Having gone scoreless across the opening weekend of the season, PREMA Racing arrived in Jeddah last in the Teams’ Standings but there was no panic necessary. Frederik Vesti put the team back on the top step come Sunday, taking his first win of the 2023 season and proving the Italian outfit was a force to watch out for.
On Friday though, ART Grand Prix remained the team firmly in control, demonstrating another supreme showing over a flying lap. Victor Martins claimed his first Formula 2 pole position by seven-tenths, just as teammate Théo Pourchaire had done a week earlier. Fellow rookie Oliver Bearman lined up on the front row, just one-thousandth of a second quicker than Pourchaire. The duo got even closer than that in the Sprint Race.
From lights out, Jak Crawford held onto the lead from reverse grid pole while DAMS’ Ayumu Iwasa made the most of the early opportunities. The Japanese driver was able to jump up to second from fourth on the grid in the opening corners.
That quickly became the lead on Lap 2, passing the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver into the first corner just before an early Safety Car intervention for a stranded Zane Maloney, who’d spun at Turn 2.
Back to racing, Martins continued his early progress to take sixth from Kush Maini on Lap 5, followed by Pourchaire one lap later after a late-braking dive to the inside of the Campos Racing driver. He tried to repeat the move on Martins on Lap 7 but missed his braking point, collecting Bearman ahead and leaving both on the sidelines with damage.
Iwasa controlled another Safety Car restart to keep his lead while Martins kept his march going, clearing Crawford into Turn 1 at the resumption.
With the Frenchman bearing down on him, Jehan Daruvala got to work passing Ralph Boschung for second position on Lap 13. One lap later and the ART driver repeated Daruvala’s Turn 1 pass on the Swiss to take third place.
Into the closing stages and Iwasa got his elbows out to hold onto the lead, with Daruvala’s attempt to pass on Lap 17 opening the door for Martins to sneak through and deprive the MP Motorsport man of P2 on the exit of the first chicane. From there, Iwasa led home the trio to complete the Sprint podium.
On Sunday, Martins lost the lead to Bearman on the run to the first corner while PREMA teammate Vesti made a lighting getaway to rise to fourth from P7 on the grid. Jack Doohan was in a strong position for Invicta Virtuosi Racing, running third in the early laps.
The leading pair were in for their mandatory pitstops on Lap 8 before Doohan and Vesti responded a lap later. On Lap 11, Martins made his move, using DRS to take the top spot into the first corner. Bearman tried to fight back but after running over the exit kerbs of Turn 2, teammate Vesti ducked underneath to pass for second and set about chasing down Martins.
The Briton tried to keep up with the leaders but a high-speed spin at Turn 22 left him with major flatspots and down in 11th. After relentless pressure and fastest laps by Vesti, the pressure told, and Martins spun out of the lead on Lap 17 at Turn 4.
From there, the Dane was untroubled in front, controlling the pace en route to the first of his five race victories so far in 2023.
After his woes on Saturday, things didn’t get much better for Pourchaire as he slumped to a P13 finish by the chequered flag. With Boschung finishing fourth, he took over as the leader in the Drivers’ Championship and kept Campos Racing atop the Teams’ Standings heading into Round 3 and a maiden visit to Melbourne, Australia.