F2 Bahrain

An eventful first round for Formula 2

Our first race weekend for Bahrain was one with high ups, and low downs. It was a positive weekend for Richard, whereas he had a bit of bad luck in Sprint Race 1. Lirim however, had more bad luck on his side the overall weekend, and had a positive Sprint Race 1.

This was the first time we were driving with the new format for Formula 2 and 3. Last year, both series drove the Feature Race on Saturday and the Sprint Race on Sunday. This year, both series, have two Sprint Races on Saturday, and one Feature Race on Sunday. Besides the races, the practice and qualifying remain the same, on Friday. However, the qualifying format also changes. The results of the qualifying session are the starting grid for Sunday’s Feature Race. The starting grid of the first Sprint Race on Saturday is the reversed top 10 finishers of Friday’s qualifying result. The grid of the second Sprint Race will be determined by reversing the top 10 finishers of Sprint Race 1.

Richard qualified on P6, but after a disqualification for Vips, he could start on P5 during the Feature Race. Lirim qualified on P17 and could start on P16.

Sprint Race 1

Richard started on P6 during the first Sprint Race on Saturday morning, and was off to a good start. Unfortunately, his race was ended very early. In the second lap, Ticktum tried to overtake Zhou in the first corner, but there was also a train of Formula 2 cars in front of him getting through that same first corner. Ticktum touched the back of Richard’s car and made him spun. Back in the pits, there was too much damage for Richard to continue and he had to retire very early, which made him start all the way from the back for the second sprint race, later that day.

Lirim was having a good first Sprint race, after having a disappointing qualifying. He started from P16, felt comfortable in the car, and had a good pace. His start was great, by lap 2 he was on P11 already. It resulted in him finishing on P9, narrowly missing out on points. The first 8 finishers receive points in the Sprint Races, where the top 10 in the Feature Race receive points. Even though he missed out on points from the top 8, Lirim didn’t leave empty-handed. He got the quickest lap in lap 5 which made him receive his first two points.

SAKHIR (BH), 25-28 March 2021: Round 1 of the Formula 2 championship 2021 at Bahrain International Circuit. Lirim Zendeli #12 MP Motorsport. © 2021 Sebastiaan Rozendaal / Dutch Photo Agency

Sprint Race 2

After finishing on P9, Lirim could start from the front row in the second Sprint Race. Richard was the first one to DNF in the first Sprint Race, so he had to start from the back. It was a hectic night race, where Lirim was constantly fighting in the top 5. In lap 6 he Lundgaard touched his car from behind, also in the first corner, which gave Lirim straight away a puncture. Unfortunately, because they just started a new lap he had to complete the lap with the puncture to reach the pit stops. He got back out with a new tire, but he got so far behind, they decided to retire in lap 15.

By lap 15, Richard had reached P13, showing great pace and overtaking. In both Sprint Races the drivers drive 23 laps and by lap 19, Richard was driving on P10. Which means he had gained 12 places already. There were a lot of cars having problems, getting DNFs and drivers getting penalties, which was good for Richard who was also driving with the right strategy and saving his tires. With two laps to go he was driving on P6 and gained another position in the last lap, making him finish on P5. With Piastri winning the race, Richard was the second highest rookie to finish and gained 17 places in one race.

Feature Race

The Feature Race started before the Formula 1 race, and we had to head back to the qualifying results for the starting grid. Richard starting from P5 and Lirim from P16. The race had a total of 32 laps, which is 9 more than the Sprint Races. The top 10 was driving on different strategies, with Richard starting on the hard tire. Lirim’s fight for the points was made very difficult in lap 1, where he was almost taken out by a crash he wasn’t involved in. He could continue but had to head back to the pits for a brand new front wing. Luck definitely was not on his side this weekend.

The first 13 laps were hard for Richard, where he fell back to position 9. Around this lap, the first cars with the soft tires would start to pit. In lap 17, Petecof’s fire extinguisher went of which started with a virtual safety car but ended in a “real” safety car. This was perfect for Richard, who pitted under the safety car while driving on P2 and lost only one position when entering the track again. With brand new tires, Richard was able to fight for the first few places. In lap 20, Richard got the lead of the race and was quickly 2 seconds off from Piastri on P2. This also meant his tires were having a hard time, and by lap 28 he lost the lead when Zhou overtook him. He barely had anything left on his tires and finished on P4, which was still an amazing result for a rookie on his first Formula 2 weekend. Because of Lirim’s unfortunate situation in the first lap, he lost a lot of time and finished on P18.

Quotes

“I never expected to finish like this.”

At this moment I am still bummed about the last race. I was leading the race and in the end, I finished on P4, which feels like a disappointment. I do think that within 2 days when I’m looking back on this, the disappointment will change for pride. I never expected to finish like this. After the first practice, we were so off, but the team never lost faith and kept working towards a good car. This could be seen in the qualifying result, where we couldn’t take 100% out of the lap but still had a good result. Race 1 was obviously a disappointment but overall the strategy and the pace was really good. I feel comfortable with the team which also makes it easier. I’ll learn from the mistakes I made in the front during the Feature Race, which will only make me stronger as a driver in the end.

— Richard Verschoor

“I could recover during the first Sprint Race which made me be able to fight for good points in the second Sprint Race.”

Looking back at the weekend, I feel very unlucky. Qualifying was a bit of a disappointment for me. The changes we did on the car didn’t fit my driving style, so it felt a bit uncomfortable at first. Unfortunately, we also weren’t able to warm the tires up and set a fast lap in qualifying, which made us start from P16. Luckily, I could recover during the first Sprint Race which made me be able to fight for good points in the second Sprint Race, but we were very unlucky there when I got the puncture, and also in the Feature Race. We are not far away from a good baseline setup, which is very positive, but we still have some work to do on the car. I know we can compete at the front when everything goes well, so I am very excited for the second round in Monaco, where qualifying is crucial.

— Lirim Zendeli