The 2021 season of Formula 2 got underway in spectacular style in Bahrain as the new weekend format was used for the first time. The drivers raced each other in two epic Sprint Races on the Saturday. Wheel to wheel action was the order of the day as we’ve come to both love and expect from F2.
Sunday then saw the first Feature Race of the year with Uni-Virtuosi’s Guanyu Zhou starting the race from pole position. With a flurry of familiar faces as well as a handful of rookies making up the grid (check them all out in the handy guide below), there was everything to play for. Here are the key takeaways from Bahrain 2021 you need to know coming away from the first weekend of racing.
Rise of the Rookies
There were plenty of new faces lining up on the Formula 2 grid this weekend in Bahrain. From those rookies, it was the key players from 2020’s Formula 3 season that everyone was closely watching. Liam Lawson put in an absolutely stonking performance in the first Sprint Race of the year. He took the lead of the first Sprint Race from the moment the lights went out as he flew up from third place to first. From there, he managed the remainder of the race smoothly, keeping Jehan Daruvala at bay at all times in superb style. The 2020 F3 championship contender went on to win the race with Lawson showing that he’s not here just to make up the numbers – he’s here to win.
Then in the second Sprint Race, Formula 3 2020 Champion Oscar Piastri was able to brilliantly capitalise on the madness towards the end of the race, snatching the race win away from F2 veteran Guanyu Zhou in the closing stages of the race. Piastri’s performance is sure to have made his mentor (a certain Mark Webber) very happy indeed and shows that despite the winter break, Piastri has lost none of his forward momentum from last year.
While it’s still early, these two rookies are ones to watch as outside contenders for the Championship.
Flying under the radar – Jehan Daruvala
As mentioned above, Daruvala came within seconds of being a back to back Formula 2 race winner after he won the final race of the 2020 season. But despite finishing second, this was still a strong display from the Indian driver and a good demonstration that he’s brought the lessons he’s learnt from last season into 2021. His fourth place in the second Sprint Race (pushed off the podium after Lungaard’s second place was reinstated) was another good result for Daruvala and his sixth-place finish in the feature race didn’t hurt him either. It puts him in a very comfortable spot in the Championship. Is 2021 going to be Daruvala’s year? Only time will tell.
A new team hasn’t fixed Ticktum’s driving
After blaming a large variety of different things for his lack of overall performance in the 2020 season, Dan Ticktum made the switch to the Carlin racing team for 2021. But if the first round of the season is anything to go by, this hasn’t fixed all of his problems as easily as he might have liked. In the first Sprint Race, he attempted a double overtake on Richard Verschoor and Felipe Drugovich going into turn one. As a result, Ticktum went into the back of Verschoor after failing to get on the brakes in time, spinning Verschoor around and effectively ending his race when Verschoor was forced to retire shortly afterwards. For this, Ticktum was given a five-second penalty which put him down to eighth place when the race concluded.
Fast forward to the opening moments of the second Sprint Race when Ticktum was sticking to the outside of the track (left-hand side) as everyone made their way down to turn one. He then turned into the corner incredibly sharply and seemed surprised when he was spun around by the Prema of Robert Shwartzman who didn’t have anywhere to go as he was overtaking another car up the inside into turn one. Ticktum came all the way across the track (way more than he needed to in order to get around the corner) and took both himself and Shwartzman out of the race as a result.
But what about his Podium?
Now some of you reading this may be thinking – but he got a second place on Sunday, surely it’s not all bad? And you’d be right, it’s not. But at the same time, his contact with Piastri in the closing stages of the race was a bit fishy for me. For someone as experienced as Ticktum, you’d expect some of his driving to be a lot cleaner and for him to not be making rookie errors. There’s also the element of luck and as everyone knows, that’s a big part of Formula 2. If he can repeat Sunday’s performance going forward, I might change my mind. But until then…
Zhou fights back in style
Zhou began the 2021 campaign brilliantly by claiming the first pole position of the year on Friday. However, with the new weekend format, this put him down in tenth place for the first Sprint Race. He made it up to a decent seventh place by the end of the race before finishing third in the second Sprint Race.
On Sunday, he managed to convert his pole position into a win – albeit through a lot of on-track battling and staying out of various messes that are in the DNA of an F2 Feature Race. The win marks the first time Zhou has won a Feature Race in F2. It couldn’t have come at a better time for him with how important 2021 is for him.
Vips can’t catch a break
Juri Vips had an absolutely torrid time in Bahrain. Vips was disqualified from qualifying following a technical irregularity with his car and would start at the back of the grid for both the first Sprint Race and the Feature Race. In the first former, he was only able to get as high as tenth place. More bad luck was to come for him in the second Sprint Race as engine issues towards the end of the race dropped Vips down to sixteenth place.
Sunday’s Feature Race didn’t go much better as he trailed home in thirteenth place. The stewards again penalised Vips; this time with a five-second penalty for an infringement under the safety car conditions.
Need we say that this was not how Vips expected to be starting the 2021 season? Hopefully, Vips is getting all of his bad luck out of the way now. If not, he’s in for a very tough season…
Red Bull will be happy but could be facing another driver headache
Something noticeable about the standout drivers in Bahrain is that two are Red Bull Academy members. Liam Lawson is an F2 rookie while Jehan Daruvala is in his second year. Both drivers know how important this year will be for them for their chances of obtaining a future F1 seat. The good side of this is that it gives Red Bull plenty of options for 2022. The downside is that they will have more drivers than they have seats. And that will lead to some tricky decision making. There are currently four Red Bull seats in F1 and at least seven drivers fighting for them. Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala. Red Bull will need some serious thinking time at this rate.
Formula 2 returns for Round 2 in May where they will be racing around the streets of Monaco.