F2 has had three days of testing in Abu Dhabi, and it was a send-off to the car that has been used in the championship since 2018. So can anything be learned about 2024 from this week’s track action?
While familiarity with a car is often the target for rookies in testing, productivity is truly the key word that is at the centre of everyone’s motivations when they get hours of track time in a single day. Then get to do it again in the two days that follow.
The former became somewhat irrelevant last week since drivers stepping up to Formula 2 in 2024 were driving a car in post-season testing they will never race, and you would assume that the focus would then swing more to the latter. But how productive could teams really be after the end of a long season with a car they had already learned almost everything about over the last six years and didn’t need to learn any more from since they weren’t going to run them ever again?
And when it comes to laptimes, how much can be read into them? Does Formula Regional Europe champion Andrea Kimi Antonelli [pictured top] being only 0.165 seconds off the pace set by his Prema team-mate Ollie Bearman on his very first day in the car mean he’s already proven he’s going to be a rapid rookie in 2024, or will FIA Formula 3 champion Gabriel Bortoleto’s decision to do 10 long runs over his three days with Virtuosi Racing and set the fourth fastest one – as well as four of the seven slowest – mean he is better prepared for F2’s longer races and bigger focus on tyre management than his F3 peers will be?
As for Antonelli’s adaptation, he spoke at the end of the first day of testing about how his experience of the now retired F2 car will be useful for when he makes his championship debut in its successor. He ended up seventh fastest after the three days, 0.212s off the pace set by Rodin Carlin’s Zane Maloney, and on race pace he was the 15th fastest driver (and sixth fastest of those stepping up the single-seater ladder).
“A lot of power, I have to say,” was Antonelli’s first impression from driving the Dallara F2 2018. “The first lap is always quite special, mainly because of the acceleration. More performance overall, it’s also quite heavy, so a bit harder to manage also on the phyical side. But so far I have a great feeling with the car. A few points where I need to improve, especially the braking because that is quite tough. With carbon brakes you can push a lot more.”
|J M Correa
Antonelli said he already “had a great feeling” with the car after the opening day, despite it being very different to the FRegional car he has raced extensively this year.
“What impressed me the most were the braking and the power. The braking because in this car we have carbon brakes, so the efficiency on the braking is much higher, and the stopping is very nice. You feel a lot the stopping of the car, which is a great feeling,” he said.
“This car has a lot of power. So you need to also manage a bit on the throttle, something which I wasn’t really used to from doing in other cars.”
He also commented “I need to improve quite a bit on the phyical side, because this car is quite a bit more demanding”, which may have been a factor in his race pace deficit of 1.311s per lap to benchmark-setting team-mate Bearman who admitted “I underestimated the challenge of getting back into the F2 car” after driving in Formula 1 practice at the track last weekend.
“It’s really important to do this test because the  car is not going to be much different. So it’s good to have a baseline on this car, mainly because it’s heavy,” Antonelli added, saying he wanted “to gain a bit of confidence with the car”.
“I got my first taste of trying different [tyre] compounds, which I never did before. So it was actually a really cool experience. It was really nice to feel the difference. The step between the two compounds is quite big, so at first it’s quite hard to adapt, but the testing is going to be really important to understand the difference between the two compounds in order to arrive at the races with quite a bit of knowledge and also to be ready when we change compounds.”
A key element of that confidence-building was racking up the laps at Yas Marina Circuit, and Antonelli completed 287 of them over the six test sessions. That was the sixth most, with ART Grand Prix duo Victor Martins and Zak O’Sullivan, as well as MP Motorsport’s Franco Colapinto, all surpassing 300 laps.
Post-season testing lap count
1 Martins 328 2 O’Sullivan 309 3 Colapinto 304 =4 Bortoleto & Villagomez 294 6 Antonelli 287 7 Cordeel 286 8 Aron 285 9 Marti 283 =10 Bearman & Hadjar 279 12 Crawford 272 13 Fittipaldi 267 14 Correa 258 15 Mason 252 16 Hauger 245 17 Goethe 244 18 Duerksen 241 19 Miyata 218 =20 Maini & Maloney 208 22 Verschoor 125 23 Mansell 79
Post-season testing lap count [teams]
1 ART Grand Prix 637 2 Hitech GP 571 3 Prema 566 4 Campos Racing 562 5 Van Amersfoort Racing 561 6 MP Motorsport 549 7 DAMS 530 8 Virtuosi Racing 502 9 PHM Racing 493 10 Trident 448 11 Rodin Carlin 426
Most laps – session Bortoleto D3 PM – 80 Longest stints D1 Duerksen – 25, D2 Mason – 23, D3 Martins & O’Sullivan – 25
Races before first F2 win in Dallara F2 2018 era
1 Liam Lawson, Lando Norris*
2 Felipe Drugovich, Oscar Piastri
3 Robert Shwartzman
4 George Russell
6 Jack Aitken, Christian Lundgaard
7 Ollie Bearman
8 Anthoine Hubert
9 Dennis Hauger
10 Dan Ticktum, Yuki Tsunoda, Theo Pourchaire
*Norris did two F2 races in 2017 in the final outing for the series’ six-year-old GP2 car
Although Maloney was the benchmark driver over a lap, he ‘only’ completed 208 of them as on Friday morning his car set on fire after 11 laps of running and cost him plenty of track time.
A fire is rare, but not totally unheard of, with the Dallara F2 2018 and over the years it has been engine supplier Mechachrome that has usually been the culprit for day-ending reliability problems. Despite quite a few engine failures over the years, and of course Anthoine Hubert’s fatal accident at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019, the car has proven popular. At times the high costs associated with the car, particularly with F2’s growing and more global calendar, has made the series look worse value for money and detracted drivers. And there’s a genuine question to ask about how many of the F1 juniors would have been able to afford more than one F2 campaign if they had not had access to financial backing from motorsport’s top level.
Clearly the car is one that rookies can learn quick enough to challenge more experienced drivers from the off, as over the last six seasons 14 F2 rookies have won within their first 10 races.
The key in F2, despite its use of reversed grids for half of its races, is to understand how to get the most out of the car over a whole race and on different tyre compounds rather than to be the quickest in qualifying and hope that will be enough to keep you at the front for a race distance.
F2 is the only junior series which includes the challenge of pitstops, and unsurprisingly in testing drivers did do outlaps purely to come back into the pits and practice stopping perfectly in their pit box even if no tyre change took place. Practice starts were also undertaken in various places, which led to warnings that they can only be done in a designated area.
As for the long runs, there were 111 lasting 10 laps or longer that were completed by the 23 drivers that took part in the test. Prema’s duo and Bortoleto were the only drivers to attempt them on Wednesday morning, then PHM Racing’s Joshua Duerksen did a 25-lap run in the afternoon.
Average race pace
Nobody beat that in the next two days, although ART GP’s drivers did match it and there were 10 other instances of drivers completing runs lasting 20 laps or longer as they would in some feature races (with stint-lengthening in those instances usually helped by safety car periods prolonging tyre life).
Closest to Bortoleto’s tally of long runs was Van Amersfoort Racing’s Rafael Villagomez on eight, then Prema and Campos Racing’s drivers, Trident’s Oliver Goethe, VAR’s Enzo Fittipaldi and Martins all did six.
Goethe’s team-mates only got one long run each, with Richard Verschoor driving for two days before handing over the car to Christian Mansell, and Hitech GP’s Paul Aron just did two. He did both of those in morning sessions, while most drivers prioritised the afternoons when the track was gripped up by other drivers also doing long runs, and he was slowest.
Without knowing which tyre compounds were being used on which runs by everyone, and the age of the tyres before they went on the car, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from the pace shown across the pitlane. Drivers admitted the same caution about comparing their laptimes to others.
However one interesting stat is that Campos’s Pepe Marti, whose long run pace (calculated from a 10-lap rolling average of laptimes within a stint) was the eighth fastest in the paddock and the third-best for rookies, had his second fastest long run beat the best efforts of 13 drivers including Antonelli, O’Sullivan, Maloney and his Super Formula title-winning team-mate Ritomo Miyata, whose experience of longer races did not translate into long run pace in his first outing in an F2 car.
Going on a longer stint and letting the fuel level drop proved useful for Maloney, who went 11th fastest overall with his 21-lap run, but 15 laps was the preferred distance for drivers seeing how fast they could go on a set of tyres in a race simulation.
Post-season test session reports