Following another dominant qualifying result on Friday, Callum Ilott had his sights set on converting pole into a win to close down Mick Schumacher in the title chase. This was the welcome return of the F2 Feature Race in Bahrain, late 2020 edition. Ilott got off the line well but in the second phase of the start, it was Felipe Drugovich who had all the momentum. Ilott tried to cover him off but the Brazilian was through and into the lead.
Dan Ticktum bogged down from third on the grid and was swallowed by the pack to fall to 8th place. Meanwhile, Schumacher had made an absolutely electric start. The championship leader gained five places to be in 5th as the cars came through the switchback of turns 2 and 3. And he was in 4th out of Turn 4 as he passed Guanyu Zhou. Sadly there was contact and Zhou had to pit for a new nose at the end of the lap.
Schumacher had immediately latched onto the rear wing of Marcus Armstrong and as the cars entered Turn 1 for lap 2, Schumacher attacked emerging from T3 ahead. But the ART driver wasn’t settling for that and launched a superb attack run through the next sequence of corners to retake 3rd position.
On lap 5 and with the DRS active for the last couple of laps, Ticktum and Roy Nissany both passed Jehan Daruvala into Turn 1. Nikita Mazepin followed them through in Turn 4, forcing the Indian driver wide and off the circuit as he elbowed his way past. The loss in momentum enabled Christian Lundgaard in the second ART to launch an attack on the Carlin as well although he was unsuccessful at this point. Unsurprisingly, the stewards announced they would be investigating Mazepin and Daruvala but ultimately decided on no further action.
Bahrain F2 Feature Race: Tyre Preservation Society
The drivers were all understandably trying to preserve their tyres on this notoriously high degradation tarmac and were up to six seconds a lap off of their qualifying pace at this point. And as Ilott and the other medium shod cars began to struggle, the hard tyred cars such as Armstrong and Schumacher began to put them under real pressure. Seemingly immune to such issues was Drugovichm out front. The Brazilian serenely maintaining his lead and even building on it.
Lundgaard made it past Daruvala on lap 6 as an immense battle ensued between Ticktum and Nissany. The Israeli driver was quickly on the radio to his team to complain that the Brit was weaving in his defence of the position.
Markelov pitted at the end of lap 6 and re-joined in last. While into Turn 1, Mazepin took 7th place from Nissany and Armstrong passed Ilott for P2 into Turn 4. Ilott’s mediums appeared to have gone off the boil but he continued to fight on.
On lap 9 we were treated to a brief scrap between the main championship protagonists as Schumacher passed Ilott into the Turn 1 complex. Speaking of championship contenders, Yuki Tsunoda was still stuck in 15th place having started 22nd but he was on the hard tyres and looking to run long into the race before making his stop.
Armstrong locked up and made a mistake into Turn 10 and then again in Turn 11 allowing Schumacher to ease his way past into 2nd place. The New Zealander would lock up again into the final corner allowing Ilott to close right up on him, once again.
Bahrain F2 Feature Race: Ticktum’s Tyre Woes
As lap 10 began, Robert Shwartzman made his stop to go onto the hard tyres. Mazepin continued his progress up the field and he nailed Ticktum for 6th place. The Londoner was immediately on the phone to his team to tell them he had no rear tyre left. Not good news when you are on the hard tyres and there are 22 laps left.
Two laps later, an increasingly desperate-sounding Ticktum was back on the radio pleading with his team to let him pit. “I have to get off these tyres, the backend is constantly trying to overtake the front” he explained. And small wonder too, as we saw the enormous marbles flying through the air as the cars slice their way through turns 11 and 12. His prayers were answered at the end of the lap as Ticktum pitted along with Ilott and Daruvala. A slow left front wheel replacement for Ilott means he is held for several precious seconds.
As they made their way out of the pits, Daruvala and Ticktum were pounced upon by Shwartzman who swept past into Turn 1, having made a successful undercut on the pair. But would his tyres give him enough grip come the end?
There was an error for Lundgaard on lap 14 as he ran wide out of 10. Pedro Piquet tried to pass him, but the Dane fended off the Brazilian. Further back Tsunoda steamed past Louis Delétraz in Turn 11 only for Delétraz to regain his position into Turn 4. The Swiss driver was immediately onto the back of the Campos of Jack Aitken as they came to the slow Turn 8. This enabled Tsunoda to sneak around the outside back into 10th place and to start trying for a move on Aitken of his own!
The hapless Aitken locked a wheel into the tricky Turn 10. Tsunoda got the run on him and was through in the sweeping Turn 12. Yuki appeared to have masses of pace now and had clearly been saving his tyres early on. He was now hunting Lundgaard and Piquet ahead.
Race leader Drugovich finally pitted on lap 16. It had been a magnificent stint on the medium tyres and now he had a relatively easy run ahead on the hard tyres. He re-joined in 12th place ahead of Ilott. Not pitting though was Mazepin who put in a spectacular move to get past Alesi. Schumacher now led the race. Drugovich locked up in Turn 8 and ran wide and the Brazilian did it again in Turn 10. Ilott took full advantage to blast past.
The pitlane was getting busy now as Armstrong, Alesi, Aitken and Delétraz all pitted on lap 17 followed by Mazepin, Piquet and Nissany on the 18th tour. Shwartzman and Daruvala made a great double pass on Zhou into Turn 4. The unlucky Chinese driver still had to make his mandatory stop. Armstrong sailed past him into Turn 10 to further compound his woes.
Series debutant Theo Pourchaire came in on lap 19 and Schumacher, whose pace was beginning to tail off, was told to box at the end of the lap. Tsunoda was reeling him at this point but the Red Bull junior also pitted at the same time and would have the same 12 lap run to the flag on mediums as the championship leader. As Schumacher emerged from the pits in 6th, Drugovich was despatching Ilott into Turn 1. Schumacher was now behind Drugovich, Ilott, Daruvala, Armstrong and Shwartzman.
As soon as Schumacher’s tyres came up to temperature he immediately began closing the 13-second gap to Ilott, passing Shwartzman down the main straight and on lap 23 passing Armstrong. Drugovich was now building a gap to Ilott and looking very comfortable out front once again. Elsewhere Tsunoda got past Piquet into Turn 11 and Mazepin took teammate Luca Ghiotto for 8th place. Aitken made a great late move on Lundgaard into Turn 1 too, only for Tsunoda to gobble up the pair of them as they made the run to Turn 4.
Bahrain F2 Feature Race: The Yuki Tsunoda Show
12th place for Tsunoda became 10th on lap 26 as Sean Gelael became the next man to succumb. Despite this, it was great to see the Indonesian driver back in the car following his cracked vertebrae earlier this year. Also on the move was Nikita Mazepin who nipped past Shwartzman for 6th.
This was now turning into the Yuki Tsunoda show. With the win seemingly settled for Drugovich who continued to ease away from Ilott, we still had Schumacher closing slowly on Daruvala for the final step of the podium. But none of these frontrunners were lighting up the timing screens like Tsunoda. He passed Ghiotto on lap 27, then Ticktum on lap 28 which assured him of reverse grid pole before taking Shwartzman on lap 29.
Ahead of him, Schumacher had finally caught up to Daruvala who was forced to defend his position into T1 on lap 30. The fight continued to T4 and Schumacher got a great run off the hairpin at T8 to be practically pushing Daruvala through 10.
Was Jehan about to be deprived of his maiden F2 podium? No! Somehow he hung on and the Prema slotted back in behind the Carlin. Mazepin was not to be denied against Armstrong though and stole 5th from the New Zealander.
As we entered the final lap, Drugovich was now 11 seconds up the road from Ilott and duly took the victory, his 3rd of the season. Ilott came home second to slightly close the title fight a little more. Daruvala did achieve that first podium in 3rd as Schumacher struggled a little behind him. His medium tyres appeared finished at the flag.
Tsunoda passed Armstrong on the final lap for 6th place and was just denied 5th by Mazepin on the line. It was a thrilling fight in the desert all race long and now we wait with anticipation for the Sprint Race tomorrow.