PREVIEW: 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship – Spa-Francorchamps

by Aaron Gillard
Belgium - F2 - Spa

Round 9 of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship takes us to the Ardenne forests in Belgium, where the famous Spa-Francorchamps awaits the teams and drivers. The series returns after the summer shutdown and will commence the final four rounds of this year’s championship. Plenty is still at stake with the championship and the future of the F2 drivers on the current grid. Here is what to expect this weekend in Belgium.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME OUT IN HUNGARY

The feature race started with points leader Nyck de Vries on pole position, but it was Nicholas Latifi in the DAMS who claimed the lead of the race after Turn 1. The Canadian managed to capitalise on a mistake by de Vries, allowing himself to get ahead of the Dutchman. Latifi then cruised to victory with a safety car finish, thanks to Ralph Boschung‘s spectacular engine failure in the final few laps. The Canadian secured his fourth win of the year ahead of de Vries and Campos Racing‘s Jack Aitken.

For the sprint race, Mick Schumacher for PREMA Racing started on reverse grid pole, with Carlin‘s Nobuharu Matsushita starting alongside him. Schumacher was able to control the race from the front, despite having Matsushita following closely behind him throughout. Towards the final stages of the race, the Japanese driver began to get closer to the PREMA, but he couldn’t execute the move. Schumacher took a popular first win in F2, as well as capturing his first trip to the rostrum. Matsushita claimed second whilst DAMS’ Sérgio Sette Câmara finished third.

You can catch up on the race reports from Budapest here: Feature | Sprint

Credit: Joe Portlock/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

WHAT HAPPENED AT LAST YEAR’S ROUND IN BELGIUM?

Last year saw Nyck de Vries for PREMA grab victory in the feature race, converting his maiden F2 pole to the win in front of a large turnout of Dutch supporters. de Vries was in control throughout with nobody around to catch him. Sérgio Sette Câmara in the Carlin captured second ahead of George Russell in the ART Grand Prix car.

In the sprint race, it was Nicholas Latifi who claimed his first and only win of 2018, beating Lando Norris in second place. The Canadian claimed reverse grid pole, having ended the feature race before in eighth place. He was able to use that to his advantage, and look after his tyres well to claim the win. Norris managed to snatch second ahead of Latifi’s DAMS team-mate Alexander Albon, ensuring both French cars finished in the podium places.

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

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

ART’s Nyck de Vries still holds the championship lead as F2 starts its final four rounds consist of Belgium, Italy, Russia and Abu Dhabi. The Dutchman with three wins and 196 points to his name has a 30 point deficit to second place Latifi, and will hope to keep the gap marginal as he bids to clinch the series in year three. Belgium will mark somewhat of a home race for de Vries, with Spa being less than a three-hour drive away from Amsterdam and with an expected turnout for fellow Dutchman Max Verstappen this weekend. Last year proved to be a highlight as de Vries clinched the feature race win in front of the Dutch supporters. This year he’ll be hoping to repeat the same again as he aims to conclude the season with the title under his name.

Having grabbed his first win in two months, Nicholas Latifi will be hoping to continue his momentum into Spa as mounts a title charge. The Canadian grabbed victory in Hungary in the feature race, passing points leader de Vries on the opening lap and was in control throughout. Latifi won three races in the opening three rounds before a slump of bad results allowed de Vries to surpass him in the championship. But the Williams Racing reserved driver is back to his winning ways and returns to a track where he captured his only win in 2018. Latifi won the sprint race in Belgium last year, his high point in what was a challenging season with his DAMS team, but he’ll hope this year will mark a start of a late-title charge as he bids to win the series in his sixth season.

Credit: Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA Formula 2

The Hungary sprint race caught a lot of attention thanks to Mick Schumacher winning his first F2 race, converting reverse grid pole to the win. The PREMA driver also clinched his first podium in his rookie season, ending a bad run of races that left him eleventh overall in the drivers’ championship. Ending the first half of the year with a win, Schumacher heads to a track where his father Michael Schumacher made a name for himself. In 1991, Michael made his Formula 1 debut with Jordan Grand Prix. A year later with Benetton, he would clinch his maiden F1 win – his first out of 91 wins he currently holds today. Schumacher would win at Spa five more times, holding the record for most wins at the Belgian Grand Prix. Mick too has a strong record around Spa, having clinched his first FIA European Formula 3 win here last year. The win would start an incredible run that would lead to seven more wins, before landing the title that season. Schumacher will have the eyes of the world on him as he’ll be expected to perform around a track where his surname made a name for himself at the pinnacle of Motorsport.

We will see one new driver on the F2 grid for the weekend and for the last four races of the year. Japanese driver Marino Sato will make his F2 debut this weekend with Campos Racing, partnering alongside Jack Aitken. This will be Campos’ fourth signing of the season, having signed Dorian Boccolacci and Arjun Maini alongside Aitken this year so far. Maini replaced Boccolacci in the last three rounds, but will not race at Spa due to commitments with the European Le Mans Series at Silverstone this weekend. Sato is currently the overall points leader for the Euroformula Open Championship with three rounds to go but will race in F2 with the Spanish squad, who he tested with in Abu Dhabi last year. Sato will have to get use to the car once again, having been out of it for nearly a whole year now, but with four rounds left, the Japanese driver has time to get use to his new machinery and being a historical track in Motorsport for his first official F2 outing.

Outside of de Vries and Latifi, Sérgio Sette Câmara is the only other driver on the current F2 grid who has won a race around Spa in the series. The Brazilian captured the win back in 2017 in the sprint race, converting pole position to the win with MP Motorsport. He would have to wait nearly two whole years before he would see the top step again, winning the sprint race at the Red Bull Ring this year. Sette Câmara is currently third overall in the championship and has an outside shot in this year’s title race. The McLaren Junior driver is currently in the middle between the two championship contenders, as well as a squabble for third with the likes of Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken. The Brazilian driver this weekend will be hoping to deliver another strong result like Hungary, and could play spoiler for the likes of the top two – potentially affecting his team-mates title goals in the process as he’ll aim to push for a late title charge.

Flashback to 2017, when Sergio Sette Camara grabbed his first F2 win in the sprint race. Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

Spa-Francorchamps’ location within the Ardenne forests often presents its own climate over its period as a Grand Prix venue. The track is notorious for providing rain showers across the circuit and often has led to some parts of the track being dry and the other wet. The rain comes down very heavily at Spa, often leaving teams in a challenging position in when to switch to wet or dries during the cross-over period. This year, the weather is predicted to provide a mixture of dry and wet. Saturday for the feature race, it is expected to be dry with cloud spells throughout. However, rain is forecast in the morning before the sprint race is due to commence. This could lead to a frantic race, with the grid already shaken up with the top eight drivers reversed.

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE THIS WEEKEND?

FRIDAY 30TH AUGUST

Practice: 12:00PM (UK Time)/1:00PM (Belgium Time)
Qualifying : 3:55PM (UK Time)/4:55PM (Belgium Time)

SATURDAY 31ST AUGUST

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

SUNDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER

Sprint Race: 10:15AM (UK Time)/11:15AM (Belgium Time)

WHERE CAN I WATCH FIA FORMULA 2 THIS WEEKEND?

You can watch the FIA Formula 2 championship sessions live 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.

Who will rule the Ardenne forests this weekend at Spa? Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

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