The annual hustle and bustle of Baku did not break again this year. Safety Cars, wall kisses and a winner who came from nowhere. The normal madness.
The qualifying on Saturday suggested – at least on the basis of the lap times – a clear classification of the balance of power. Nobuharu Matsushita drove his car to pole position on the second weekend after returning to the series and distanced Nyck De Vries and Luca Ghiotto by more than four-tenths. The rest of the field followed with more than a second behind. Sergio Sette Camara started from four, ahead of Jordan King and Mick Schumacher. Schumacher team-mate Sean Gelael provided the shocking moment of qualifying. After he had stopped on the track, the marshals tried to push him. But the Indonesian was able to accelerate again and tore with his rear wheel one of the track workers. Fortunately, he was able to get up immediately and was unhurt. The Prema driver was excluded from the qualifying and had to start from the pits.
At the start, De Vries prevailed against Matsushita. Mick Schumacher tried to advance in third on the inside, but was a bit too optimistic on the brakes and was lucky that he neither cleared someone nor had to go to the emergency exit. The best start, however, caught Jack Aitken, who came in only two corners of P8 to third position forward.
Worse, however, it was the two Trident pilots. Because both Ralph Boschung and Giuliano Alesi flew off in the first corner. For the son of ex-Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi the race was over. The Swiss Boschung was able to continue with lap time, but so had no chance to retract the first points for the team. This incident led to the first safety car phase.
At the restart De Vries could easily keep the lead. He was helped by a rule change that allowed overtaking at restarts only after the start-finish line and not as before after the safety-car line.
After five laps, Matsushita suddenly rolled to the pits with an electronic problem. There he lost two laps and his race was practically over. In the end, he finished in 13th place.
As a result, the Dutchman was suddenly alone on the floor and led six seconds ahead of Campos driver Aitken, who dueled with Nicholas Latifi.
But the ART rider lost all his lead one lap later in a botched pit stop and was caught right on the Outlap by Aitken. Also Latifi had little to oppose the Dutchman, who was obviously slow to bring his medium tires to temperature. For the next round, the two fought for second place, before De Vries went out of the fight as the winner.
On lap nine, Mick Schumacher got caught. Specifically, the notches on turn 16 caught him. The reigning Formula 3 European champion is spinning and could not move his car anymore. A virtual safety car was the result.
During the next eight rounds, there were no extraordinary incidents. Tatiana Calderón, who had started on medium tires, was passed through and King, Boccolacci and Hubert busily exchanged places between P7 and P9 among themselves. But then began the almost viral wagon dying. UNI Virtuosi driver Guanyu Zhou kicked off with the front wing at the rear of Juan Manuel Correa as he braked in turn 1. Safety Car Number Two was the result. Immediately afterwards, the carriages of Callum Ilott and Tatiana Calderón extended the Dallara cemetery in the pit lane. Both had technical problems before the race was ever released. But it did not come to a restart for the time being. Because when rolling on start-finish drove the championship leader Ghiotto in the rear of Sette Camara. While Ghiotto continued after a front-wing change, the race for the DAMS driver was over. The same was true for Louis Delétraz, who broke the suspension in the mess.
By that time, it was clear that it would not go the full distance of 29 laps, but would be a race against the maximum race time of one hour. Of these, less than four minutes were on the clock when Aitken pressed the accelerator during the restart. Jordan King, who had kept out of trouble, moved past Latifi in turn three. Ghiotto also fully tasted the final three laps. With fresh red tires, he finished sixth, but was later punished and only scored two points. But no one, not even De Vries, could take on Jack Aitken. The Briton made an acclaimed victory. The very first for the Campos racing team since Formula 2 bears this name. With Dorian Boccolacci in fifth place, the Spanish team also enjoyed a fantastic team result.
The jumbled field of the main race left a wild mix for Sunday's sprint. As always, the first eight places were turned upside down. That's why Nikita Mazepin started from pole position ahead of Americans Juan Manuel Correa and Sean Gelael. The Indonesian made a dazzling start and overtook both of them in front of him in turn 1. But already during the first lap the safety car was called on the track. In turn two, Calderón had driven into the barrier with blocking brakes. Ralph Boschung and Louis Delétraz could not avoid it. For all three the race was over. Bad luck for the two Swiss, who fell victim to collisions without fault in both races. A first safety car phase was the result.
After the restart, Gelael could only maintain the lead, while Mazepin was passed. The Russian complained to pit radio about problems with the gas pedal. Meanwhile, Latifi moved up to second place. But the big winner of the start-up phase was Prema driver Mick Schumacher, who came within 10 laps of grid position 19 within four laps.
Finally, on lap six, Latifi passed Gelael without a fight. The Indonesian, who complained of difficulties with his brake balance, then lost out to Correa, Aitken, Ghiotto and De Vries and fell back to sixth.
After nine laps, SC driver Bernd Mayländer had to return to the track. Giuliano Alesi had built himself after an overtaking attempt in the track boundary. Also for him it was the second DNF of the weekend.
The next restart: Correa tried to slow down inside the leading Latifi, but let his tires go up in smoke and had to defend himself with body forces against Aitken, who was caught by De Vries. After a few bends under the green flag it was already over with the racing. Luca Ghiotto drove his Dallara in turn two straight into the TecPro barriers, taking along Mazepin and MP Motorsport pilot Jordan King. Once again, the safety car was allowed to roll ahead of the field for a few laps.
Like the day before, the planned number of laps of 21 was not much more than a dream. Dangers became again against the time, which is with a Sprintrennen 45 minutes. After the SC phase, only two laps remained, in which Nicholas Latifi was no longer in distress. Even Juan Manuel Correa was able to save his Überaschungspodium to the finish. The Ecuadorian-American rookie had never been among the top three in Formula 2 and also in the GP3 series. Nyck De Vries, on the other hand, did not manage to keep Aitken behind him as he passed the Dutchman from the slipstream. Mick Schhumacher finished his catching up in fifth place. The remaining points went to Sette Camara, Boccolacci and Gelael.
After two stops in the calendar, Nicholas Latifi has now built up a small gap of 19 points. As he currently drives, he is definitely a candidate, if not the favorite, for the title. However, as far as Jack Aitken is concerned, Baku will probably remain an exceptional weekend. A good pace was there for him and his team-mate Boccolacci this weekend, but also a decent amount of luck. One can not expect that the midfield team Campos suddenly drives forward regularly.
Sprint race success for @NicholasLatifi ?
– Formula 2 (@ FIA_F2) April 30, 2019
The big loser this weekend, however, is Luca Ghiotto. That his streak of bad luck on the Baku City Circuit continues, he has actually only attributed to himself. After all, he was back in the lead with his basic speed. Incidentally, the same applies to Nyck De Vries, who started the season as the top favorite and was rather disappointing in Bahrain. He was one of the fastest on the weekend but struggled to bring the harder tire compound up to temperature, which, apart from the slow pit stop, cost him victory in the feature race. He will certainly be reckoned with in the season.
But at the end of the day you always have to put a small question mark behind the Baku results. Because there is no doubt that the street circuit in Azerbaijan is not particularly representative.
In two weeks already, the Formula 2 comes together with her mother series to Europe. The next chapter of this year's F2 season will be written at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Pictures: Formula 2
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