F2 Sakhir Feature Race: Tsunoda wins an action-packed 48 laps

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Yuki Tsunoda F2 Sakhir Feature Race
Image: Red Bull Content Pool

For the final feature race of the season, there was a typically superb race from start to finish to feast on. Yuki Tsunoda is going to be in consideration for the AlphaTauri driver after ensuring he’ll nab the prerequisite amount of superlicence points for F1. However, he is out of the championship running which is now only between Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott. Ilott would need all the luck tomorrow and misfortune for Schumacher to grab win the championship, such is the gap. But that’s for Sunday and you’re here for Saturday…

Yuki Tsunoda appeared to have a great start from the pole he took yesterday evening. But while he seemingly had the measure of second-place Mazepin, Yuki somehow found himself in third place by turn 3. 

Mazepin did have had a slow getaway, but pulled to the right of the track, giving him a full advantage for the inside line into turn 1. Tsunoda may have rued the fact he was timid as the lead was his to keep. Shwartzman, too, made his way through as a Prema driver looked to help his employer take the teams’ championship.

As expected, much of the focus of the race was further back with Schumacher. He was looking to recover from his disastrous qualifying. Mick was lucky on the first lap to not have damaged his car or get a puncture as he took a hit on the very first corner. The German finding how tight the lower positions can be as he made his way through the opening corners in the middle of a three-wide scrap.

On the second lap, the championship leader made contact with Nissany for the second successive day, as both drivers looked for a way past Alesi. Despite these two bits of bumper-car action, Schumacher was up from 18th to 13th after just five laps.

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Out upfront, it was unchanged with Mazepin leading Shwartzman and Tsunoda third. Markelov was a little further back, with Drugovich, Daruvala, Zhou and Ilott completing the top eight. The HWA of Markelov had a small moment where he cut the corner at turn 7 after oversteering over the bumps, but there were no lasting problems fro the Russian. Not so for the sister Racelab car with F3 runner-up Theo Pourchaire succumbing to Schumacher down the pit straight. Mick using the benefit of DRS to get past and up to 12th.

More early race screen time for the HWA Racelab marketing team to smile at, but perhaps not their lead driver as Markelov lost out to Drugovich at the same place his new teammate slipped behind Schumacher. Like last week, turn 1 is the place to pass on this shorter layout track. Markelov attempted to fight back but the position was lost.

Not to be outdone by screentime, the Carlin pair of Yuki Tsunoda and the Jehan Daruvala drove close to the men around them. Tsunoda chasing down second place but couldn’t make it work at turn 1 over two attempts. Instead, he tried his best through turn 4, but Shwartzman just hung on with his rapidly degrading soft tyres causing him a headache. It was the opposite fortunes for Daruvala, though, as Guanyu Zhou eased past the Carlin. 

Just behind, Dan Ticktum copied the Renault driver and took Ilott, too. Tsunoda had one final attempt and slid past Shwartzman at long last. Finally, Yuki had second place but there was no time for his team to celebrate as his counterpart made the first stop of the race on lap 14.

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Despite the two championship contenders starting nine positions apart, Schumacher had now taken Pedro Piquet and only had Armstrong in the ART between him and a struggling Ilott. The soft compound tires not working well for the Brit, while Schumacher was making his hards sing any tune he wanted. The tune seemed to be “I will overtake at turn 1” (available on LP soon) and Schumacher repeated his DRS move on Marcus Armstrong to appear in Ilotts mirrors. Seeing the Prema somewhat unexpectedly in his mirrors appeared to scare the UNI Virtuosi into the pits to get off the soft compound tire.

But while the championship contenders were close on track only briefly, the lead three cars occupied the same apex after all three took pitstops of their own and came out on the same metres of track. Carlin were the victors and they had Tsunoda the lead of the three. But only one lap later he was back down to 3rd, in a repeat of his opening lap. Mazepin tore past using DRS on the pit straight. Shwartzman was close to following his countryman through but had to wait until turn 4 before he took back what would be a net second place from his Japanese rival.

As the race reached the halfway stage it was Zhou, Ticktum, Schumacher, Armstrong, Pourchaire and Ghiotto were the six lead drivers. Albeit without having pitted on the harder compound tires. Behind them, Mazepin wasn’t extending the gap to either Shwartzman or Tsunoda. Tsunoda after looking like he might have struggled to heat up his tires following his pitstop had finally got back on the pace and stuck with the Russians ahead of him. Drugovich, Daruvala and Ilott ran behind them.

With the race in the upper positions settling down somewhat, those at the back provided entertainment instead. Roy Nissany found himself needing to defend from Alesi down the pit straight. The Italian pushed the Israeli off the track in a firm but (probably) fair move. Nissany kept his foot in despite this and did well not to make contact as he returned to the track. However, he had lost out to the sister Trident, Sato, too. No rest for the wicked though, and at turn 4, Nissany found himself defending from the DAMS of Sean Gelael too. Although it looked as though he had almost thrown off the challenge, Gelael inched past and the Nissany was down to 21st.

It took until lap 28 for Mick Schumacher to become the race leader by virtue of those pitting around him. Zhou lost his lead, as expected, but I was only 3 seconds behind his teammate Ilott in 10th place for the final third of the race equipped with the faster softs. Perhaps seeing his teammate behind spurred Ilott on as it was only one lap later when Callum at long last made his way past Daruvala after getting a great exit off of the final corner.

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The timing was key, as Schumacher made his stop the following lap. Schumacher exited behind Deletraz in 12th place. That dropped to an unlucky for some 13th to as Schumacher outbraked himself on his cold soft tyres into turn 4 and Ticktum, just behind, skipped by and took the place.

A small shoutout to Theo Pourchaire at this point. It may only have been in his second F2 weekend but the Frenchman briefly led the race following Schumacher’s stop. Of course, once he made his stop he emerged out in 20th, but with Pourchaire sitting with his feet up since F3 in September, it’s a great end to his year. The HWA was the final front-running stopper allowing is to see how the race was shaking out.

The Mazepin and Shwartzman pair led from Tsuoda comfortably while Drugovich was closing in on all three of them at quite the rate of knots. The MP Motorsport man was only seven-tenths behind with 15 laps to go. Ilott remained ahead of Daruvala in fifth place. Guanyu Zhou was in seventh but had picked up a five-second penalty that would tumble him down the men ahead of him who he was sure to catch.

Up at the front, Tsunoda tried to make his way into a Russian sandwich but as he was looking to make the move stick down into turn 1, he had to dramatically abandon the overtake as Lundgaard emerged from the pit lane into his path. A horrible accident averted by the quick reactions of the Carlin driver who did eventually take the place from Shwartzman a few corners later. His heart was no doubt beating out of his chest as he did so.

Also on the move was Mick Schumacher who had now found a lot of grip on his softer tyres. At the same position where he lost out to Ticktum locking up, the German got his own back. It was Tictum now leaving a puff of smoke into turn 4, opening the door for Schumacher who threw caution to the wind, despite the championship at stake. Mick took the Brit on the outside of turn 6 in an extremely brave move. A simpler overtake on Piquet with the DRS followed soon after and Schumacher was in eighth, also holding the fastest lap bonus points to boot.

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While the Prema of Schumacher was making quick progress through the grid, the sister Prema of Shwartzman was slipping backwards. The onslaught of Drugovich across the entire second stint had Shwartzman powerless to defend in the turn 1-2-3 complex. The misery wasn’t over for Shwartzman neither as he lost out to a charging Zhou also. The UNI Virtuosi man had overtaken Daruvula and Ilott thanks to his soft Pirellis.

The Mazepin-Shwartzman-Tsunoda lead three had now replaced by the Mazepin-Tsunoda-Drugovich lead three. The trio had a second between them with just five laps to go. The pressure built mounted and Mazepin locked up into turn 1, almost letting Tsunoda through, but he managed to hold on by his fingernails. Tsunoda tried again at the same spot on the following lap and, despite a fierce and possibly illegal defence by Mazepin, Tsunoda was the lead man for the third time. But Mazepin now had DRS on the run-up to turn 4 and fought back. But his degrading tyres were no match for Tsunoda, who confidently kept the lead before they headed into the bumpy T4 to T7 shortcut on this layout of the track.

In the wild closing laps of the race, Zhou had also made up to and past Mazepin with a terrific move into the last corner. Mazepin next lost out to Drugovich but Felipe then almost spun out contention at the exit of turn 1 but help on. The manic final laps had Mazepin and Drugovich exchanging places constantly, with the Russian almost forcing his rival into the pit wall and then off the track and into the brake markers ahead of turn 4. Their fighting, however, allowed Zhou ahead to extend his gap to the 3rd place the two were fighting over by over five seconds. Their squabbling meant Zhou was able to keep second place despite his penalty. 

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Amid all this chaos Schumacher had also got close to the Daruvala and was up into seventh place. With Schumacher’s fastest lap remaining in place, he finished one place behind Ilott, but lost no points in total. The German will start on the front row for the final race of the F2 season tomorrow, too.

But the final victor after all of the breathtaking fighting was Yuki Tsunoda. I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have led the race from pole and stayed there, but ultimately he still takes away the 25 points for the victory to go with his 4 yesterday for being the fastest qualifier. A successful couple of days for the AlphaTauri hopeful capped by looking down and seeing Helmut Marko watching his podium celebrations.

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