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Formula 2 Preview: Bahrain

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

via Formula 2

Written by Olly Radley, Edited by Morgan Holiday

After a 95-day wait, we’re just one day away from Free-Practice and the start of the Formula 2 season. We have a 22-driver grid spread across 11 teams who’ll compete over a record-breaking 26-race season (which might become 28). Amongst those 22 we have ten rookies, with only Hitech not running a rookie driver this season. A very welcome change is the return to the two-race weekend format, which has been favoured over the three-race format used last season that was very unpopular amongst fans.

This weekend we head to the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain for the start of the F2 season. F2 has visited Bahrain every year since its inaugural year back in 2017, and we’ve been given some brilliant moments in that time. Right from the off in that first ever sprint race, we witnessed Charles Leclerc shock the F2 field by pitting in the Sprint race on his way to taking first place. In 2018, the start of the current F2 era, we saw Lando Norris dominate the opening feature race of the season from pole position. In 2020, we got a Bahrain double header at both the Grand Prix and Outer track layouts, and it was at the latter that Mick Schumacher became an F2 champion.

Schumacher winning the 2020 F2 championship

The track promotes brilliant racing and lots of overtaking action with 3 DRS zones spread across the track. The heavy braking zone at Turn 1 begs people to go for a lunge down the inside of their rivals and that action often continues up the hill towards Turn 4. Turn 10 is easily the trickiest braking zone on the circuit: a downhill, hard braking zone that has flat spotted many tyres in the past. Others will remember it for unravelling Callum Ilott’s F2 championship challenge when he messed up his braking and sent his Virtuosi car careering into the rear of Carlin’s Jehan Daruvala, warranting him a penalty.

This year will have one of the most competitive F2 fields we’ve ever seen, with numerous drivers affiliated to F1 teams’ academies as well as ten rookies. The reigning team champions, Prema, have opted for two Red Bull junior drivers in Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala. Hauger, the reigning F3 champion, steps up from Prema’s F3 team. He’s not the first to do this either: Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, and Oscar Piastri have all made this same move. Two of them ended up as the F2 champion in just their first year, and Hauger may become the third. In the case of Daruvala, he has much more experience than his teammate as he enters his third (and likely last) F2 season as he returns to the team he finished third in F3 with in 2019. Daruvala’s been a solid midfield runner in the F2 field for the past two years with the Carlin team, and so far has three wins to his name. In 2022, you should definitely expect Jehan to be at the front, as any Prema driver will likely be, and he may even get a shot at the title this year.

The UNI Virtuosi team approach ‘22 with an all new (and very ambitious) lineup. In the #3 entry is Aussie Jack Doohan, an Alpine junior who steps up from F3, having finished second with Trident last year. At the final two races of last season, Doohan drove for MP Motorsport and showed impeccable pace in his short-stint. In the final round of 2021, Doohan put his MP Motorsport car on the front-row, just behind countryman Oscar Piastri; a very impressive feat for a rookie in a midfield team. As for his teammate, Virtuosi have opted for Marino Sato, who’s spent the past two years at the backmarker Trident team and as of now has only scored two points across those two years. The 2019 Euroformula champion hasn’t been thought of in very high regards before, and when Virtuosi announced him it’s fair to say question marks were raised. He was, however, signed by the Virtuosi team who have a flawless recruitment record, having plucked Guanyu Zhou out of the F3 midfield, and guided him to F1, so who knows where Sato will finish.

Carlin’s two drivers for 2022 are Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant. Lots of fans will know Lawson’s name from his F2 performances as well as his outing in DTM last year, which saw him lose the title at the first corner of the final race, sparking uproar on social media due to the fashion in which he lost the championship. Lawson spent his debut F2 campaign with the Hitech team and won the first race of the season as a rookie. The Red Bull young driver was consistently a frontrunner in his first year; something he’ll want to replicate with his new team. His teammate, Logan Sargeant, has had a torrid time of things recently, having lost the F3 title at the final round in 2020, which saw him drop to what could be argued is the worst team on the grid in the form of Charouz due to his lack of funding. Despite this, the American finished seventh, which shocked fans. At the US Grand Prix last year, Sargeant was announced as the newest member of the Williams driver academy, and with his newfound backing, he now enters F2 full time with frontrunners Carlin, who have previously helped Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda to F1.

Carlin's 2022 cars, via Carlin Racing

Hitech have kept on Juri Vips for 2022 and have made a move to sign Marcus Armstrong, who departs from the DAMS team. Vips is a proven winner and was the only driver other than Piastri to win two races in one weekend. Armstrong recently exited the Ferrari driver academy who he’d been with since 2017, having struggled for the past two years in the F2 midfield. ART retain their 18 year old superstar and Sauber junior, Theo Pourchaire. The Frenchman finished fifth in his rookie F2 campaign and will be gunning for the title now in ‘22. Alongside him is Frederik Vesti, who steps up to F2 from ART’s F3 team. Vesti is a Mercedes young driver and former FRECA champion, but has been signed to a team that has historically favoured one driver over the other. In the past few years Jack Aitken, Nikita Mazepin, Marcus Armstrong, and Christian Lundgaard, have all fallen foul to this ‘ART second driver curse’ and many expect Vesti to join this list. As talented as the Danish driver is, he’s coming up against Theo Pourchaire, who many predict will be a future world champion, so the odds are definitely against Vesti.

MP Motorsport had a fairly strong season last year, finishing sixth in the constructors. Returning to the team in 2022 is Felipe Drugovich, who debuted in F2 with the Dutch outfit back in 2020 and took three wins that year. In the following season, the Brazilian raced for Virtuosi but didn’t have the same fortune, only getting a couple of podiums. Alongside Drugovich is Clement Novalak, who, alongside Doohan, contested two F2 rounds for MP at the back-end of last season. While he didn’t match the Aussie’s brilliant pace, Novalak was decent and will likely be a solid midfield runner in his debut F2 campaign. Their main rivals this season will likely be the Campos team.

Ralph Boschung stays with Campos after an amazing 2021 where the Swissman turned into a solid midfield runner, having previously been a backmarker. Alongside him is Alpine’s Olli Caldwell. The British driver steps up from F3, having driven an average campaign last year with Prema which saw him finish only eighth. At the end of that season, Caldwell had a two-race outing with Campos at Jeddah and Abu Dhabi where he struggled for pace and didn’t score any points. While his performances last year weren’t the best, he’s had a whole Winter to prepare for the upcoming F2 season, so let’s hope he can improve in 2022.

Boschung at pre-season testing

DAMS have previously been Teams’ champions in F2 but have fallen back in recent years. In 2022, they’ve kept Williams driver Roy Nissany for a third year, as well as appointing Red Bull’s Ayumu Iwasa from F3. Nissany has been okay in his two previous F2 seasons and will look to improve ahead of what may be his last chance in F2. His teammate, meanwhile, endured an alright F3 season with the Hitech team, where the Japanese driver finished the season in 12th.

Trident have signed F2 race-winner Richard Verschoor for 2022. The Dutchman won the second British sprint race during his six round stint with MP, which ended due to his lack of funding. While Verschoor has the pace, he doesn’t have the money so his championship finish may depend if he can keep his seat until the final round in Abu Dhabi. To partner him, Trident have signed F3’s Calan Williams, who finished 18th with the Jenzer team last season.

Charouz suffered a miserable 2021 season, which saw them slump to the back of the pack in F2 and change drivers three times in their #14 car. In 2022 they’ll run Enzo Fittipaldi, grandson of F1 World Champion Emerson. Fittipaldi did three rounds with the team last year before a huge startline accident with Theo Pourchaire ended his year prematurely. Alongside the Brazilian is Esports ace Cem Bolukbasi. The 24 year old Turk was previously an F1 Esports race winner back in 2017 before transitioning to real life racing in 2019. Having impressed in the GT4 European series, Bolukbasi landed a seat in Euroformula with Van Amersfoort and did fairly well for his first outing in cars, finishing fifth. In 2022, he’ll make a big leap from Euroformula to F2, which very few do and even fewer do well. It will be far from easy for Cem this year.

Bolukbasi, via Vans Amersfoort Racing

Finally, Van Amersfoort enter Formula 2 for the first time in their history. The team previously raced in FIA European F3 until 2018 and nurtured multiple brilliant young drivers. The likes of Callum Ilott, Charles Leclerc, and Max Verstappen all passed through the team on their way to F1. The Dutch team purchased HWA’s F2 assets for their entry this year, so given HWA’s previous performances, the first season may not be easy for the team sporting a striking black and orange livery. For their inaugural F2 campaign, they’ve signed British driver Jake Hughes, who’s been part time in F2 for the past two years. The Brit got some decent results for HWA last year and enters his first full F2 season this year. Partnering him is Amaury Cordeel, a Belgian racer who finished 23rd in F3 last year with Campos.

That’s all from me then; until Bahrain, it’s by for now.

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