Alexander Albon took advantage of pitstop chaos to win the Russian Formula 2 feature race as Lando Norris’s title aspirations took a massive hit.
A fast second-half of the race meant that Albon was able to deny a surprise threat from back-row starter Artem Markelov as the race was dominated by the use of the alternate strategy, with drivers who started on the more durable soft tyre easily passing those on super-softs.
Nyck de Vries had taken an early lead from pole position ahead of George Russell, helped by Norris having a poor start and being sandwiched either side by Albon and his team-mate Nicholas Latifi on the rundown to Turn 2.
Norris was then overtaken by soft runners Antonio Fuoco and Jack Aitken for sixth and seventh, a move which gave Fuoco the lead on lap six as the first pitstops took place.
The 2019 McLaren F1 driver pitted one lap later but had calamitous events, first turning towards his pitbox too early, driving past Trident mechanics to get to his normal position alongside his Carlin colleagues.
Then, his front right tyre was not properly attached to the car as he accelerated away before stopping, where his race would come to an end, admitting over the radio that the incident was ‘my fault’.
De Vries also suffered lost time in the pitlane, having a slightly slower stop which placed him behind Albon in the effective race lead of eighth place when re-entering the track.
Markelov gained 18 places from his grid position to assume the lead from Fuoco on lap seven before setting up a sizeable lead over Fuoco and MP debutant Niko Kari.
Unlike Monza, where the harder tyres held on for a significant period, tyres started losing performance at around lap 19 when Albon passed Kari and Arjun Maini, and Aitken and Dorian Boccolacci fell behind de Vries, Russell and Latifi.
Markelov drove off track at Turn 7 and made a surprise pitstop one lap later, when the Russian was the latest to suffer drama.
The Renault F1 development driver, who had previously been told that he could not be heard over the radio, appeared to surprise his crew, with the left-hand side of his car not serviced at the same speed of the right.
As a result, he lost an advantage of over 20s over Albon and went back out on track in 11th, while Fuoco inherited the lead until his stop three laps later.
This allowed Albon to claim the lead for the first time, a position he would remain in until the end of the race, helped by tyre issues for de Vries.
The McLaren junior driver suffered a massive front left tyre lock-up to allow Nicholas Latifi past for second after the Canadian deposed of Russell.
Latifi ended the race 11.3s adrift of his DAMS team-mate, while de Vries held on to the podium ahead of Russell.
The result means that the drivers’ title battle is now guaranteed to go down to the final weekend in Abu Dhabi as Mercedes junior Russell now has a 30 points advantage over second-placed Albon, with Norris a further four behind.
Russell’s maximum possible advantage after Sunday’s sprint race is 47 points, with 48 remaining at the final round.
Sergio Sette Camara had a quiet drive to fifth, while Fuoco fought to sixth using the super-softs.
Alessio Lorandi claimed a career-best result of seventh above Roberto Merhi, who took sprint pole, but was under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage at Turn 2.
Nirei Fukuzumi took advantage of the alternate strategy for ninth, with Tadasuke Makino dropping to 10th.
Makino was able to continue from a first-lap brush with the barriers at Turn 1 with the left-hand side of his Russian Time machine against the right-hand side of Luca Ghiotto’s Campos, a move which saw the Italian retire after complaining of a suspension issue.
Feature race results (28 laps)
|3||Nyck de Vries||Prema||+14.259s|
|4||George Russell||ART Grand Prix||+17.468s|
|5||Sergio Sette Camara||Carlin||+22.953s|
|6||Antonio Fuoco||Charouz Racing System||+34.899s|
|8||Nirei Fukuzumi||Arden International||+43.463s|
|9||Roberto Merhi||Campos Racing||+46.334s|
|10||Tadasuke Makino||Russian Time||+46.461s|
|11||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||+53.455s|
|12||Louis Deletraz||Charouz Racing System||+56.606s|
|13||Dorian Boccolacci||MP Motorsport||+1m00.950s|
|14||Jack Aitken||ART Grand Prix||+1m06.522s|
|15||Arjun Maini||Trident||+1 lap|
|16||Maximilian Gunther||Arden International|
|Ret||Niko Kari||MP Motorsport|
|Ret||Luca Ghiotto||Campos Racing|
|Fastest lap: de Vries, 1m51.929s