World of Sport: Formula 2; GP3; Australian Supercars; World Rallycross
FORMULA 2 YAS MARINA (UAE) NOVEMBER 24-25 ROUND 12/12
Most of the Abu Dhabi weekend reflected the Formula 2 season perfectly. George Russell showed searing pace and domination on the track, was able to get into his opponents’ heads, and so wrapped up the title. There were startprocedure problems with the series’ new-for-2018 car, a fightback for Antonio Fuoco from a bad qualifying to win the sprint race, and tricky tyre management. It had a bit of everything.
Russell’s feature-race win means he matches the season record of seven victories shared by Stoffel Vandoorne and Charles Leclerc, and emulates Leclerc’s achievement of rookie GP3 Series and F2 title triumphs. He also joins Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg and Nico Rosberg as drivers to win the series at their first shot.
You could argue that the hard work was done in qualifying. “Emotionally, I’ve never felt that way after a pole because I knew how important it was,” said ART Grand Prix star Russell. The subsequent four points took his lead up to 41, meaning eighth place would guarantee the crown.
By contrast, Alexander Albon didn’t get enough heat into his front Pirellis, and immediately knew his lap was going to be rubbish. He started eighth, knowing his focus needed to turn to Lando Norris, who was set to close the gap to him in the championship in the fight for second place.
The race went awry immediately. Albon stalled from his grid box, as did DAMS team-mate Nicholas Latifi in third. Not only did Albon see his title chances slip away, he had to watch Latifi be hit at high speed by 19th-place starter Arjun Maini. The Trident man couldn’t avoid the stranded car, and afterwards praised Dallara for its strong chassis as both drivers were unhurt.
The problems with the clutch stemmed from a warm and sticky track surface, allied to the supersoft Pirellis, which gave the cars more grip and narrowed the start-procedure operating window.
Russell also got a slow start, losing first place to Nyck de Vries. He made his opinion clear on the F2 starting issue after the race, saying: “This is something that absolutely has to change for next year – it’s unacceptable.” He was clearly impassioned, even though he won’t be returning to the series as he takes up his Williams F1 seat.
The safety car period for Latifi and
Maini shortened the running needed on the supersoft tyre, changing the anticipated race strategy. Russell made the decision himself to do the opposite to de Vries on lap eight of 29 and, when de Vries stayed out, Russell dived in. Making a strategy call like that in a title battle takes guts, but there was no hesitation.
A lap later he sailed up the inside of de Vries into Turn 5 as the Prema Racing driver emerged on cold tyres. The Dutchman was not willing to sacrifice his rubber by fighting an in-the-swing Russell.
And with that, the race followed the script. Russell extended his gap, brought the car home and celebrated in style with a deserved title win. He’s been the class of the F2 field by a country mile.
Behind, Artem Markelov passed de Vries
with six laps to go and looked menacing. But as soon as he pumped in a flying lap, Russell responded and that was that.
Russian Time man Markelov was lucky to hold on to second. Luca Ghiotto started 16th on the soft tyre instead of the supersofts in an off-sync strategy. He made the change late on and was as much as six seconds per lap quicker than the frontrunners, but a track-limits penalty cost him 5s and the runner-up spot. Not a bad Saturday drive from Campos Racing’s Italian, though.
Fuoco (Charouz Racing System) won the sprint race after taking the lead from polesitter Roberto Merhi. Norris pressured Merhi early on, but looked to have dropped away. He then closed in and hounded the Spaniard, forcing him into an error at
Turn 8 to take second at the close. That rewarded Norris with second place in the championship, to add to the teams’ title that Carlin had won the day before.
It was a just reward for a brilliant team performance throughout the season on Carlin’s return to F2/GP2 after a one-year absence. Sergio Sette Camara contributed strongly to that effort in the second car, although he suffered a nightmare weekend in Abu Dhabi, stalling twice.
Merhi settled for third ahead of Russell, who had pulled off the save of the weekend when his car’s rear stepped out when he tried to pass Norris up the inside of Turn 1 on the first lap. Had that move gone differently, it could have cost Norris second in the standings, a result he was desperate to secure before stepping up to F1.
Stalled Latifi was struck by Maini
Norris secured second in the points in his final race with Carlin
Russell kept title odds in his favour by covering off de Vries