Alexander Albon brought himself right into contention for the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship fight with victory in a chaotic Feature Race at the Sochi Autodrom. The Anglo-Thai driver led home DAMS teammate Nicholas Latifi to give the French squad their first 1-2 finish of the year, while pole-sitter Nyck de Vries rounded out the podium for PREMA Theodore Racing.
The formation lap saw de Vries’ teammate Sean Gelael stall his car on the grid, leaving the luckless Indonesian driver to watch the 28-lap race from the garage.
De Vries converted his pole position into the lead of the race, while behind him slotted ART Grand Prix’s championship leader George Russell with Albon following in third. Monza Feature Race winner Tadasuke Makino made contact with Campos Racing’s Luca Ghiotto through the fast Turn 1 sweeper, leaving the latter to limp to the pits to retire.
Russell was quickly being challenged from behind by Albon by the end of the first lap, while further behind RUSSIAN TIME’s Artem Markelov was making major gains. The Renault reserve driver sought to make up early ground after another poor qualifying performance and quickly picked off a number of driver to climb to ninth position by the end of the third lap.
Tyre degradation became a major concern for those who started the race on the softer tyres, allowing the likes of the harder-shod Antonio Fuoco, Jack Aitken and the aforementioned Markelov to move up the field.
Albon managed to get by Russell on Lap 5 to move into second place, but the pair was soon overhauled by Fuoco and Aitken. Fuoco moved past de Vries on the sixth lap before the McLaren junior dived into the pits, and moments later Markelov sent his home fans into raptures by passing the Italian for the lead.
A fast pit stop by the DAMS crew allowed Albon to leapfrog de Vries to assume the effective race lead ahead of Russell, who had also made his pit stop.
Disaster would, however, befall Russell’s closest championship rival Lando Norris. The Englishman first entered the wrong pit bay and then his Carlin team released him from his pit stop without properly attaching his right-front wheel. He came to a stop almost immediately and was forced to retire from the race, causing major damage to his own title aspirations.
Out at the front, the yet-to-stop Markelov steadily increased his lead over Fuoco as he sought to keep as big a gap as possible to those who had already pitted, led by Albon who was now coming under attack from de Vries. Some staunch defence ensured he kept his position before setting about building a gap to the Dutch driver.
Fuoco lost second place to series newcomer Niko Kari just before half-distance, with the Finnish youngster driving an impressive race on the alternate tyre strategy in his MP Motorsport entry.
Albon caught up to the tail of the drivers yet to stop, overtaking Trident’s Arjun Maini on Lap 15 before closing up to Aitken and Dorian Boccolacci. Albon clinically scythed his way by the pair, while de Vries had more difficulty and made contact with Maini on Lap 19.
Markelov finally pitted from the lead which he handed to Fuoco, but his heroics on his opening stint were undone by a slow pit stop that saw him resume the race in eleventh place. Second-placed Nirei Fukuzumi was passed by Albon on Lap 22 and the DAMS driver inherited the lead of the race with an eight-second margin to de Vries when Fuoco and Fukuzumi made their compulsory pit stops.
De Vries was unable to keep pace with Albon and instead fell back into the clutches of Nicholas Latifi after he overtook Russell for third. Under pressure from the quicker Canadian, de Vries locked up heavily and then lost second place with three laps to go.
There was a late Virtual Safety Car when Maximilian Günther stopped his BWT Arden with two laps to go but it did nothing to fundamentally change the order. Albon crossed the finish line with an 11-second margin to Latifi, with de Vries completing the podium ahead of Russell who consolidated his lead in the championship standings.
Sergio Sette Câmara finished in fifth place in the sole remaining Carlin Motorsport entry ahead of Fuoco, while F2 rookie Alessio Lorandi claimed his first points’ finish with seventh for Trident Racing. Fukuzumi finished eighth to give him the reversed-grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint race. Series returnee Roberto Merhi (Campos Racing) and Makino claimed the final points on offer in ninth and tenth respectively.
Albon celebrated his fifth race win of the season and moved into second place in the Drivers’ Championship standings, three points clear of the unlucky Norris but still 30 behind Russell.
|2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Russia – Feature Race Results (28 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|2.||Nicholas Latifi||DAMS||28||+ 11.307||18|
|3.||Nyck de Vries||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||28||+ 14.259||21|
|4.||George Russell||ART Grand Prix||28||+ 17.468||12|
|5.||Sergio Sette Câmara||Carlin Motorsport||28||+ 22.953||10|
|6.||Antonio Fuoco||Charouz Racing System||28||+ 34.899||8|
|7.||Alessio Lorandi||Trident Racing||28||+ 39.133||6|
|8.||Nirei Fukuzumi||BWT Arden International||28||+ 43.463||4|
|9.||Roberto Merhi||Campos Vexatec Racing||28||+ 46.334||2|
|10.||Tadasuke Makino||Russian Time||28||+ 46.461||1|
|11.||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||28||+ 53.455|
|12.||Louis Delétraz||Charouz Racing System||28||+ 56.606|
|13.||Dorian Boccolacci||MP Motorsport||28||+ 1:00.950|
|14.||Jack Aitken||ART Grand Prix||28||+ 1:06.522|
|15.||Arjun Maini||Trident Racing||27||1 lap behind|
|16.||Maximilian Günther||BWT Arden International||26||Mechanical|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Niko Kari||MP Motorsport||23||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Lando Norris||Carlin Motorsport||6||Wheel|
|DNF.||Luca Ghiotto||Campos Vexatec Racing||1||Collision|
|DNS.||Sean Gelael||Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing||Transmission|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers in the Feature Race on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Nyck de Vries is awarded an additional 4 championship points for claiming pole position.
Nyck de Vries is awarded an additional 2 championship points for posting the fastest lap of the race by a top ten finisher.
Image via FIA Formula 2 Championship