The second round of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 championship in Baku, Azerbaijan saw another year of chaos, accidents and drama filled around the city by the Caspian sea. In another dramatic-filled weekend, only one man left with two pieces of silverware to take home and cement himself as a possible title contender.
Campos Racing‘s Jack Aitken went one better from his second place in last year’s feature race and took the win himself this year. A third place finish in the sprint race was a added bonus as he boosted his championship position to second overall.
The ‘Jack Attack’ Is Back!
The Anglo-Korean driver said prior to the weekend that he aimed to ‘go one better’ from his second place with ART Grand Prix last year. He did exactly that, avoiding all the chaos that occurred and captured Campos’ first win in Formula 2.
This is only Aitken’s second win in the series, but it comes at a crucial time with the next round in Barcelona being a track where he grabbed his first win. The win no doubt carries momentum in his favour and being a track with past success, the goal is surely to repeat it.
Having only placed the eleventh fastest time in practice, the twenty-three year old was able to secure eighth place in qualifying, lining himself up for a possible points finish for the feature race. He was able to avoid all the chaos at the start and eventually found himself up to third place by the end of the first lap.
Further ground was made up as after the safety car restart, pole sitter Nobuharu Matsushita fell down the order with a mechanical issue, ending what looked to be a promising weekend for the Japanese driver. Aitken was up to second place and followed behind the race leader Nyck de Vries until the pit stops, where a slow stop by ART allowed Aitken through into the initial lead of the race.
After a safety car restart, Aitken started to create a gap and remained untouched towards the win around the streets of Baku, leading ahead of de Vries and MP Motorsport‘s Jordan King.
For the sprint race, Aitken was on it again with a great start that placed him into the top six. In the run down towards Turn 3, Aitken pulled out an outstanding double overtake on the inside of the corner on Campos team-mate Dorian Boccolacci and King to take fourth place.
The Briton stayed in fourth throughout until the final minutes of the race, where he passed de Vries for third place and made it a second trip to the rostrum. Aitken looked so confident around Baku with his driving, the lap times he was putting in and the overtakes he done on track. If he can continue this level, there’s no reason why he should be put in the hat as a title contender.
He’ll be hoping to repeat his efforts in Spain and return to the top step of the podium at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Latifi Benefits, Ghiotto Falls
Whilst Aitken took the victory in the feature race, it was DAMS‘ Nicholas Latifi who claimed the win in the sprint race on Sunday, putting him as the championship leader after round two.
Heading into Baku, Latifi was some margin away from UNI-Virtuosi Racing‘s Luca Ghiotto in the drivers’ championship as both drivers, including Sergio Sette Câmara led the way after podium appearances in both races at the season opener in Bahrain.
In Qualifying, Latifi was on the back foot as he qualified down in seventh place, whilst rival Ghiotto managed to get into the top three. The tide turned however when Latifi managed to keep his nose clean and get into fourth place in the feature race, whilst Ghiotto was involved in a safety car restart accident with Sette Câmara, sending the Brazilian out of the race. Ghiotto was punished for the accident and was demoted to ninth place, handing the championship lead to the Canadian.
In the sprint race, Latifi was able to get away well and jump into the front behind Sean Gelael and Juan Manuel Correa. The DAMS driver started his assault for the win on Lap 3, passing the Sauber Junior Team driver for second place and began hunting down the Prema of Gelael. At the start of Lap 6 and in the run towards Turn 1, Latifi passed the Indonesian driver with ease and took the lead of the race.
Latifi controlled the race and even under the safety car restarts, the Canadian got away from the field and created a gap. There was a moment where it could of ended in tears, when Correa made a ambitious pass for the lead down at Turn 1 after the second restart, the American narrowly missed out on hitting Latifi at the exit of the corner.
The sprint race win was his and with it, an extension to his championship lead as he sits on the top of the table with 62 points. Second place Aitken lies only 19 points away, but with the strong pace from DAMS and securing three podiums in four races, two of those being wins, the Williams Racing junior driver has no doubt put his chips down as a serious title contender.
A ‘Correa’ First In Formula 2
The sprint race in Baku saw a first ever podium appearance in F2 for the nineteen-year old Juan Manuel Correa. The Ecuadorian-American captured second place in Sunday’s sprint race, having placed himself on the front row thanks a good result in race one.
Correa arrived into the weekend with zero points on the board and needed to get scoring if he wants to prove his worth among-st his rookie class. Qualifying didn’t go well as he ended the session down in seventeenth place and had a lot of work to do if he had any shot of bringing home some points.
Luckily for the America, he avoided the opening lap carnage that occurred and was up in contention for the top ten places. Correa was involved in a collision with Guanyu Zhou, where the Chinese driver crashed into the back of the Sauber at Turn 1. Correa was lucky to escape the crash with no damage and managed to grab seventh place as a result.
In the sprint race, Correa started the race in second place and remained second in the opening lap behind Gelael. By Lap 3, Latifi made his way pass for second but Correa remained with the rear of the DAMS, and when Gelael started to struggle and lost the lead of the race, Correa was quick to pounce and claim back second place.
After the second safety car restart, Correa defended from a charging Aitken in the run towards Turn 1. But the Sauber mistakenly defended on the inside, and was forced to make a move for the lead of the race. Locking up heavily, Correa carried too much speed into the first turn and failed to take the lead of the race. However, Correa kept second place ahead of de Vries and Aitken in the process and remained there until the end of the race to claim his first F2 podium.
With points scored in both races, Correa made a massive leap to sixth place in the drivers’ standings, and helped Sauber score their first points since partnering with Charouz Racing System. His performance in the races despite a bad qualifying session was impressive and has showed potential that he can deliver results if he can continue this for the rest of the season.
King Of The Castle
MP Motorsport had a mix start to the season with experienced driver Jordan King and rookie Mahaveer Raghunathan. King was able to collect a single point in the sprint race in Bahrain, but the Dutch based team looked like they were in for a challenging season. But once again, King was able to bring home points and surprisingly, a podium finish.
The Briton, who returned to F2 after a year in IndyCar, delivered a superb qualifying performance by capturing fifth place on the grid whilst team-mate Raghunathan was down the back end of the field in nineteenth place.
King was on the pace and benefited from the safety cars that occurred in the feature race. His luck around the streets of Baku continued when in the final minutes of the race, King saw his way pass Latifi for third place, passing the Canadian driver at Turn 3. He was able to hold onto the position and grab his first podium since his return to the series and MP’s first since the 2018 Monaco feature race with Roberto Merhi.
But in the sprint race, King was found to be an innocent victim in a crash after the second safety car restart. King was collected when Ghiotto hit the wall at Turn 2, bringing King and Nikita Mazepin with him. All three cars retired on the spot as another safety car was brought out. A disappointing way to end the weekend, but a podium finish and a strong qualifying performance shoots King up the drivers’ standings and is no doubt the leading force at MP. Spain will be King’s last weekend in F2 before he’ll miss Monaco to compete at the Indianapolis 500. He’ll then return for France, where he’ll hope to be a position to pick up a few more podiums and maybe even a sprint race win.
Choas Runs In Baku
Baku wasn’t short of action throughout the weekend, especially in Formula 2. Incidents and crashes plagued both races and the safety car make plenty of appearances on track.
Plenty of drivers explored the run-off areas throughout practice and qualifying. Raghunathan in particular was caught down at Turn 3 and took three minutes to get back on track. The Indian driver reversed back and forth to get his car back on track – even requiring some help from the marshals.
During the early minutes of qualifying, Gelael stopped on track between Turn 8 and 9, causing a red flag. Minutes later, Gelael was able to get going again, but not without running over two marshals who were pushing the back of the Prema. The Indonesian driver was found guilty of unsafely turning his engine on and accelerating, putting marshals in a dangerous scenario. He ended qualifying last but was later disqualified from the session. However, Gelael soon found himself starting nineteenth place after Raghunathan was forced to start from the pit lane after missing the weighbridge.
In the feature race, both Trident cars of Giuliano Alesi and Ralph Boschung collided with one another, sending the Italian driver out of the race. Louis Delétraz in the Carlin did well to avoid the collision between the two drivers, but Callum Ilott wasn’t as fortunate. Mick Schuamcher‘s race ended after seven laps after spinning in sector 3, ending an disappointing race. But the German delivered strongly in the following race on Sunday as he clawed his way from nineteenth, to an impressive fifth place.
The most controversial collision however, came at the safety car restart on Lap 19. Whilst down the main straight and waiting for the race to restart, Sette Câmara was warming his tyres up before being hit by Ghiotto behind, punting the DAMS car out of the race. Further back behind in the queue of cars, Delétraz made contact with the rear of Boccolacci, sending the Carlin into the wall and out of the race. Ghiotto was punished for the accident and was demoted to ninth place in the final classifications.
BWT Arden‘s Tatiana Calderon was the only driver who opted to use the alternative strategy and worked well as she led parts of the race, and was look to claim a points finish. But a mechanical failure just as the safety car came out ended her race, and ultimately her weekend.
In the sprint race, Calderon attempted an ambitious pass in the inside of Turn 2, but the Colombian driver locked up heavily and crashed into the wall, collecting both Boschung and Delétraz as a result. The Alfa Romeo Racing test driver was handed a three-place grid penalty for the incident, which will take place at the next round in Spain.
A similar incident occurred on Lap 12, after the second safety car restart. Ghiotto made contact with the rear of Aitken at the turn and as a result, crashed into the wall and taking Mazepin and King with him. Their accidents caused one final safety car in the sprint race and in weekend.
Baku once again, showcased another year of carnage and accidents galore in both races and has caused some surprising results. With Aitken victorious, Correa, de Vries and King stepping onto the podium for the first time this year and Latifi taking the championship lead, Formula 2 now heads to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with key names hoping to bounce back and new stars aiming to step up and take the centre stage.