Thrice a race-winner in the reversed-grid Sprint Races, Honda protégé Nobuhara Matsushita claimed a breakthrough Feature Race victory at the Red Bull Ring.

The Carlin driver has had a rather unfortunate and long-standing reputation for inconsistency, but went some way to shaking off that perception with a mature and controlled performance to outwit and outrace pole-sitter and championship leader Nyck de Vries.

Saturday’s 40-lap Feature Race was going to be all about tyre management. With the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring still baking after a day under the hot sun and with Pirelli bringing its two softest tyre compounds for the Formula 2 field to do battle, patience and perseverance would be rewarded.

After dominating proceedings to claim pole position, de Vries converted that into the early race lead and the ART Grand Prix driver quickly set about pulling away from the rest of the field.

Nyck de Vries, ART Grand Prix - 2019 Formula 2 Championship Race of Austria

De Vries was in control for much of the race but had pushed his tyres too hard before its end.

Behind him there was action aplenty, with fellow front-row starter Anthoine Hubert (BWT Arden) quickly under threat by UNI-Virtuosi’s Guan Yu Zhou. The Chinese driver tried to pass the French youngster around the outside at Turn 3, but was predictably forced wide at the exit by Hubert which allowed Matsushita to profit and steal third place.

A lap later and Matsushita was up to second place following a successful pass on Hubert, and he too began to pull away in readiness for his mandatory pit stop when he and the other frontrunners could ditch their Supersoft rubber.

Further behind, tensions spilled over between DAMS teammates Nicholas Latifi and Sergio Sette Câmara while they ran nose-to-tail in sixth and seventh. The two had very nearly come to blows last time out in France, but this time they committed the cardinal sin of motorsport by colliding, with Sette Câmara tipping Latifi into a spin at Turn 3. The contact dropped a furious Latifi to 19th and a long recovery drive to try and salvage some points; his assaulter was later given a five-second penalty for his troubles.

The frontrunners peeled into the pits as soon as the mandatory pit stop window opened at the end of Lap 6, with de Vries, Matsushita, Zhou, and Hubert all switching to the Soft compound tyres. Zhou lost out to Hubert and Ghiotto in the pit stop cycle and later suffered a temporary gearshift issue that dropped him to 15th place before he was able to get going again.

The lead driver running the Option-Prime strategy was PREMA’s Sean Gelael, who now held the lead from de Vries’ teammate Nikita Mazepin. Both were hoping to stretch their tyre life until a few laps before the end of the race, but Gelael in particular was already beginning to push his tyres too hard.

Meanwhile, de Vries held the effective race lead and began working his way past those still to make their pit stops, picking off Ryan Tveter’s Trident with relative ease. Matsushita made rather heavy weather of getting by the American youngster and eventually fought his way past the newcomer, but by now the gap to de Vries had blown out to over six seconds.

Gelael was unable to build the 25-second cushion he needed over de Vries to make his strategy work and by now his tyres were well past their best. The chasing Mazepin quickly moved into the lead as the Indonesian driver’s rubber fell apart, with de Vries – who had just overtaken Campos Racing’s Arjun Maini for third place – also moving by.

Like Gelael, de Vries’ Achilles Heel – the dreaded tyre management (or his lack of it) – was beginning to become apparent. While he was closing in on his yet-to-stop teammate Mazepin for the race lead, the chasing Matsushita and Ghiotto were both reeling him in even faster.

With five laps to go, de Vries moved by Mazepin. The Russian youngster could offer no protection for his teammate and was quickly overwhelmed by Matsushita and Ghiotto, who continued their march towards the race leader.

De Vries’ tyres were very worn and his fate was all but inevitable. Matsushita sent a move up the inside of Turn 1; to which de Vries could offer no resistance. Two corners later and Ghiotto was through as well.

Sette Câmara put in a late charge, passing Hubert for fourth and then overtaking de Vries on the final lap to claim third, however the Brazilian would lose his podium position and fell to fifth thanks to his five-second penalty. De Vries therefore inherited the final step on the rostrum, ahead of Hubert.

Matsushita’s teammate Louis Delétraz crossed the finish line in sixth, however the Swiss driver was also punished with a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane during his pit stop. Guan Yu Zhou managed a fine recovery drive to claim seventh after his earlier gearbox dramas, gaining a further position thanks to Delétraz’s penalty.

Eighth place went to MP Motorsport’s Jordan King, who crossed the line just ahead of the recovering Latifi – the Englishman therefore earned the reversed-grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint Race.

By finishing ahead of Latifi, de Vries (140 points) extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings over the Canadian to 29 points. Despite his post-race penalty, Sette Câmara (92 points) vaults to third ahead of Jack Aitken (86) and Ghiotto (85). The Teams’ Championship standings are still dominated by DAMS (203 points), who have a comfortable 34-point margin back to UNI-Virtuosi while ART Grand Prix (146) is third ahead of Campos Racing (116) and Carlin (97).

2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship – Austria Feature Race Final Classification (40 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Nobuharu Matsushita Carlin Motorsport 40 53:32.606 25
2. Luca Ghiotto UNI Virtuosi Racing UNI-Virtuosi Racing 40 + 2.963 18
3. Nyck de Vries ART Grand Prix 40 + 10.428 15
4. Anthoine Hubert BWT Arden 40 + 10.786 12
5. Sérgio Sette Câmara DAMS 40 + 12.720 12
6. Guan Yu Zhou UNI Virtuosi Racing UNI-Virtuosi Racing 40 + 15.514 8
7. Louis Delétraz Carlin Motorsport 40 + 16.541 6
8. Jordan King MP Motorsport 40 + 22.321 4
9. Nicholas Latifi DAMS 40 + 23.184 2
10. Jack Aitken Campos Racing 40 + 32.919 1
11. Juan Manuel Correa Sauber Junior Team by Charouz 40 + 35.892
12. Nikita Mazepin ART Grand Prix 40 + 35.988
13. Giuliano Alesi Trident Racing 40 + 39.890
14. Callum Ilott Sauber Junior Team by Charouz 40 + 46.138
15. Ryan Tveter Trident Racing 40 + 1:10.057
16. Sean Gelael Prema Racing 40 + 1:15.742
17. Tatiana Calderón BWT Arden 40 + 1:16.586
18. Mick Schumacher de Prema Racing 39 + 1 lap
19. Patricio O’Ward MP Motorsport 39 + 1 lap
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Reason
DSQ. Arjun Maini Campos Racing Tyres

Championship Points:

  • Championship points are awarded on the results of the Feature Race’s top-ten finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 sliding scale.
  • Nyck de Vries is awarded four bonus championship points for claiming pole position for the Feature Race.
  • Sérgio Sette Câmara is awarded two bonus championship points for posting the fastest lap of the Feature Race by a top-ten finisher.

Post-Race Penalties:

  • Sérgio Sette Câmara – who provisionally finished in P3 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Nicholas Latifi.
  • Louis Delétraz – who provisionally finished in P6 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
  • Arjun Maini – who provisionally finished in P15 – was disqualified for running incorrectly fitted tyres at the start of the race.

Images via FIA Formula 2 Championship

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Geoff Burke

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