Home Featured Why it will be near-impossible to stop Piastri being F2’s number one

Why it will be near-impossible to stop Piastri being F2’s number one

by Craig Woollard

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

Alpine junior Oscar Piastri is on the verge of securing a historic third consecutive junior single-seater championship in Abu Dhabi. As Craig Woollard explains, his rivals’ narrow title hopes are all but non-existent

51.5 points sounds like a lot when only 65 points are on the table and, in reality, it really is. While Robert Shwartzman is in contention to overhaul Prema team-mate Piastri to snatch the Formula 2 crown, his task is unbelievably challenging to achieve. For complete outsider Guanyu Zhou, being 64.5 points means anything other than a perfect weekend for the future Formula 1 driver will not be enough.

Mathematically, sure, Shwartzman can sure do it. But what he will need to do to overhaul his team-mate is not an easy task. Zhou’s objective is straightforward to the point where anybody can make sense of it, but Shwartzman’s is problematic with how complex the format and season is this year.

For a start, the title is very much out of Shwartzman’s hands. He requires Piastri to score fewer than 13 points throughout the weekend to even stand a chance of taking the title. That’s less than one fourth place in the feature race or one second place in either of the two sprint races with no scores anywhere else across the weekend, or a smattering of minor points places in the three races.

That is simply a level of performance that Piastri has not dipped to at any point this season. Only in the weekends with his two non-finishes (Bahrain and Baku) has he scored as low as 21 across the weekend. Even in Sochi (with race two cancelled) and Jeddah (half points in the feature race), Piastri scored more through the weekend.

He is on an exceptional run of form with four poles and four wins (three of them feature races) from the last four events. The wildly long gaps between previous rounds seemed to do nothing to stunt his momentum and, barring a weekend littered with unreliability and issues beyond his control, it would be unlikely that Piastri has a massively challenging weekend.

Photo: Prema

In the very unlikely event that condition is fulfilled, Shwartzman would need to achieve something no driver has achieved in F2 this season with the new format, or in FIA Formula 3 with a very similar format – scoring over 51 points in a weekend.

No driver in F2 this season has scored more than 41 points in a weekend. Piastri (Monza), Zhou (Bahrain) and Juri Vips (Baku) have all scored that much, but nobody has come close to the tally Shwartzman requires to come out on top. In FIA F3, champion Dennis Hauger scored 49 points at the Red Bull Ring with a trio of podiums (a win with fastest lap and a third place in the reverse grid races from 12th on the grid, and second in race three from pole).

So, the odds are very firmly stacked against Shwartzman on that basis alone. The way to accumulate 51 points is very tricky. And Shwartzman in almost two seasons has qualified no higher than second. Should he claim pole, and convert it into victory with fastest lap, then he will take 31 points. That pole, however, puts Shwartzman in 10th for the first sprint race.

He’ll still need to accumulate at least 22 more points at the very least (working on the unlikely assumption that Piastri fails to score) across the two sprint races. That’s two third places and a fastest lap, or a second place and a third place. That won’t be easy from 10th and eighth or ninth on a reversed grid. Alternatively, going from 10th to sixth and then from fifth to first with both fastest laps will suffice for a Saturday before a perfect Sunday.

Another alternative would be to take second place in all three races with all 10 available bonus points, from ninth, ninth and pole. Again, it’s a difficult hypothetical to envisage given nobody has scored more than 41 points in a weekend, and Shwartzman hasn’t taken more than 36 across a weekend this season to date.

Can Shwartzman be a threat for pole at Yas Marina and finally put those Friday woes behind him? It is entirely plausible. He was close to doing it in Jeddah last weekend, if not for a final corner error, and feels like he’s finally cracked it.

“Unfortunately, I struggled quite a bit in qualifying [in 2021], but it seems that only now I sort of found the idea of what the issue [was],” he said after sprint race two. “It’s a bit late maybe, but still it’s good to know what actually happened.”

Photo: Prema

He expanded on the issue as being “something personal driving-wise”, which indicated his own driving wasn’t a perfect implementation of the rigorously practiced approaches done in Prema’s simulator. But Shwartzman says he has to wait until Abu Dhabi to see if he has made a breakthrough, or if his most recent change in pursuit of speed just suited Jeddah’s unique layout.

F1’s Abu Dhabi finale is set up to be the most intense in many, many years. F2’s ultimately has likely fallen a little short of it, largely due to Piastri’s remarkable consistency. It will be a mammoth challenge for Shwartzman to triumph, but any chance is still a chance. He’ll need some outrageous scenarios to occur, but F2 can be wildly unpredictable. This, though, may be a stretch even by F2’s standards.

For the championship leader, however, he’s not celebrating yet. “It’s not done until it’s mathematically impossible,” Piastri said in the post-feature race press conference. “Obviously, the points gap is big now and that was exactly the plan going into this weekend. But I still need to make sure it’s done first and then I’ll hopefully celebrate it.”

The drivers looking to 2022

The current top four in the standings will be moving on from F2 next year, with Theo Pourchaire in fifth set for a second season with ART Grand Prix and Juri Vips in sixth also likely to remain at Hitech GP.

The only deals already confirmed for 2022 are far further back, as Ralph Boschung goes for a third F2 campaign with Campos Racing after taking his first podium in the Jeddah feature race and Clement Novalak goes full-time with MP Motorsport having signed to contest the last two rounds of 2021 to prepare.

“The feature race was bizarre, but I’m nevertheless delighted to finally stand on the F2 podium,” Boschung said.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’ve had the potential to achieve it all season, so it’s an amazing feeling for both me and the team to get our hands on a trophy.”

That’s not hyperbole, as Boschung’s street circuit abilities has put him in contention for strong results in Monaco, Baku, Sochi and then Jeddah. But to end a five-year streak without a win in Abu Dhabi will be unlikely.

“We immediately had good pace [in Jeddah] and I knew we would be in the fight for pole,” he added. “I got a great launch off the line in the feature race and managed to avoid Pourchaire, who stalled just ahead of me.

“At the restart I was feeling quick and pressured Shwartzman for second place. At the same time, Zhou attacked me from behind, but I defended well to hold position. We still have some improvements to make, especially with race pace, but we are feeling good right now and I’m excited for the finale in Abu Dhabi this weekend.”