The FDA made its mark on the first FIA Formula 2 race of the year. Drivers from the Scuderia Ferrari young driver programme monopolised the podium with Callum Ilott taking his first win in the category. Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman finished on the podium at their very first attempt, driving for ART Grand Prix and Prema respectively. Ilott, driving for UNI Virtuosi Racing built his win in the opening moments, with an almost perfect start that took him into the lead from third on the grid. The 21-year-old Brit had a long scrap with his Chinese team-mate Guan Yu Zhou, before pitting for Hard tyres on lap 18. Seven laps later Callum was back in the lead and then managed a Safety Car period to perfection to finish the 40 lap race eight seconds ahead of Marcus Armstrong.
A delighted Callum. “It’s my first race with UNI Virtuosi Racing and to win first time out with a new team is always special,” he said. “In some moments I pushed hard and it was fantastic to immediately find the right rhythm with the car and at that point I knew I could have a good race. During the lockdown I tried to keep in shape, because last year I realised how important that is in a series as competitive as Formula 2 and I’m very happy to have started my season in the best possible way. There’s a long way to go, but for now, I’m going to enjoy this great day.”
Great rookies! Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman were second and third respectively past the chequered flag, split by just four tenths of a second. The 19-year-old New Zealander started from 13th and, with his ART team engineers, decided to go for an early pit stop, being the first to change tyres and once back on track, he pushed a lot on the hard tyres making the most of a free track ahead of him. Once the pit stops were over, Marcus was up to third, behind Ilott and Mick Schumacher and when the German made a mistake he came up behind Ilott. In the final laps, the Armstrong-Shwartzman train caught everyone’s attention, but their duel was fair with no risks taken by the FDA rookies.
The right strategy. “I’m pleased and surprised,” commented Marcus. “Because after qualifying hadn’t gone to plan I didn’t think I’d finish my first Formula 2 race on the podium. We went for a different strategy, because of course no one knows much about the 18 inch tyres yet and in the end it worked out very well. In the final laps I suffered a bit because the tyres were now on the limit, but the Safety Car meant I could let them cool down a bit and that was a lucky break.”
Off on the right foot. Shwartzman, the reigning FIA F3 champions, also ended his first F2 race on the podium. “A great result, as I was up with the leaders right from the start and it wasn’t a bad feeling,” commented Prema’s Russian driver. “The team did a good job at the pit stop, but when I was back on track, I had to get the tyres up to temperature and I didn’t want to take any risks with Marcus right at the end. But it’s my first race in the category, so not bad to start with a third place. It’s going to be a tough season so it was good to get off on the right foot.”
Unlucky Mick. Mick Schumacher was out of luck today, after a technical problem had slowed him down during free practice before he qualified fifth. In the race the 21-year-old German had a strong pace and was fighting for the win up until nine laps from the flag when he went off track, dropping from second to 11th place.
A great comeback for Giuliano. Giuliano Alesi had to fight all race long, after a brake balance problem in qualifying meant the Frenchman started from 18th on the grid. Giuliano went for a different strategy to the rest of the field, starting on the hards before switching to the softs for the final third of the race. It paid off, as Alesi was able to fight his way up to sixth thanks to a great pace in the final part of the race. It means he will start the 28 lap Race 2 from third on the grid.