PREVIEW: 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship – Circuit Paul Ricard

by Aaron Gillard
Arden - Paul Ricard - F2 2018

Round 5 of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship takes us to Le Castellet in the south of France, where the Circuit Paul Ricard will host the first F2 weekend in four weeks. After a long break since their last round at Monaco, the F2 teams and drivers are prepared for a double-header, starting with France before heading to the Red Bull Ring in Austria in the following week. The championship is starting to heat up with only one point separating the top two, here is what to keep an eye out for this weekend in France.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME OUT IN MONACO?

The Monaco Feature race saw plenty of chaos and confusion throughout. ART Grand Prix‘s Nyck de Vries started on pole ahead of Sauber Junior Team‘s Callum Ilott, who clinched his first ever front row in F2. But the young Brit never got to utilise that second place start as he was forced to retire before the race even began. de Vries led the race throughout until a red flag caused by Mick Schumacher and Tatiana Calderón halted the race. The restart saw confusion as multiple cars from eighth place downwards were a lap down, leaving the top seven fighting for the win. de Vries was able to keep his cool and take victory ahead of Nobuharu Matsushita and Sergio Sette Câmara, who benefited from UNI-Virtuosi Racing‘s Luca Ghiotto’s disqualification after the race.

The Sprint race saw a four car battle for the lead of the race throughout between Arden‘s Anthoine Hubert, Carlin’s Louis Delétraz, Virtuosi’s Guanyu Zhou and MP Motorsport‘s Artem Markelov. Hubert controlled the race throughout but in the closing stages, began to struggle on his tyres and allowed Delétraz to look at snatching the race win away from the Frenchman. On the final lap and in the race to the finish line, Hubert and Delétraz were neck-to-neck down the final straight, with Hubert taking the win ahead of the Swiss driver by 0.059 seconds. The 2018 GP3 Series champion clinched his first win in F2 ahead of the Delétraz and Zhou, who resisted a late charge from the veteran Markelov.

You can read the reports from the last round at Monaco here: Feature | Sprint

ART’s Nyck de Vries edges closer to Nicholas Latifi’s lead at Monaco, leaving the Principality by just one point separating the two. Credit: Joe Portlock/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

WHAT HAPPENED AT LAST YEAR’S ROUND IN FRANCE?

The Feature race at France saw mixed conditions hit the Paul Ricard circuit but it was George Russell in the ART car that captured the win whilst resisting pressure from the Carlin of Sergio Sette Câmara in the final laps of the race. The sudden downpour midway through the race saw multiple drivers take to the pits for wet tyres, but their switch proved to be the wrong call as the rain passed and the track dried up quickly. Those who stuck with the slicks, were successful. Russell led from start to finish ahead of the Brazilian, with Ghiotto taking third and the final podium spot after Roberto Merhi, who initially finished third place was later disqualified after the race.

The Sprint race saw Nyck de Vries in the Prema grab his first F2 win of his career, passing Charouz Racing System‘s Delétraz in the second half of the race. The Dutch driver managed to build a gap from the Swiss driver to take first place, with Ghiotto once again joining them on the podium. The race also saw an epic battle between the Carlin team-mates of Lando Norris and Sette Câmara, in which the Brit won. Feature race winner Russell retired after one lap due to mechanical issues, whilst multiple drivers over the weekend suffered clutch issues that saw them stall during the race starts.

You can read through last year’s race reports here: Feature | Sprint

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

The championship battle between Nicholas Latifi and Nyck de Vries is beginning to heat up with the pair only separated by a single point. de Vries’ win and stand out weekend in Monaco reduced the deficit whilst Latifi struggled in both races and was caught out in the red flag during the Feature race. This leaves the pair heading into France determined to leave Paul Ricard with the championship lead. Both drivers have had a busy break with Latifi getting some F1 track time with Williams Racing, whilst de Vries competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Racing Team Nederland. Last year saw de Vries capture victory in the Sprint race and hoping to repeat that result again. Latifi didn’t break into the top six here last year and will hope that he can put things right following his shaky weekend at Monaco last time out.

Three drivers will celebrate their home race this weekend: Anthoine Hubert, Dorian Boccolacci and Giuliano Alesi. Arden’s Hubert has enjoyed a brilliant start to his rookie season, securing his first win in F2 at the streets of Monte-Carlo and placing himself seventh overall in the championship. Boccolacci’s season improved in Monaco with two points finishes in both races, pushing him in the top ten of the championship ahead of Carlin’s Nobuharu Matsushita whilst Alesi has endured a difficult season with zero points on the board. The son of F1 race winner Jean Alesi is one of three drivers yet to score so far this F2 season. (Tatiana Calderón and Mahaveer Raghunathan are the other two). All three drivers will be wanting to impress in front of the home crowd and score decent results. Hubert in particular coming off a race win will be hoping to repeat his strong form and improve his status in the championship.

Anthoine Hubert’s win pushes him in the top eight of the F2 championship going into his home race. Credit: Joe Portlock/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

As well as the drivers, France will also be a home race for both ART and DAMS, who both are fighting for the top spot in the teams’ standings. DAMS have taken a win in the first opening three races with Latifi whilst ART began their winning streak in Spain and then in Monaco. Both teams have drivers in the title fight and in the teams’ championship alongside UNI-Virtuosi Racing, the battle is on between the two fellow French squads. Last year saw ART claim victory with George Russell on home soil and hopes they can repeat it again with de Vries and Nikita Mazepin.

Both Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken took heavy hits in their title aspirations in Monaco as both drivers failed to score a points finish at the previous round. Ghiotto initially finished the Feature race in second, but was later disqualified for his team using rack stops of a thickness that didn’t meet with the F2 technical regulations. As a result, Ghiotto was sent to the back of the grid for the Sprint race, but that ended in disaster for the Italian as he was involved in an accident with Mahaveer Raghunathan. Ghiotto will take a three-place grid drop as a result for the accident. Aitken suffered a poor qualifying in Monaco thanks to his lap being impeded by Raghunathan. The two would meet again in the race as the Campos Racing driver couldn’t find his way pass. In the final laps of the race, Raghunathan punted into Aitken, ending his race on the spot as he crashed into the barriers. Both Aitken and Ghiotto will hope France will be the race their fortunes turn around and can resume or even improve on their title aspirations.

After missing the last round in Monaco due to competing in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Jordan King will return to Formula 2 with his MP Motorsport team. King missed out in the Monaco round as he competed in America, with Russian F2 veteran Artem Markelov making a one-off appearance in the series as a substitute driver for the Brit. Markelov scored valuable points around the streets of Monte-Carlo with a sixth and fourth place in both races, placing him in 13th overall. King lies 11th despite missing one round and has scored in all rounds he has raced in so far in F2. This will be King’s first visit to Paul Ricard since 2012 and will hope to continue his points scoring with his Dutch team.

What looked to be a very promising Monaco weekend by Sauber Junior Team by Charouz, they left the Principality with zero points from Callum Ilott and Juan Manuel Correa. But this is a team that looked to have a strong results coming their way following two back-to-back podium appearances in Baku and Spain. Ilott stunned everyone in Qualifying in Monaco by setting the fastest time in his qualifying group, which put him in second place for the Feature race. But the Brit never got the chance to start on the front row as moments before lights out, an electrical fire switched his car off – effectively ending his race and his weekend. Correa was on course to get a handful of points with sixth place during the Feature race, but a crash in the final laps halted any points for the American. The team left with no points but their pace and potential is strong, especially on how Ilott managed to deliver a quick lap out of no-where. The two raced in Paul Ricard last year in the GP3 Series, where Ilott won in the Sprint race. Correa scored a ninth place finish in the Feature race.

Callum Ilott captured his first out of two wins in the 2018 GP3 Series at Paul Ricard. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE THIS WEEKEND?

FRIDAY 21ST JUNE

Practice: 11:55AM (UK Time)/12:55PM (French Time)
Qualifying : 3:55PM (UK Time)/4:55PM (French Time)

SATURDAY 22ND JUNE

Feature Race: 3:45PM (UK Time)/4:45PM (French Time)

SUNDAY 23RD JUNE

Sprint Race: 10:25AM (UK Time)/11:25AM (French 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.

Which out of de Vries or Latifi will leave France with the championship lead? Credit: Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

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