Round 2 of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship takes us to the Azerbaijan capital of Baku, where the drivers and teams will face the ever challenging Baku City Circuit. After a short break from their opening round in Bahrain, the series returns and heads to a circuit that has had its fair share of chaotic races. Here’s what to expect from Baku this weekend.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME OUT IN BAHRAIN?
The start of the new Formula 2 season saw UNI-Virtuosi Racing claim the first pole position of the year in their first race in the series, replacing the former team Russian Time. Luca Ghiotto was able to place a last minute lap in during qualifying and capture his first pole and points of the year. But in the feature race, Ghiotto got off the line poorly and dropped down the field at the start of the race as five cars passed their way forward into the lead of the race. Louis Delétraz controlled the race early on until Nicholas Latifi passed him on Lap 8. The Canadian remained in the lead of the race until the round of pit stops, where his DAMS team were slow in getting the wheels on his car, costing him valuable time. Ghiotto re-gained the lead of the until he made his pit stop, handing the lead to ART Grand Prix‘s Nyck de Vries. But Latifi on fresher tyres was able to claw his way pass de Vries and take the lead of the race, eventually going on to win it. Ghiotto performed strongly to claim second, questioning whether the win was possible if he didn’t suffer a bad start. Latifi’s DAMS team-mate Sérgio Sette Câmara recovered from an eighth place start to finish in third.
For the sprint race, Prema Racing and rookie Mick Schumacher started the race on pole position, but the German didn’t hold onto the lead for long as both DAMS drivers saw their way pass the rookie for the lead. Ghiotto soon followed and managed to fight against the DAMS cars in the early stages of the race, eventually winning the battle taking the lead of the race. The Italian driver opted to make a pit stop for fresher tyres at the midway point of the race, handing the lead back to Sette Câmara. Ghiotto then delivered an iconic drive through the field, passing cars who decided to stay out and started his chase towards the front of the pack. Both DAMS cars chose to remain out on track and it proved to be a disadvantage to them as Ghiotto swooped passed the pair of them for the lead of the race with two laps to go. Ghiotto completed the fight back, capturing the win and the lead of the championship.
WHAT HAPPENED AT LAST YEAR’S ROUND IN BAKU?
Last time Formula 2 visited Azerbaijan, Alexander Albon secured his first pole position in the series, and would later turn that into his first win in the feature. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Albon as he had to duel with George Russell throughout the early stages of the race. The British driver won the battle when he jumped Albon during the pit stops, but a safety car caused by Roy Nissany allowed the field to bunch up. In the restart, de Vries made an ambitious lunge towards Russell for the lead of the race, sending both cars into the run-off area at Turn 1 and handing the lead to Antonio Fuoco. But the Italian’s lead was cut short when Albon stormed pass towards his first win out of four in F2. Jack Aitken claimed second place, despite stalling at the start of the race and falling down in last. Fuoco rounded off the podium places.
In the sprint race, chaos ensued as multiple cars stalled on the grid and some getting off the line slowly. Roberto Merhi and Ralph Boschung, who started on the front row, struggled and allowed fourth place Latifi into the lead of the race before entering Turn 1. Russell flew his way pass the stalled and slow moving cars at the start and was in the top six by the first corner. The two Carlin cars of Sette Câmara and Lando Norris battled for position, with the Brazilian winning the fight and eventually the lead of the race as he made way his through pass Latifi. Russell was on pursuit and managed to chase down race leader Sette Câmara, where the two endured an epic duel for the lead with only a handful of laps remaining. In the end, Russell made the move stick down the main straight, where he captured his first win in F2.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
The Baku City Circuit has often been a scene of some of the most chaotic races on the F2 calendar. Every year the series has come to challenging street circuit, there has always been a major incident or a collection of accidents that has often shaken up the final result. An incident around here, often triggers a Virtual Safety Car or Safety car, which has led to the restarts creating further chaos as drivers often make attempt to pass cars down at Turn 1, thanks to the 2.2km back straight. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we see a safety car or two make an appearance in the races this weekend. The 2016 sprint race saw a dramatic finish between Prema team-mates of Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi, as the Italian now racing for Alfa Romeo Racing passed his French colleague on the final lap to win and complete the double of winning both races that weekend. In the 2017 feature race, Sean Gelael caused a red flag after crashing into the castle section of the circuit. The crash caused a traffic jam within the tight section of the track, leaving the race to end early and handing Charles Leclerc the win.
Luca Ghiotto arrives into the second round of F2 as the championship leader for the first time in his four-year stint with the series. The Italian captured pole position and the sprint race win, which in tern has helped him build a two point gap to second place Latifi. Ghiotto was close to completing a ‘hat-trick’ consisting of pole position, feature and sprint race win, if it wasn’t for his bad start at the first race of the season. The Virtuosi’s raw pace seems strong overall as team-mate Guanyu Zhou produced a strong race to climb his way through the field, scoring in both occasions and ending the sprint race in fourth place. In last years race, Ghiotto crashed on the opening lap whilst running in the top five. Hopefully this year, he’ll make it pass the first lap as he’ll need to continue his championship charge.
The rookie class of 2019 have made an impressive start with three out of eight rookies scoring on their F2 debuts, all three lying in the top ten of the drivers’ table. Anthoine Hubert, Zhou and Schumacher all scored in Bahrain and delivered strong results in their first outings. Both Hubert and Zhou drove superbly in the feature race by finishing seven places above their starting position, whilst Schumacher claimed eighth place and reverse grid pole for the sprint race. The other five rookies will be hoping for a better showing at the next round now they have a round under their belt. All of the rookies, and a few drivers on the grid will tackle the Baku City Circuit for the time in their careers, meaning practice will be a very important session for them. They can’t afford to make too many, or any mistakes in the 45 minute running they have before qualifying as one crash here means game over with the walls punishing any driver who makes the smallest of errors.
Last year, Jack Aitken performed strongly in the feature race after stalling on the grid at the beginning of the race. His strong recovery and a helping hand with the safety cars allowed him to finish second overall. He was two seconds short from winning the race completely, but what could of been if he didn’t have that stall at the start? Now, Aitken will be hoping for another trip to the rostrum this year, or even getting the chance to go one better and win a race here. The Anglo-Korean driver now racing for Campos Racing, has only one win on his belt in F2, but if he can replicate the speed from last year, Aitken could be bringing home a trophy or two.
Nyck de Vries and Louis Delétraz will be hoping to make a step onto the podium this weekend and kick start their championship-aspirated charge. Both drivers displayed decent pace around Bahrain, with the Carlin of Delétraz getting the better out of the ART driver overall in the weekend. The newly appointed Haas F1 simulator driver led the feature race at the early stages, but high tyre degradation in the Bahrain heat compromised him and left him vulnerable to the DAMS of Latifi. de Vries couldn’t deliver the same pace he showed from pre-season testing and lost out against both DAMS cars, Ghiotto and few of his competitors. The Dutch driver was on the podium here this time last year, finishing third in the sprint race with Prema but had the chance to win last year’s feature race if it wasn’t for an over-ambitious move against Russell for the lead of the race. He’ll be hoping to replicate the pace from last year and round off the weekend with a trophy in his hand. Both drivers were favoured as early title contenders after testing, they’ll need a strong weekend here to keep that contention going.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE THIS WEEKEND?
FRIDAY 26TH APRIL
Practice: 8:00AM (UK Time)/11:00AM (Baku Time)
Qualifying: 12:00PM (UK Time)/3:00PM (Baku Time)
SATURDAY 27TH APRIL
Feature Race: 9:00AM (UK Time)/12:00PM (Baku Time)
SUNDAY 28TH APRIL
Sprint Race: 10:10AM (UK Time)/13:10PM (Baku Time)
WHERE CAN I WATCH FIA FORMULA 2 THIS WEEKEND?
You can watch the session lives from the FIA Formula 2 championship on Sky Sports F1 throughout the weekend in the UK and Ireland. Re-runs of the races will be shown over the week.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL OF THE NEWS OVER THE WEEKEND?
The Checkered Flag will provide the latest news and updates from 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship this weekend and throughout the season.