Home Featured Who is really fastest going into the second half of F2 2023?

Who is really fastest going into the second half of F2 2023?

by Ida Wood

Photos: Formula Motorsport Ltd

The pre-season title favourite has always been near but scarcely setting the pace, and though he has maximised results his rivals have done an even better job of that and from a less competitive position

We are 14 races into the 2023 Formula 2 season, with 12 races still to go, and there are three firm title contenders at present although one of them is 20 points clear at the top.

The season’s frequent pacesetter has less than half of the points of the championship leader, who despite his success has faced troubles that mean 11 drivers have completed more race laps than him so far. The driver who is fifth in the standings did not even stand on the podium until the most recent race, while the early championship leader is now 15th in the standings and one of the slowest in the field.

Four of the first seven rounds were held on temporary circuits, and Bahrain’s abrasive asphalt also makes it a bit of an outlier but its status as venue of pre-season testing normally reduces the chance of surprises happening in the competitive order come race weekend.

So that leaves the Barcelona and Red Bull Ring events as perhaps the ‘most representative’, and F2’s usual leading force Prema won both races at Barcelona.

But there were wet-dry sprint races at both venues, and race pace at the Red Bull Ring was determined to a major degree by tyre choice in those conditions. But of course those who made the right choice, and then looked after their tyres, scored the big results. So who has been fastest so far in F2 2023?

The answer is ART Grand Prix’s reigning FIA Formula 3 champion Victor Martins, who sits seventh in the F2 standings with five podiums, a tally bettered by no one. He may have only scored in eight races out of a possible 14, but of the drivers who have been in the points more often, three of those have scored nine times and two have scored 10 times.

Single-lap pace
Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace
1 Martins 100.335% 12 Maloney 100.984%
2 Pourchaire 100.393% 13 Boschung 101.014%
3 Doohan 100.599% 14 Hadjar 101.040%
4 Fittipaldi 100.640% 15 Daruvala 101.063%
5 Vesti 100.654% 16 Leclerc 101.117%
6 Crawford 100.752% 17 Correa 101.192%
7 Bearman 100.759% 18 Cordeel 101.376%
8 Iwasa 100.835% 19 Stanek 101.511%
9 Maini 100.915% 20 Novalak 101.580%
10 Hauger 100.923% 21 Nissany 101.720%
11 Verschoor 100.925% 22 Benavides 102.203%

Had Martins not been disqualified from fourth in the Baku feature race for the floor fins of his car being 3.4 millimetres below the reference plane given by the series for those parts, then he would not only have an extra points finish to his name but also be one place higher in the standings.

Martins took pole in his second F2 outing in Jeddah, then again at the Red Bull Ring last weekend. His team-mate Theo Pourchaire, in his third year of F2 and the pre-season title favourite, led the way on outright pace based over the first two rounds (with Pourchaire on average lapping at 100.368% of the absolute pace and Martins on 100.372%), but in the five rounds since it has been Martins who has been super consistent in relation to the pace being set and therefore on average been the fastest driver.

In recent rounds his advantage has reduced, despite being the pacesetter in Austria, and he is on average within 0.335% of the pace in qualifying. Pourchaire is close behind, then there is a gap to everyone else.

But the fact that Martins hasn’t won a race this year, and Pourchaire isn’t leading the championship, shows that single-lap pace isn’t the key to success in 2023 if it can’t be translated into race pace.

That’s where Prema’s Frederik Vesti has come to the fore. After a points-free opening round at Bahrain, Vesti finished every race in the same position or a higher one than he started in until the most recent race in Austria where he admitted to taking a conservative approach with an eye on the title as he dropped from first to third.

The two instances where he held his position were races where he started from fourth and from pole respectively. He has led 106 laps this season, with Ayumu Iwasa next best on 61, Pourchaire in fifth on 30 laps and Martins with a smaller tally than 10 other drivers having only been at the front of the field for 12 laps in total.

Vesti was the sixth-highest placed returnee from 2022, so was not the driver many looked to as being the one to take hold of the title race despite his move from ART GP to Prema.

Average race pace
Pos Driver Team Pace Pos Driver Team Pace
1 Martins ART GP 100.347% 12 Bearman Prema 101.048%
2 Vesti Prema 100.358% 13 Maini Campos 101.110%
3 Iwasa DAMS 100.469% 14 Novalak Trident 101.115%
4 Hauger MP 100.541% 15 Maloney Carlin 101.144%
5 Pourchaire ART GP 100.696% 16 Correa VAR 101.154%
6 Fittipaldi Carlin 100.761% 17 Hadjar Hitech 101.195%
7 Daruvala MP 100.780% 18 Nissany PHM 101.223%
8 Leclerc DAMS 100.835% 19 Benavides PHM 101.365%
9 Crawford Hitech GP 100.912% 20 Stanek Trident 101.387%
10 Verschoor VAR 100.936% 21 Boschung Campos 101.426%
11 Doohan Virtuosi 100.945% 22 Cordeel Virtuosi 102.029%

Pourchaire was 2022 runner-up and is only back in F2 due to Sauber putting money into a campaign while he works for their Formula 1 team, and has had a strong season bar a clash with Prema’s Ollie Bearman in Jeddah that rivals criticised him for.

Like Martins he has been faster in qualifying than races, and it’s been Pourchaire’s experience that has helped him extract more out of the ART GP package in races so far. His tally of 105 points is one less than he had at this point last year, but the difference is the gap between the top two was 42 points last summer and this time it’s 20. Pourchaire could lead the championship by the end of this weekend at Silverstone.

DAMS’ Iwasa is third in the standings, and has made a big improvement on 2022. He had two sprint race podiums and 38 points by this point last year, sitting 13th in the standings, and now he has a feature race victory and a runner-up finish, two sprint race wins and 101 points.

His Melbourne feature race win came from pole, but Iwasa is only the eighth fastest driver on average having been off the pace at three circuits. In the races he has recently admitted to struggling too, seeking to improve his driving and the competitivity of his car with both seemingly having a peak performance far below his expectations, but he’s maximised what he has to be third fastest on average with his race pace.

Third fastest on qualifying pace but a lowly 11th on race pace is Jack Doohan. His Virtuosi Racing team seems to have dropped back this year, as Doohan won thrice in 2022 but has only once made the podium this season. He has described his “very off the pace” season so far as “difficult to take”.

But it’s close enough in the standings behind the top three for Doohan to be back in the top five in the points table after the next race if he returns to the podium’s top stop – which he is in a good position to given his and Virtuosi’s past form at Silverstone.

Laps led

1 Vesti 106   2 Iwasa 61   3 Bearman 46   4 Hauger 40   5 Pourchaire 30   6 Boschung 26   7 Crawford 23   8 Leclerc 21   9 Hadjar 20   10 Fittipaldi 19   11 Martins 12   12 Verschoor 2   13 Cordeel 1


=1 Pourchaire, Martins & Vesti 5   =4 Crawford & Iwasa 4   =6 Bearman & Daruvala 3   =8 Boschung, Hauger, Maloney & Fittipaldi 2   =12 Doohan, Maini, Leclerc, Hadjar, Verschoor 1

Race laps completed

1 Novalak 406   2 Maini 400   3 Correa 399   4 Iwasa 396   5 Pourchaire 388  6 Bearman 386   7 Hauger 385   8 Hadjar 381   9 Cordeel 380   10 Maloney 379   11 Doohan 377   =12 Daruvala & Vesti 376   14 Martins & Verschoor 361

In a different situation is fourth-year driver Jehan Daruvala, who with the reigning champion team MP Motorsport has been seventh best on race pace and claimed three podiums but only been 15th fastest based on qualifying pace and scored nine points from the last eight races. He lies 12th in the standings, and next week will be Mahindra’s free practice driver at Formula E’s Rome E-Prix. This time last year he had 80 points and was fourth in the standings.

The most perplexing case of form is that of Campos Racing’s Ralph Boschung. He started the season with victory, followed up by a second place. His Bahrain sprint race pace was flattered by having clean air up front while others battled, and he was 15th on race pace in the feature race after being unable to match Pourchaire once he was ahead.

Fourth in Jeddah’s sprint race followed, and he hasn’t scored a single point since then. Only the four drivers at the bottom of the standings have been in the points less than Boschung, and he has been so far off the qualifying pace in recent rounds that he is 13th fastest on average. It’s a worse picture in the races, as he sits only above Virtuosi’s Amaury Cordeel on pace and he has only completed 328 laps over 14 races while Martins has done 361, Vesti has completed 376, Pourchaire has done 12 more than that and backmarker Clement Novalak has done more than anyone else at 406.

So what can we expect from the second half of the season?

If Vesti maintains his pace and form there’s no guarantee it will keep him at the top of the table against Pourchaire if his rival can add another win or two before the summer break, and there are several teams and drivers who clearly feel they are not showing their potential. That could mean Iwasa cements himself firmly in the title fight if DAMS make gains, while many other drivers’ dreams of being champion are probably shot now but it would not be a surprise to see Doohan, MP’s Daruvala and Dennis Hauger and of course ART GP’s Martins on the podium’s top step.