Lando Norris has kickstarted the 2018 Formula 2 Championship season with a stylish lights-to-flag victory from pole position in the Feature Race in Bahrain.
The McLaren reserve driver, who had narrowly claimed pole position in a tense qualifying session on Friday, rocketed off the grid and built an early lead which was never seriously threatened.
In a superb day for series returnees Carlin Motorsport, the British outfit claimed a 1-2 finish with Norris’ teammate Sergio Sette Câmara – who also made a terrific getaway – finishing in second place after surviving a thrilling last-lap battle with Artem Markelov.
The lightning starts of the two Carlins proved crucial to the team’s result. The field hadn’t had many opportunities to practice standing starts in the new Dallara F2-2018 cars, and the inexperience of a number of runners showed.
Ex-F1 driver Roberto Merhi fried his clutch on the grid and triggered an aborted start, along with last year’s Feature Race winner Artem Markelov, who stalled his Russian Time entry and was pushed off the grid for a pit lane start. After managing only 17th-fastest in Friday’s qualifying session, he now had a mountain to climb.
After a second parade lap, the race got underway in earnest.
Norris appeared to have sauntered into a different postcode on the run to Turn 1 as his fellow front-row starter George Russell badly bogged down off the line and boxed in a number of other runners. In the confusion, Sette Câmara sliced through from sixth on the grid to be second by Turn 1.
Making too quick a getaway was Antonio Fuoco and series rookie Roy Nissany, who were both handed drive-through penalties for jumping the start.
Sette Câmara’s hold on second place would not last long, with Nyck de Vries slicing his PREMA by on the approach to Turn 1.
As Norris continued to extend his lead with each lap, the hot track temperatures began to take their toll on the tyres as the compulsory pit stop neared.
De Vries, as was the case last year, proved too hard on his tyres and fell back behind Sette Câmara before peeling into the pits to take on the Soft compound tyres for his second stint.
Russell, still recovering from his sluggish start, was one of the driver to pit early in the hope of undercutting those ahead of him and the gamble worked once the tyre change cycle had been completed. The Briton moved into an effective second place when Sette Câmara completed his pit stop, but his joy was short-lived when the Carlin driver’s fresher tyres held sway.
Norris continued to motor ahead, but the youngster was flagging concerns over his pit-to-car radio that his engine was momentarily cutting out.
The focus shifted to the battles waging behind him as Markelov put in another superb demonstration of clinical overtaking moves and outstanding tyre management that were the hallmarks of his 2017 season that saw him finish championship runner-up.
Despite his pit lane start, the Russian driver had scythed his way into the top ten in the space of five laps and steadily worked his way forward from there. He took his compulsory pit stop late to give him fresh tyres for the run home to the chequered flag and with three laps to go he was closing in rapidly on second-placed Sette Câmara.
The pair ran side-by-side on the final lap as they approached Turn 1, with Markelov seemingly getting the jump thanks to DRS, only to Sette Câmara to boldly counter-attack and dive up the inside of the right-hander to reclaim the position.
Alexander Albon put in a strong application for his one-round deal with DAMS to be extended by finishing fourth (his teammate Nicholas Latifi had an anonymous run to eleventh), despite an inconsistently operating DRS.
Russell’s undercut strategy backfired somewhat, fading to fifth place on worn tyres and suffering poor top-ten speed late in the race.
De Vries managed his tyre life better in the second stint of the race, overtaking teammate Sean Gelael to secure sixth place. Gelael’s performance was particularly impressive given the Indonesian started his race from the back row of the grid.
Eighth place – and pole position for Sunday’s reversed-grid Sprint Race – went to Maximilian Günther; the Arden driver waged some entertaining battles early in the race. The final points’ positions went to Jack Aitken (ART) and Ralph Boschung (MP Motorsport).
Sunday’s 23-lap Sprint Race will begin at 14:15 local time (GMT +3).
|2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Bahrain – Feature Race Results (31 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lando Norris||Carlin Motorsport||31||57:46.206|
|2.||Sergio Sette Câmara||Carlin Motorsport||31||+ 8.321|
|3.||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||31||+ 8.532|
|4.||Alexander Albon||DAMS||31||+ 9.349|
|5.||George Russell||ART Grand Prix||31||+ 13.947|
|6.||Nyck de Vries||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||31||+ 14.661|
|7.||Sean Gelael||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||31||+ 19.326|
|8.||Maximilian Günther||BWT Arden International||31||+ 22.573|
|9.||Jack Aitken||ART Grand Prix||31||+ 28.559|
|10.||Ralph Boschung||MP Motorsport||31||+ 31.585|
|11.||Nicholas Latifi||DAMS||31||+ 35.514|
|12.||Luca Ghiotto||Campos Vexatec Racing||31||+ 44.273|
|13.||Louis Delétraz||Charouz Racing System||31||+ 49.429|
|14.||Santino Ferrucci||Trident Racing||31||+ 55.424|
|15.||Arjun Maini||Trident Racing||31||+ 57.453|
|16.||Roy Nissany||Campos Vexatec Racing||31||+ 1:27.436|
|17.||Antonio Fuoco||Charouz Racing System||31||+ 1:47.169|
|18.||Nirei Fukuzumi||BWT Arden International||31||+ 1:50.462|
|19.||Tadasuke Makino||Russian Time||30||+ 1 lap|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNS.||Roberto Merhi||MP Motorsport||Clutch|
Image via FIA Formula 2 Championship