It was all drama for the final F2 qualifying session of the year at Sakhir. Bahrain International Circuit looked as spectacular as ever under the lights and the F2 cars gleamed as they prepared to fight it out for pole position.
Felipe Drugovich and Guiliano Alesi led an MP Motorsport one-two as the cars filed out onto the track for the first runs. The Prema pair of Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman elected to hang back and wait for later clear air.
After the customary two warm-up laps, Drugovich led the cars setting a first lap. The Brazilian driver went purple in sector one before the bump in turn 6 hurled his car off the track and he lost a lot of time as he fought for control. So it was Alesi who set the first representative time only to be deposed by Christian Lundgaard and Nikita Mazepin in swift succession.
Callum Ilott managed 4th place as Yuki Tsunoda went 2nd and Artem Markelov leapt up to 6th place. Nice to see a flash of the old Markelov magic which has been missing so often this year.
Drugovich tried again on his 2nd lap on the tyres to go 3rd. But the other cars were also improving on their second push laps. Marino Sato briefly went 2nd but then Lundgaard deposed him. Ilott had fallen to 9th but went back to 3rd.
F2 Sakhir Qualifying: Prema duo run counter-strategy
Schumacher and Shwartzman were now on track and doing their warm-up laps. Unfortunately for their well-laid plan, everyone else opted for a 3rd push lap so the Prema drivers still had traffic to contend with. Louis Deletraz continued his aggressive strategy from the practice session, running wide in the final corner but then racing Alesi hard down the main straight to not lose any strategic high ground.
Meanwhile, Drugovich had fallen to 12th place but his 3rd lap brought him within 0.043 of Mazepin who was now on provisional pole. Tsunoda though had shown real pace all day and he now took provisional pole with a 1:02.676.
As the majority of the field now filtered back to the pits for some new boots, Schumacher and Shwartzman began their quali runs. But 16th and 11th respectively were not what the championship rivals would have wanted. Shwartzman needed pole to keep his faint title hopes alive.
F2 Sakhir Qualifying: Markelov hints at old form
Artem Markelov was back out also looking to take advantage of the clear track. The HWA may have distracted Schumacher enough to wreck his second lap in the first corner. But even on his 3rd lap, the Prema remained 16th. The car appeared to be so nervous in every corner and unsurprisingly Mick radioed in that his rear tyres were gone. Both Premas subsequently pitted.
Markelov was making use of the empty track to get himself back up to 6th place with his car newly repaired following his practice blow up. Rookie teammate Theo Pourchaire was also back out on track but his 2nd lap was ruined as all remaining 20 cars hit the track as he charged towards Turn 1.
Sakhir F2 Qualifying: Ghiotto finds the gravel
Luca Ghiotto was leading his Hitech teammate Mazepin around the track but a mistake in Turn 2 saw the veteran Italian driver spin to the inside of Turn 3. His engine cut out and the red flag was thrown to allow the recovery of the car.
Four minutes and four seconds remained on the clock when the lights return to green. Lundgaard was the first to go for a flying lap. Tsunoda tried to pass Shwartzman into Turn 4 but had to back out losing places and time.
Sakhir F2 Qualifying: Last-minute drama
It was a personal best for Schumacher in Sector 1 but he lost over a second as he fought his way past Marcus Armstrong’s ART in Turn 5. Schumacher’s nightmare evening was about to get even worse, though.
As he came down the back straight to Turn 10, he went to swerve around Roy Nissany’s Trident. Slicing back to the racing line, he appeared to not give enough room. Nissany swerved violently left from the contact and then back right, mounting the back of Schumacher’s car and inflicting considerable damage to both of them. The session was red-flagged once again and that was the end of qualifying.
Tsunoda radioed his Carlin team to ask if it was finished and was told that the session will not restart. The Red Bull junior clinched his 4th pole position of the year and kept his title dream alive. It’s all over for Shwartzman though who has a chance of a great race from 4th on the grid.
Mazepin capitalised on his rivals’ misfortunes to snatch 2nd on the grid while Jehan Daruvala followed up his strong practice pace with 3rd. Drugovich (5th), Lundgaard (6th) Markelov (7th), Dan Ticktum (8th) and Deletraz round out the top 10.
Misery for Callum Ilott who could only manage 9th place in his UNI-Virtuosi which Schumacher will start from 18th. Just ahead of Nissany, ironically, who goes from 19th. Clouding the grid further is the announcement that Schumacher and Nissany are under investigation by the stewards so the starting positions could yet change.