Alexander Albon has claimed an emotional breakthrough victory in the Formula 2 Championship, winning Saturday’s hectic Feature Race at the Baku City Circuit.
Having secured a career-first pole position on Friday, the Thai driver – who was a last-minute signing to the DAMS team on a race-by-race deal – kept a cool ahead when many of his rivals didn’t with a display that underscored the faith many have placed in his abilities.
His cause was helped by being all alone on the front row at the start, thanks to Lando Norris stalling his Carlin entry as the warm-up lap started. The championship leader wasn’t the only offender, however, with fellow rookie Tadasuke Makino also failing to get away. Both would start their races from the pit lane.
His pole advantage didn’t last for longer, however, as Albon was jumped by the ART of George Russell who made a lightning getaway from the second row of the grid. The British driver dived up the inside of Albon for Turn 1, sneaking into the lead.
Further behind, there was drama in the midfield. Russell’s teammate Jack Aitken stalled his car, along with MP Motorsport’s Roberto Merhi – the former F1 driver having made the same mistake at the season-opener in Bahrain.
Also coming to grief during the start were Louis Delétraz and Maximilian Günther, who made wheel-to-wheel contact that left the former with broken steering and the latter with a left-rear puncture.
Up front, Russell’s lead was short-lived. Albon immediately counter-attacked as the field exited Turn 2, drew alongside the Mercedes reserve driver down the straight and easily outbraked him into the Turn 3 left-hander.
Towards the end of the lap, third-placed Luca Ghiotto took too much kerb at the exit of Turn 16 and his Campos Racing car was spat across to the other wide of the track before slamming into the wall. Fortunately the Italian was uninjured but his car was a mess, bringing out the Safety Car.
The race restarted on Lap 5, with Albon fending off Russell’s advances and continuing to keep his rival at bay over the next lap before Russell took the call to make his compulsory pit stop at the end of Lap 6.
Albon stayed out for another lap, but Russell’s attempt to undercut had proven successful. Not only was he in front of Albon, but between them was Nyck de Vries and Roy Nissay.
Russell posted a succession of fastest laps to build a gap to de Vries, while Albon found himself trapped behind Nissany. He eventually got ahead of the Israeli, but de Vries was now some six seconds up the road.
That deficit was slashed when Nissany triggered the next Safety Car when he hit the Turn 4 wall, helping to bring Russell, de Vries and Albon together.
The race restarted on Lap 21 and the top three drivers all proved too desperate under braking for Turn 1 as each took to the run-off. That allowed Antonio Fuoco, who had been quietly working his way forward, into the lead. Albon managed to rejoin behind the Italian – ironically gaining a place in the mayhem – but de Vries and Russell’s errors had cost each driver several places.
A late and very smokey engine failure for Artem Markelov caused visibility concerns, not least of which was for Fuoco. The Italian slowed to try and pick his way through the haze, which allowed the more aggressive Albon to close and have a run on the Charouz Racing System driver and reclaim the lead on Lap 25.
Albon was not going to be denied his maiden Formula 2 victory and duly built enough of a cushion to prevent a counter-attack from Fuoco. The former Ferrari Academy driver was left to fend off a hard-charging Aitken, who was giving a patient recovery drive after his stall and eventually overtook the Italian on the penultimate lap at Turn 3.
Fuoco still gave the new Charouz team its first podium finish in just its second Formula 2 Championship event, finishing ahead of Carlin’s Sergio Sette Câmara.
Albon’s teammate Nicholas Latifi – who started from the back of the grid – finished an impressive fifth ahead of Norris, who put in a similar recovery drive following his pit lane start.
MP Motorsport teammates Ralph Boschung and Roberto Merhi finished seventh and eighth respectively, with Merhi claiming the reversed grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint Race. No doubt the Spaniard is going to be practicing his standing starts.
Tadasuke Makino (Russian Time) and Sean Galeal (PREMA) completed the points’ finishers.
Sunday’s 21-lap Sprint Race will begin at 13:10 local time (GMT +4).
|2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Azerbaijan – Feature Race Results (29 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|2.||Jack Aitken||ART Grand Prix||29||+ 1.992||18|
|3.||Antonio Fuoco||Charouz Racing System||29||+ 2.958||17|
|4.||Sergio Sette Câmara||Carlin Motorsport||29||+ 5.846||12|
|5.||Nicholas Latifi||DAMS||29||+ 7.099||10|
|6.||Lando Norris||Carlin Motorsport||29||+ 7.612||8|
|7.||Ralph Boschung||MP Motorsport||29||+ 12.698||6|
|8.||Roberto Merhi||MP Motorsport||29||+ 14.324||4|
|9.||Tadasuke Makino||Russian Time||29||+ 15.619||2|
|10.||Sean Gelael||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||29||+ 20.826||1|
|11.||Santino Ferrucci||Trident Racing||29||+ 45.720|
|12.||George Russell||ART Grand Prix||29||+ 59.009|
|13.||Nirei Fukuzumi||BWT Arden International||29||+ 1:55.517|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nyck de Vries||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||24||+ 14.661|
|DNF.||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||22||Engine|
|DNF.||Roy Nissany||Campos Vexatec Racing||17||Accident|
|DNF.||Arjun Maini||Trident Racing||7||Transmission|
|DNF.||Maximilian Günther||BWT Arden International||6||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Luca Ghiotto||Campos Vexatec Racing||0||Accident|
|DNF.||Louis Delétraz||Charouz Racing System||0||Collision|
Points were awarded to the top 10 classified finishers in the Feature Race on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Pole position is awarded 4 championship points
The driver who posts the fastest lap in the Feature Race is awarded 2 championship points
Image via FIA Formula 2 Championship