, flirting with the championship lead throughout the season against Leclerc. The Russian claimed a second place finish at Monaco in the Feature Race, the race he captured victory the previous year. After a bad qualifying at the Red Bull Ring, Markelov was able to recover into the points in eighth place, earning him reverse grid pole position for the sprint race on the Sunday. He clinched the win that race ahead of Alexander Albon.
After the summer break, Markelov was one of the top drivers competing for the championship alongside Leclerc and Rowland. The three would emerge as the drivers battling for the podium spots in the final moments of the Feature race at Spa. Rowland and Markelov chopped and changed positions on the final lap, with Leclerc leading the way. The Monegasque driver took victory but the attention was drawn on Rowland and Markelov, who were fighting for second heading into the final chicane. Rowland attempted to defend his position by forcing Markelov off track, the Russian had momentum and was able to snatch second at the last second. But after the race, the stewards found both Leclerc and Rowland carried excessive wear to the underfloor plank. Their exclusions meant Markelov took the victory, his third of the season.
Despite claiming victory whilst his title rivals had set backs, Markelov failed to finish in the Sprint Race at Belgium, whilst Leclerc and Rowland managed to claw their way back into the field to earn a points finish. Disappointing rounds in Monza saw the gap to leader Leclerc increase and by Jerez, the title was sealed. Leclerc clinched victory and rounding off the F2 championship whilst Markelov ended down in fifth place. The Russian was able to end the weekend victorious in the Sprint Race, and followed that up with a win in the Feature Race in Abu Dhabi. It would also the ground where he clinched his first ever and only pole position in the series during his five year stint. Markelov rounded off the year second in the drivers’ championship, beating Rowland by nineteen points but lost out to Leclerc by 72 points. But Russian Time’s consistency with Markelov and Ghiotto over the year saw the team win the teams’ title, their first title since 2013.
ONE FINAL ADVENTURE
Question marks were raised over what Markelov will do for the 2018 season, whether he would make a move elsewhere or stick with Russian Time for a fifth season. The F2 series was entering a new era with a new Dallara car introduced, meaning all the drivers entering the year would enter new territory. Most questioned throughout his tenure in GP2/F2 why no Formula 1 team was signing him as a reserve, test or simulator driver. But during the winter of 2018, Renault Sport Formula One Team signed him up as their development driver for the season. As well as his role with Renault, Markelov compete in F2 for one more season with Russian Time, partnering this team with rookie Japanese driver Tadasuke Makino.
After a tricky first qualifying session, which saw the Russian driver qualify down in seventeenth place. It got worse for the Russian driver has he stalled his car during the formation lap in the Bahrain Feature Race, forcing him to start the race in the pit lane. Fortunes turned into his favour as he cut his way through the field, transforming a disastrous start into an incredible podium finish. The Russian even had the chance to spoil a Carlin Motorsport one-two, attempting to pass Sergio Sette Câmara on the final lap, but settled for a third place finish. One of his best drives in the series and turning around a bad start into a positive outcome.
The Sprint Race on the following day proved to a better race for the Russian. Starting from sixth place, he was able to climb his way to the front of the pack and compete for the race win. Thanks to his tyre management skills he learned throughout the years on Pirelli tyres and competing against rookie Maximilian Günther, Markelov was able to find himself in the lead of the race in the scorching heats of Bahrain. Some drivers explored the tactic of making a pit stop in the race, Markelov’s tyre saving was enough to come home and take the win ahead of Günther and Sette Câmara.
But after a strong start to the opening weekend of the 2018 F2 season, Markelov began to struggle with the new car and had poor results in Baku and Spain. A miracle win fell into his lap at Monaco, the place where he took his first win in the series in 2016, after Albon and Nyck de Vries crashed out of the lead whilst behind the safety car. A clean race from the Russian and able to stay clear of Sean Gelael and Roberto Merhi, put him in prime position to capture his second Monaco win in the series and his second victory of the year. After a disappointing round at Paul Ricard where he finished outside of the points and ended qualifying poorly at the Red Bull Ring, Markelov was back in the spotlight when he executed a strong drive on the alternative strategy to compete for a points finish. On the final lap of the race and on fresh rubber, Markelov pulled out the overtake of the season, passing Nicholas Latifi, Santino Ferrucci and Ghiotto in one corner! His drive concluded by passing Nirei Fukuzumi at the final corner to claim reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race, where he would go on to win after managing to withhold pressure from championship leader George Russell throughout the race. He repeated the same result from the year before by recovering into a points finish and grabbing pole, which led to a Sprint Race win.
After his victory in Austria, Markelov rounded off the midway stage of the season with mediocre results, grabbing points finishes but never reached a podium finishes and placing himself as an outsider for the championship battle. Markelov had an opportunity to test with Renault after the Hungarian Grand Prix, making his first F1 test appearance and produced a solid performance in the days’ running.Two second places around Monza came, with the feature race being a Russian Time one-two due to Makino’s shocking win after starting from fourteenth place, but the chances of Markelov improving on from second in 2017 looked very slim. An emotional weekend in his home race in Russia followed where he got to take part in Free Practice 1 with Renault in front of his home crowd and had the opportunity to lead a race in F2 proved to his personal highlight for the year. But after the round and the break that led into the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Markelov announced on his Instagram that he will be leaving the series for good, ending a five year association with the championship. He rounded off his final weekend at Yas Marina with a final podium appearance with second place in the Feature Race and seventh in his final ever race. He ended the year fifth overall in the championship.
WHY FORMULA 2 WILL MISS MARKELOV?
Markelov has spent five years in the GP2/F2 series, practically nurturing from a young driver into one of the entertaining drivers in the series. Every year in the series saw him develop his skills and grow not only as a driver, but as a person too. His fighting spirit during his final years of the series saw him create some of the best overtaking in the series, showcasing the bravery and talent that he has grown to. It’s not often you find a driver who passes three cars in one corner on the final lap. But thanks to his calmness under pressure and the maturity he learned over the years, he was able to execute the pass. The fans fell in love with him as a driver too thanks to his on-track action and for his character as a fun, likable guy. Russian Time adored him for so many years, being their center-piece and supporting his time in the series. As the two depart from the series, a big void is left behind. UNI-Virtusoi Racing takes over the teams’ entry whilst Markelov eyes on new adventures, potentially a year in Super Formula next year in Japan.
Some drivers leave their landmark in the series before they make their eventual step into further championships. Vandoorne rounded off the 2015 GP2 Series as one of the most dominant drivers ever. Leclerc and Russell in their rookie year of the series win the title, straight after winning the GP3 Series from the year before. Markelov may not have been dominant in the series, or have won championships during his tenure. The Russian does hold the record for the most wins in the F2 series since its re-formation in 2017 with eight wins in total. His growth in the series and performances in the latter years of his career in the series will mark him down as one of the outstanding drivers in F2 history and will be missed within in paddock.