Formula 2 was back in action in Bahrain and produced two thrilling races to start the 2022 season. With plenty to talk about up and down the grid, here are some of Craig Woollard’s main takeaways
Finding just five things to talk about from the opening weekend of Formula 2 action is incredibly difficult with so much going on up and down the grid, while the nature of F2 means we can’t draw too many long-term conclusions from this weekend.
There were some indications of which teams appear strong (pretty much everybody looks capable of fighting for podiums either in sprint races or feature races) but few answers were given as to who has the best package at the moment.
As was the case for the early part of last year, it may totally change on a weekend-by-weekend basis. But from impressive rookies, experienced drivers who should know better, and a drastic change in speed from last year, there was plenty to talk about over the weekend.
Some F3 graduates are adapting well to F2’s big differences
After Oscar Piastri’s run to the title at his first attempt in 2021, we have once again seen that rookies could be a factor this season. That was most obvious with Jack Doohan’s pole position on Friday, with Logan Sargeant only three places behind him: Two drivers who were perhaps benefitting from cameo appearances at the end of last year.
Six drivers were making their actual F2 debuts in Bahrain and mostly experienced a tough baptism, scoring just one point between them across the weekend. Three of them, all FIA Formula 3 graduates, were put in front of selected media in Thursday’s pre-event roundtable, and explained how jumping from one Dallara car to the other involves bigger changes than might first be obvious.
“The biggest difference from F3 to F2 is the fact that it’s not just a simple step up in car performance,” highlighted Trident’s Calan Williams, who went on to climb his way into the top six early in Sunday’s feature race. “There’s actually a significant amount of things on the car that are different. You have the turbo, the brakes going from steel to carbon brakes.
“Obviously the car is more powerful, it has more aero, but also the 18-inch rims and different compounds of tyres also make a huge difference. But for me personally the thing that surprised me the most in terms of the car, coming from F3 to F2, was the carbon brakes because they’re so much more temperature-sensitive than the steel brakes.
“You really have to put a lot more effort into keeping them in the window, and the difference in performance from the brakes when they’re cold and when they’re hot is massive, unbelievable, and also the stopping power you have when they are up to temperature is really shocking.
“Even when you’re fully strapped in a race car, it still feels like you’re being thrown forward. It’s an amazing amount of power in the brakes.”
Ayumu Iwasa, who went on to have an eventful debut with DAMS, was of a similar opinion: “The biggest differences are the tyres and the carbon brakes. So, honestly, it’s really difficult to keep a good consistency for tyre warm-up and brake warm-up for me because the track and the air temp is changing any time. So that’s very difficult.
“The tyre warm-up is changing from F3, so especially during the long runs I was struggling with tyre management [testing] in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi as well. So obviously that is my [target for] improvement. The tyres and braking are the biggest changes for me.”
ART Grand Prix’s Frederik Vesti would have a particularly challenging debut, qualifying 19th and being nerfed into retirement early in the feature race. “Clearly we need a lot more tyre management to do a good job in F2,” he said. “The tyres are really sensitive, if you make a lock up on the front tyres, it can really damage your balance and damage your race, whereas in F3 it’s a little bit more… you know, you can make a bit more mistakes and still keep up the pace, where in F2 it’s a bit more penalising.
“The brakes are something to get used to as well, the carbon brakes are a bit more sensitive. So basically, I think going from F3 to F2 it just requires a bit more being a bit more sensitive to what you do to the car and the current situation to you are in, so to be adaptive. So yeah, it’s a really good challenge for us rookies.”
Driving standards are a concern for some
Despite returning Trident to the top step by winning Saturday’s sprint race, Richard Verschoor was left very unhappy on Sunday by the driving standards of one of the most experienced drivers in the field.
Verschoor was involved in a multi-car battle together with DAMS’ Roy Nissany, who was making some highly aggressive moves. Nissany was involved in contact that ruined Jehan Daruvala’s race, and later made a move that prompted Verschoor to be tipped around by Charouz Racing System’s Enzo Fittipaldi into retirement.
“This is not racing,” Verschoor said on social media afterwards. “This is purposely driving someone of the track, not caring whether you will crash. This is over the limit and not acceptable, go choose another sport.”
“It’s honestly ridiculous, he [Nissany] should not have a license. It’s more than dangerous.”
Nissany meanwhile said: “I’m pleased to have scored my first points of the season in the feature race, it was eventful and we were involved in so many battles out there. We had a small issue with the gearbox which cost us time on the straights, so I had to work really hard to hold position.”
A driver who felt the wrath of the stewards on several occasions in the feature race was Campos Racing’s Olli Caldwell. The Alpine junior picked up seven penalty points during the race across several violations.
Caldwell had to serve a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for being out of position on the formation lap, before he exceeded track limits at Turn 4 on six occasions and picked up a five-second, a ten-second and a drive-through penalty as a result.
In addition, a team miscommunication meant one of those penalties was not served correctly, so it was added to his overall time instead, while Campos also picked up a fine for releasing his car before his pitstop was completed.
In all, Caldwell picked up five penalty points for the track limits violations and two for the formation lap infringement, bringing his total for seven after just one round, over halfway to the threshold for a ban.
It is not the most picked up in one go, as Mahaveer Raghunathan infamously picked up nine in a single event at Paul Ricard in 2019.
Drivers were surprised by the huge qualifying time leap
Doohan’s pole time was over two seconds quicker than that of Virtuosi Racing predecessor Zhou Guanyu at the same track last year with no clear indication as to why that might be.
The qualifying session did take place three hours later into the evening, but Doohan’s rivals Juri Vips and Theo Pourchaire, both running with the same team as in ’21, were still surprised by such a huge improvement when they were asked about it by Formula Scout.
“Yeah, I found all this nearly three seconds on driving myself,” Hitech’s Vips joked. “No, I think it’s a bit cooler today. We expected the wind actually to be a lot stronger than it actually was during qualifying. Because if it was stronger as it was during free practice then I think we would have been quite a lot slower but it wasn’t actually that wind-affected as we expected. And then track temperature was a lot cooler.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect this much of a jump from last year. Because last year we had sort of an evening quali but normally maybe 10 degrees of track temp wouldn’t be that much time as it was now. I can’t really explain the big, big difference but I expected it to be a bit faster, not as much.”
ART driver Pourchaire added that “I agree with Juri on the track temp for sure, it was a bit cooler today. We also have Formula 3 running which is a bit better.
“Our quali was after F3 quali and both Formula 1 free practices so I think the grip on the track was good and we also have a new turbo on the car this year which is a bit different for everyone so maybe it helps a bit. A few things but it’s a big gap, so I don’t know.”
Prema’s Red Bull juniors have more to find
It was a mixed bag for the reigning champion team Prema. Daruvala nabbed a podium then suffered against Nissany in the feature race, but the weekend as a whole seemed to be a tough one for reigning FIA F3 champion Dennis Hauger who left empty-handed.
“Not a great weekend,” Hauger said. “I think that the potential was there for a lot more.
“I made a mistake in the last corner in qualifying and lost everything, we could have been top 10 at least. I was matching the pace with Jehan [Daruvala] or was quicker in both sectors until that last corner so it was a bit of a shame. That made the weekend a bit harder.”
“The progress in race one was OK I would say, I made quite a good step. The feature race was quite messy, I had to start from the pits [after stalling on the formation lap] but then made my way up from there to P9 or something so definitely I think there are a lot of positives to take and the potential is there for a lot more.
“So it is about going into the next weekend and bringing what I have learnt into making the weekend a bit more complete I would say. Just head down in qualifying, making sure that I’m there for the lap time and that is going to make the weekend a bit easier. It’s about keeping my head calm now and not over stressing anything.”
Daruvala added: “I think it was a weekend of mixed emotions really. Obviously I was on the podium in race one, we had really good pace. Qualifying is always tricky in F2, we managed to qualify in a good position for both races.”
“Today unfortunately we lost the race pretty much at the start,” he said after the feature race. “But we fought back quite well after that, I got into a good position, I exited the pits right behind Juri after his bad stop and he ended up on the podium. So, the potential was there.
“Roy [Nissany] was being quite aggressive and my wing came off when we were fighting. After that obviously I had to pit, and the race was pretty much over from there.”
“So that was frustrating but there are a lot of positives to take into next week and I am pretty sure that we will be back fighting in the front.”
Iwasa overcame pre-season physical struggles to star
One of the more exciting performances of the weekend came from Red Bull and Honda junior Iwasa. Not a huge amount was expected coming into it with DAMS – a team in a rebuilding phase after two difficult seasons since the switch to 18-inch tyres, and after a decent-but-not-overwhelming first FIA F3 season.
Iwasa revealed ahead of the weekend that the physical demands required for F2 meant he had to change his fitness regime.
“Actually, I was struggling so much with physical in Abu Dhabi test, especially arms and neck,” Iwasa revealed before the weekend. “Even though I was training a lot after the F3 season, so then I changed some [of my] training menu with my trainer and then in the Bahrain test my physical was not a problem, so that was a really good positive point in the Bahrain test.
“Still, I’m still feeling some points I can improve in my body, my performance, just potential in the steering control and the pedal controls.”
It clearly paid off for Iwasa, as he charged through the pack in both races, picking up a point on debut and running strong in the feature race before retiring late with a technical issue, after starting last in both races after spinning off in qualifying.