Mercedes junior George Russell has moved to within striking distance of claiming the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship title with a clinical victory in Sunday’s rain-affected Sprint Race at Sochi.

With fifteen points for victory – his sixth of the season – and a further two bonus points for setting the fastest lap, the ART Grand Prix driver now sits 37 points clear of DAMS’ Alexander Albon in the standings, with the Thai driver – who finished fourth in the race – now the only driver who can threaten the Englishman’s quest for title glory.

BWT Arden’s Nirei Fukuzumi converted his reversed-grid pole position into an early lead of the race, while Russell quickly moved up behind the Japanese driver when Alessio Lorandi hit DAMS’ Nicholas Latifi at Turn 5 in a frantic opening lap that saw several drivers take to the Turn 2 run-off.

Latifi was understandably furious with the Italian rookie driver, who was subsequently hit with a five-place grid penalty for the Abu Dhabi Feature Race finale in eight weeks’ time.

The race was briefly neutralised behind the Safety Car so Latifi and Lorandi’s damaged cars could be safely retrieved and when the race resumed it was clear that Fukuzumi would quickly be overcome by the much faster Russell.

The Mercedes junior swept past the Honda junior and was shortly followed through by Carlin Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Câmara.

The next element of drama came with a sudden rain shower on Lap 9 and as the field slithered around on slick Soft tyres, rookie driver Niko Kari spun and hit the wall and was soon followed into retirement by Russell’s teammate Jack Aitken. The luckless Anglo-Korean driver lost it after running wide onto the damp Astroturf, spun his car and stalled in the middle of the circuit.

The majority of the field pitted for wet tyres, with the exception of Charouz Racing System duo Antonio Fuoco and Louis Delétraz, who ran first and second. The Czech team’s strategy call completely backfired, as the duo tumbled down the order on the gripless track surface.

Once Russell had reclaimed the lead, he quickly cleared off from Sette Câmara and won by 7.4 seconds ahead of the Brazilian. Feature Race winner Albon chased the Carlin driver in the closing stages but ran out of laps to attempt a pass for second place.

Sochi pole-sitter Nyck de Vries won out in a thrilling battle with crowd favourite Artem Markelov, with the pair briefly swapping places during the race. Series returnee Roberto Merhi finished sixth for Campos Racing, while Fukuzumi had to settle for seventh place ahead of MP Motorsport’s Dorian Boccolacci.

Early championship leader Lando Norris’ disastrous weekend ended in another retirement, formally dropping him out of the 2018 title race. The English youngster, who will drive for McLaren next year, momentarily stalled on the formation lap and failed to regain his 18th position by the time he approached the final Safety Car line. Having climbed up to twelfth place, he was then issued a 10-second stop/go penalty and was later hit by Trident’s Arjun Maini, retiring with a right-rear puncture.

The final round of the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship takes place on November 24-25 at the Yas Marina Circuit in support of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Russia – Sprint Race Results (21 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. George Russell uk ART Grand Prix 21 44:46.259 17
2. Sergio Sette Câmara Carlin Motorsport 21 + 7.438 12
3. Alexander Albon DAMS 21 + 8.216 10
4. Nyck de Vries Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing 21 + 19.132 8
5. Artem Markelov Russian Time 21 + 22.258 6
6. Roberto Merhi es Campos Vexatec Racing 21 + 27.778 4
7. Nirei Fukuzumi BWT Arden International 21 + 30.852 2
8. Dorian Boccolacci es MP Motorsport 21 + 35.190 1
9. Antonio Fuoco Charouz Racing System 21 + 39.981
10. Maximilian Günther de BWT Arden International 21 + 47.076
11. Tadasuke Makino Russian Time 21 + 50.708
12. Sean Gelael Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing 21 + 53.110
13. Louis Delétraz Charouz Racing System 21 + 53.404
14. Luca Ghiotto it Campos Vexatec Racing 21 + 53.553
15. Arjun Maini in Trident Racing 21 1:42.002
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Result
DNF. Lando Norris uk Carlin Motorsport 16 Puncture
DNF. Jack Aitken uk ART Grand Prix 11 Spin
DNF. Niko Kari fi MP Motorsport 10 Accident
DNF. Nicholas Latifi DAMS 0 Collision
DNF. Alessio Lorandi Trident Racing 0 Collision

Championship Points:

  • Points are awarded to the top 8 classified finishers in the Sprint Race on a 15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
  • George Russell is awarded an additional 2 championship points for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.

Post-Race Penalties:

  • Alessio Lorandi was issued a 5-place grid penalty for the Abu Dhabi Feature Race for causing an avoidable collision with Nicholas Latifi.
  • Niko Kari was issued a 3-place grid penalty for the Abu Dhabi Feature Race for exceeding the track limits and gaining an advantage.
  • Arjun Maini was issued a 10-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Lando Norris.

Image via FIA Formula 2 Championship

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Geoff Burke

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