PREVIEW: 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship – Sochi Autodrom

by Aaron Gillard
Russia - F2 - Preview

Round 11 of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship takes us near the Black Sea and the venue which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and parts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Sochi Autodrom plays host to the penultimate round of the series before they reach the final round at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

Russia could see the drivers’ championship wrap up with Nyck de Vries if he collects enough points over his rivals. But they can at least halt the Dutchman with the right results over the weekend, pushing the title right to the last round. Here’s what to look out for over the weekend in Russia.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME OUT IN ITALY?

The feature race in Italy was the first time F2 went racing since the events of Spa-Francorchamps, as 17 cars took the track, racing for Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa. After taking a surprising pole position, Sauber Junior Team‘s Callum Ilott led the field in the opening laps until Carlin‘s Nobuharu Matsushita snatched the lead away before the pit stop window opened. The Japanese driver kept hold of the initial lead after the pit stops. Nicholas Latifi and Guanyu Zhou squabbled for position until an incident saw the pair suffer damage and dropping them out of the points. Matsushita clinched the win with UNI-Virtuosi Racing‘s Luca Ghiotto and ART Grand Prix‘s Nyck de Vries rounding off the podium. The pair completed sensational comeback drivers after starting the race towards the back of the grid.

In the sprint race, Jack Aitken lined up on pole position and led the race throughout, but had to fight to keep the win alive against fellow Brits Jordan King and Callum Ilott. The Campos driver during the race was caught weaving down the straights in a bid to break the tow from the cars behind. Aitken’s actions awarded him a black and white flag, but no penalty was dished out. Ilott in the last few laps was close to Aitken until the final lap, when he went off at Turn 1, clipped the barrier and spun on the grass. The incident handed King second place as Aitken collected his third win of the season. de Vries clinched another podium with third place, thanks to a time penalty for Matsushita.

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

Credit: Joe Portlock/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR IN RUSSIA?

Last year’s round in Russia would prove vital in the drivers’ championship. In the feature race, Alexander Albon for DAMS clinched his fourth, and final win in F2 by making a gamble in pitting early compared to his rivals. He led a DAMS one-two, with Nicholas Latifi finishing second ahead of PREMA Racing‘s Nyck de Vries. George Russell for ART Grand Prix ended the race in fourth, increasing his points margin towards the F2 title as title rival Lando Norris suffered a poor race. The Carlin driver suffered a slow start, losing places and ended his race with a pit stop failure. His retirement saw Albon leapfrog him in the drivers’ table, initially ending Norris’ title aspiration.

In the sprint race, the race would prove to be dramatic thanks to a dry to wet race. Russell controlled the race in both conditions and would see the chequered flag first, securing his sixth win of the season and putting one hand on the drivers’ title. Carlin’s Sérgio Sette Câmara finished in second ahead of Albon, who remained the only driver who can stop Russell from clinching the title in Abu Dhabi. Norris retired once again in the race, confirming his exit from the title fight.

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

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

How de Vries Can Take The Title in Russia?

Nyck de Vries currently leads the drivers’ championship with 225 points to his name, 59 points ahead of second-place Nicholas Latifi. With 96 points left to grab in the final two rounds, de Vries is in prime position to clinch the title this weekend in Russia, or at the final round in Abu Dhabi.

It’s very possible de Vries can claim the title in Sochi as early as the feature race – only if the results go his way. Qualifying and the feature race offer a total of 31 points, including the four points for pole position, two for fastest lap and the win in the race. After Saturday’s race, they’ll be 65 possible points left to play. If de Vries outscores Latifi by six points on Saturday, the title is his. If this scenario isn’t possible, then de Vries can simply wrap up the title if the points deficit leaving Russia is above 48 to second place.

With a 59 point deficit currently, Latifi needs to perform and outscore the Dutchman, scoring 11 more points than de Vries will take the points deficit to 48, enough to lead a very unlikely fightback in Abu Dhabi, but enough to halt de Vries from sealing the title in Sochi. But with de Vries in his current form, it is likely the title will end in Russia and he’ll become the third F2 champion, joining the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell. Unlike Leclerc and Russell, de Vries will not be racing Formula 1 next year, as he will be taking on Formula E, having signed a factory drive with the new Mercedes-Benz Formula E Team.

Nyck de Vries can become the third F2 champion in Russia, joining the likes of Charles Leclerc & George Russell who won the series. Credit: Andy Hone/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

Out of Reach For Latifi, Ghiotto & Co.?

Whilst de Vries is favourite to seal the title this weekend, there is still a mathematical possibility that Nicholas Latifi, Luca Ghiotto, Jack Aitken and Sérgio Sette Câmara can win the title – but the possibility is very narrow. Latifi is 59 points behind de Vries, whilst the likes of Ghiotto, Aitken and Sette Câmara are 70, 72 and 74 points behind the ART Grand Prix driver, with 96 points left to play.

The chance of trio between third and fifth place is very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. If de Vries were to suffer a bad weekend, then the chances increase for the three drivers, but they’ll need to score a lot of points and narrow the deficit to 48 points when leaving Russia. If not, they’re out.

Latifi is the strongest out of the four to fight de Vries, but even he will need a lot of luck to push the title fight to Abu Dhabi. Second place isn’t fully secured for the Canadian as Ghiotto is only 11 points behind the DAMS driver. After scoring zero points in Monza, this is a must score weekend for Latifi.

The Battle For Third: 40 SuperLicence Points Up For Grabs

The title fight may be the most important, but the third-place spot will be as vital if they can’t achieve the title. Latifi, Ghiotto, Aitken, and Sette Câmara all have the chance to finish in the top three, earning them 40 total SuperLicence points – enough to qualify for a SuperLicence needed to race in Formula 1.

Whilst it is unlikely all four may race in F1 next year, with only Latifi being linked to a seat, acting as favourite to join Williams Racing in 2020. But the security of the points will be important in the future for these drivers, as they’ll stay with them for the next three seasons. Ghiotto has no connections to an F1 team, and will most likely depart F2 at the end of the year for further series. The Italian recent signed to race in WEC for the Fuji 6 Hour event with Ginetta. Aitken has connections with Renault with its Academy but won’t race with them in F1 next year with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon representing the French squad. 2021 could be a possible entry. Sette Câmara meanwhile, is in a complicated scenario. With support from McLaren, he could expand to a third driver role and do test duties with the team, or stick with F2 for another season and attempt the title again. He could even make a leap into McLaren’s IndyCar programme in 2020, as the team looks to sign a driver to partner alongside James Hinchcliffe. It’s unknown what the Brazilian will do next year.

The three will hope to end the season on a high with solid points in Russia, but their status in third to fifth can be in danger by the likes of Nobuharu Matsushita and Guanyu Zhou, who are 35 points behind fifth place. A long shot, but possible if they deliver a strong outing. Third place has never been crucial for a career until now.

Russian Time

Fans at Sochi will see three Russian drivers take to the track in Formula 2 this weekend. Nikita Mazepin for ART has competed in all races so far this year but has faced a challenging rookie season. He will be joined by two new-ish faces from his country on the grid this weekend,

BWT Arden and Sauber will run two cars again, following the tragic events at Spa-Francorchamps involving Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa. Hubert passed away following the high-speed crash at Raidillon, whilst Correa remains in treatment with his injuries. The two teams will field new drivers into their cars with Arden signing F2 veteran Artem Markelov. The Russian has raced in F2/GP2 since 2014 and established himself as a fan-favourite and a race winner. Markelov made a surprise return to F2 this year after initially leaving for good in 2018, acting as a stand-in for Jordan King in Monaco.

Sauber however, has signed Matevos Isaakyan, a Russian driver who will make his debut in Sochi. The twenty-one-year-old is part of SMP Racing program and has experience racing in the LMP1 class in WEC, as well as races in the GP3 Series. Ralph Boschung, who missed Monza due to his car being handed to Trident team-mate Giuliano Alesi as his vehicle was investigated by Belgian authorities, will race again this weekend with the Italian team. This will be the Swiss driver’s first trip to Russia in F2, having missed the event last year.

Artem Markelov will return to F2 with Arden, rounding off the season for the Banbury-based team. Credit: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

The Rise of The Brits

Monza saw the three British drivers in F2 made outstanding performances that led to positive results. Jack Aitken clinched the sprint race win ahead of Jordan King, who battled with his fellow countryman in the early stages of the race. Callum Ilott was involved as well, taking the fight to the Campos driver in the final laps.

Ilott managed to start his weekend positive by clinching pole position for the feature race, setting a lap time before the tricky conditions emerged. The result in qualifying helped him clinched points in the feature race, and put him in a strong chance of fighting for the win on Sunday. But on the final lap, Ilott locked up heavily into the opening turn, taking avoiding action but spun as a result. He lost second and ended the race in twelve place.

The form from the Brits comes at a crucial time with Aitken fighting championship implications, whilst King could net a top-eight finish in the championship, his highest since the 2016 GP2 Season. Ilott however, lies twelve overall, but if he continues his recent form from Monza into Sochi and Abu Dhabi, there is a chance he can overtake the likes of Mick Schumacher and Louis Delétraz in the championship, and round off his rookie year in the top ten. Ilott is 17 points behind Carlin’s Delétraz, but the Swiss driver’s last point was scored in Hungary before the summer break.

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE THIS WEEKEND?

FRIDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER

Practice: 7:30AM (UK Time)/9:30AM (Russia Time)
Qualifying: 3:00PM (UK Time)/5:00PM (Russia Time)

SATURDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER

Feature Race: 2:45PM (UK Time)/4:45PM (Russia Time)

SUNDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER

Sprint Race: 9:20AM (UK Time)/11:20AM (Russia 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.

Will de Vries seal the title in Sochi? Credit: Joe Portlock/LAT Images/FIA Formula 2

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