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Feeder Series Preview: Bahrain

By Ellie Nicholls & Jacob Awcock


Formula 2 

Anticipation is high as drivers, teams and fans prepare for round one of the 2024 Formula 2 season, with the series making its long-awaited return this weekend under the desert sun of Bahrain. With ten rookies and twelve returning drivers all desperate to start the new season on a high, there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose.


Last year


Formula Two returns this weekend, with the first round of the 2024 season taking place in Bahrain. Image Credit: Formula Two

The Bahrain International Circuit hosted its first Formula 2 race in 2017, and since then has provided excitement, chaos and, most importantly, the chance for drivers to prove that they have what it takes to win the championship. 


2023 Driver's Champion Théo Pourchaire kicked off his winning campaign last year with a dominant qualifying performance, claiming pole position with a gap of 0.751s to second-placed Victor Martins, his rookie teammate. ART Grand Prix immediately established themselves as strong title contenders, locking out the front row after also topping the time sheets in free practice.

 

Ralph Boschung started on reverse pole for Saturday's Sprint Race and held the lead from start to finish, claiming his long-awaited maiden Formula 2 victory. Building a gap of over three seconds by halfway into the race, Boschung drove unchallenged for the 23 laps to take an early lead in the driver's championship.

 

The experienced Dennis Hauger overtook Victor Martins for second place on the penultimate lap of the race as the rookie driver began to struggle with tires. However, Martins' own performance cannot be overlooked, rising from eighth on the grid to third place in his debut race.

 

The next day, Théo Pourchaire also converted his pole position to a win in the feature race. After getting a clean launch, the French driver began to break free from the pack until an incident at turn four brought out an early safety car. Going into the right-hander, Richard Verschoor had spun after a slight contact, and though he was able to get going again, this incident saw Frederik Vesti, Roman Staněk and Victor Martins retire from the race.

 

Once the racing resumed on lap four, Pourchaire once again drove clear of the other drivers, and following the pit stops, had pulled out an impressive 12-second lead. Meanwhile, further back, Zane Maloney was rising through the order after qualifying 18th, confidently picking his way through the chaos on soft tires as other drivers began to struggle for grip.

 

While Pourchaire cruised over the finish line 19 seconds ahead of second-placed Boschung, Maloney's impressive performance saw him claim the final podium position, gaining 15 places over the 32 laps.


Early predictions


Rodin Motorsport’s Maloney recorded the fastest time across the three days of testing, though this is not necessarily a true reflection of each team’s pace. Image Credit: Formula Two

 

Going into the first race of the season, it is difficult to know exactly where all of the teams and drivers stand. However, pre-season testing can provide a rough idea of what we can expect from the teams and drivers this year – even if it is not an entirely accurate representation of their pace.

 

Rodin Motorsport looked particularly strong during pre-season testing, with Zane Maloney topping the timing sheets on days two and three as well as recording the fastest time overall across the three days. His rookie teammate Ritomo Miyata also displayed similar pace during the final testing session, ending day three in third place – just over two tenths behind Maloney. The 2023 Super Formula champion completed an impressive 165 laps across the three days, really taking advantage of the chance to get to grips with the car ahead of his Formula 2 debut.

 

2023 champions ART Grand Prix will also be looking to set the pace right from the start of the season in order to defend their title. The French team has a strong driver line-up in the form of Victor Martins, who returns to the team for his second season in Formula 2, and promising rookie Zak O'Sullivan.

 

Martins returns to the team having finished fifth overall in the standings with them last year – the highest placing rookie – and will be hoping to get his season off to a good start so he is in the best possible position to fight for the championship. Meanwhile, Williams Academy driver O'Sullivan will be looking to prove himself on debut after his step up to Formula 2, having finished second in the Formula 3 championship last year.

 

With a highly competitive grid boasting a wide range of experience, titles and previous race wins, there is just one question: who out of these 22 drivers will be the next to earn Formula Two glory, becoming the first to stand atop the podium in 2024?

 

Weekend Timings:

  • Practice: Thursday 29th February 12:05-12:50 GMT

  • Qualifying: Thursday 29th February 16:55-17:25 GMT

  • Sprint race: Friday 1st March 17:15-18:00 GMT

  • Feature race: Saturday 2nd March 13:30-14:30 GMT



Formula 3

As the sun goes down at a dusty Sakhir circuit in Bahrain a new dawn rises for Formula 3 with a new season on the horizon. 30 drivers, 10 teams, 17 rookies, 10 different tracks all set to push these drivers to their absolute limits over the course of the six month season. The season commences in the Middle East in Bahrain’s 3.363 mile circuit. On Friday the drivers will qualify and set the grid for the feature race that will be held on Sunday. But Saturday’s sprint race comes first where the top ten drivers from qualifying will be reversed, meaning tenth place becomes pole position. Less points available but the incentive remains the same: to start the season in the best possible way. 


Early predictions

Testing is never a realistic showcase of teams and drivers’ true pace but what it does show is reliability. Trident finished the three day testing period on top with their three drivers accumulating over 500 laps, over a full race distance ahead of the other teams. They will look at those lap times with cautious optimism, and rightly so, hoping that the figures are replicated in the races. 


Further down on the other side of the time sheets was Campos and PHM Racing. Campos, an established team in both Formula 3 and 2, finished last season mid-table and came into the testing with the hope of accumulating a strong amount of laps to build confidence for the upcoming race in Bahrain. But with 367 laps completed, the least across the whole field, alarm bells will be beginning to sound at Campos as this is unusual for them at early stages in the season. 


PHM on the other hand will have had completely different aims when approaching this test week. Now in their second season as the PHM outfit and having finished ninth in the standings last season with six points, their aim will be to grow as a team, begin scoring points on a more consistent basis and improve reliability with a long term aim of scoring podiums in seasons to come. While they will not have wanted a low number of laps completed they wont have alarm bells ringing just yet.


Testing is useful for the teams but does not tell us who will leave the desert delighted. Image Credits: Ryan Pierse Getty Images

One of the most well known and established teams on the grid in the form of Prema will be looking to redeem themselves for last season and secure the drivers title as well as defending the teams title, which they won last season. The team boasts a strong line up with two series returning drivers and one rookie. 


Dino Beganovic returns to the team that gave him his Formula 3 debut last season and will look to act upon the sparks of strong showing that he produced in small bursts last season. He’ll line up alongside Italian and last year's Monaco feature race winner Gabriele Minì. The Italian heads to his country's team having spent last season with Hitech where he scored 92 points, placing him seventh in the standings. With rookie and Macau F4 race winner Arvid Lindblad finishing the trio, competition is going to be prominent at Prema and the team will hope this propels them up the order. As the team heads into Bahrain it will be Minì who will be the most hopeful, having had last year's feature race win snatched cruely away from him due to a late safety car. 


Last time out here

Bahrain never fails to excite and we were gifted with a chaotic opening sprint and feature race of the 2023 season last year. The feature race was especially poignant in that it was the start of the dominance streak of Gabriel Bortoleto who left the desert with the championship lead and never looked back from there.


The sprint race was punctuated by safety cars and no real racing occurred, meaning drivers struggled to get into a rhythm. The field had completed just one lap of racing when the first safety car of the day was bought out to allow the marshalls to retrieve the stricken car of Rafael Villagomez, who had been tagged into the barriers by Bortoleto as the pair went wheel to wheel coming out of turn four. 


As the safety car peeled into the pits on lap seven, the field swarmed into the first turn with Franco Colapinto managing to maintain his lead out front while Pepe Martí was defending in an attempt to maintain second place. But a VSC would be required just a few corners later, as Luke Browning – on his FIA F3 debut – had been spun round as he headed into the first turn. As the VSC period ended, it didn't take Martí long to close up behind Colapinto and take the lead from him, round the outside of turn four, and he never looked back. 


Over the course of the five remaining laps, Martí managed to extend a two-second gap over second place man Colapinto and take the checkered flag in commanding fashion. Further back in the field, this year drivers Dino Beganovic and Oliver Goethe – who will line up for the Campos outfit this season – finished fourth and sixth respectively. 


Last season's feature race ended cruelty for Mini and he will look to claim the winning trophy that should have been his last season. Image Credits: Rudy Carezzevoli

The next day in the feature race,  current Prema driver Gabriele Minì sat on pole and looked to secure maximum points. Having stalled at the start of the sprint and recovered to 18th position, the start would be a nerving yet crucial moment for him. While it was good, it wasn't good enough, and as the field headed into the first turn, Minì was demoted to second place by Bortoleto and then third a few corners later by Grégoire Saucy. 


But it didn't take the Italian long to show his pedigree as he breezed round the outside of Saucy just a few laps later in an impressive move to retake second place and begin a charge for the lead. It was a good thing that he made the move when he did, as further back rookie Tommy Smith was spun round by Mari Boya – who switches from MP Motorsport to Campos for this season – causing damage to the Australian’s suspension and leaving him stricken down at turn eight requiring a safety car.


Just as the safety car period ended, a red flash shot across the top of the timing screens: a message from the FIA. Gabriele Minì had been handed a five-second time penalty for a starting procedure infringement. He now would have to extend a gap to the driver behind him by five seconds in order to keep the position – nearly impossible to do with modern-day F3 cars being so similar in quality. 


Yet Minì was left undeterred by it as he went about trying to reclaim the lead, and it took him just four corners to do so, passing Bortoleto in an almost identical move to the one he pulled on Saucy, steaming round the outside of turn five which became the inside line for the fast approaching turn six. 


The lead was his but the win wasn't, a five-second gap would be required for that and there were only 12 laps remaining. As the laps ticked down Minì struggled to extend his gap past one second and it soon became apparent that he would be unable to retain his win. But a podium was definitely on the cards and with a four-second gap to third place Oliver Goethe and a gap of over five seconds to fourth placed Dino Beganovic. He needed just one more second to claim second place, but luck was not on the young man's side.


On the penultimate lap, yellow flags came out at turn 10 for a Jenzer car with severe front and rear damage. The car belonged to the Mexican Alejandro Garcia who had managed to destroy his rear suspension on the punishing kerbs that featured across the circuit. A safety car would be required, bunching the field back up eliminating the gap that Minìhad pulled and consequently, eliminating any chance of a podium. 


He would drop to ninth, still claiming points but no silverware. Meanwhile Bortoleto snatched the win in fortunate circumstances while two drivers featuring this F3 season claimed second and third: Goethe and Beganovic. 


Both drivers will look to repeat this success this year while Mini will aim to redeem himself this year and claim a win that should have been his last year. 


With such a competitive grid for the upcoming season, it is hard to predict which driver or team will leave the desert with the championship lead. Both the feature race and sprint race will be key in establishing early dominance and getting into a rhythm which will be crucial for the rookies of the field that aim to settle in quickly. A mix of experience and youth, talent sparking everywhere Formula 3 is a season that can not be missed and it starts now, in the Middle East.


Weekend Timings:

  • Practice: Thursday 10:55 - 11:40

  • Qualifying: Thursday 16:00 - 16:30

  • Sprint Race: Friday 13:15 - 14:00

  • Feature Race: Saturday 12:00 - 12:45

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