Liam Lawson survived a nervous moment off the line and a late Safety Car to drive off into the distance and snatch a dominant victory in the Spa-Francorchamps Sprint Race. Seizing an opportunity as the lights went out, the Carlin driver narrowly avoided disaster to immediately leap his way up from fifth to first on the opening lap and never looked back.
Jack Doohan left it right to the last-second to claim his fifth podium of his rookie campaign in second, while Ralph Boschung valiantly clung on to bring home third on his return from injury. Yet it was Championship leader Felipe Drugovich who set the track alight with four laps to go, opting to box for softs under the Safety Car and carving his way through from P12 to P4.
Richard Verschoor’s race of survival was rewarded with fifth, as Théo Pourchaire came home sixth. Marcus Armstrong made plenty of moves stick early on to finish seventh, having started 12th, as David Beckmann, Ayumu Iwasa and Dennis Hauger rounded out the top 10.
AS IT HAPPENED
Greeted by cold and dry conditions, the mist loomed high over the Belgian hills and there were plenty of unknowns heading into the first race of the weekend after a lack of race runs in a highly disrupted Practice session on Friday morning.
Whilst Ralph Boschung assumed his spot on reverse grid pole on his return to the track after suffering a neck injury, Jehan Daruvala’s day was brought to an early end before the lights had even gone out as the PREMA Racing driver pulled over on the reconnaissance lap.
Daruvala’s absence left the door wide open for someone to slip through the gap in the P2 slot and fifth-placed Lawson exuded confidence off the line. Dipping a toe into the grass to avoid a slow starting Pourchaire, the New Zealander immediately leapt up into second and put the pressure on Boschung, who nailed a textbook getaway to hold on to the lead.
Unfortunately for the Swiss driver, the Belgian circuit isn’t short of overtaking opportunities. All over the back of the race leader, the Red Bull liveried Carlin sailed up into P1 along the Kemmel Straight. He wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the slipstream, as Pourchaire, Verschoor and Doohan went three wide, but it was the Trident and Virtuosi who managed to get the better of the black and white ART car and left Pourchaire with his title rival sitting large in his mirrors.
The fight out front swiftly turned into a two-horse race with Verschoor dropping off the back of Lawson and Boschung, who clung on to stay within the race leader’s DRS. Not content to be outside the podium positions, Doohan decided enough was enough and breezed past Verschoor up into P3.
This left the Dutchman as the cork in the bottle, with a sizeable train forming behind him all the way down to P10 and forced him into a race of survival. Pourchaire looked to shape up for a move into the final chicane but flat spotted his front left tyre and Verschoor clung on to the position, knowing that his strategy depended on him holding firm for as long as possible.
Yet the story of the race turned on its head on Lap 11. Logan Sargeant lost his rear end on the exit of Pouhon and skidded into the barriers, triggering the Safety Car. With plenty to lose, Drugovich and MP Motorsport risked it all by pitting for fresh softs, dropping him down from sixth to P12.
Informed on the radio that he’d be four seconds a lap faster than those ahead, the Brazilian driver’s sacrifice immediately paid off as racing got back underway on Lap 15, picking his way past his teammate Clément Novalak and Jüri Vips on the same lap, before dispatching Enzo Fittipaldi for P9. Making moves left, right and center, there was nothing anyone could do to stop the orange car scything his way up the order. Even his nearest Championship rival Pourchaire was a sitting duck as Drugovich used his extra grip to get past him into the final chicane for fifth.
Out front, Lawson had left the rest of the field behind, extending his lead sector by sector to cross the line 3.8s clear of his nearest rival, as Doohan saved his best to last to swoop past Boschung and demote the Campos Racing driver to third.
With DRS enabled on the final lap, this gifted Drugovich the additional traction he needed to slide past Verschoor up the inside of Rivage for fourth and attempt to close the gap to the leading trio. Yet no matter his momentum, there was no more time remaining – with the chequered flag leaving the MP car to settle for fourth.
KEY QUOTE – Liam Lawson, Carlin
“Just finished the Sprint Race in Spa, had a really good start from fifth and was in second by Turn 1 – Jehan (Daruvala) didn’t start so it was a free place there. The first couple of laps, the car was really hooked up, managed to get by Ralph (Boschung) and then honestly throughout the whole race, it was just really, really steady and nice. Massive thanks to Carlin, the car was really good and obviously all positives to take into the big one tomorrow.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Despite starting behind him on the grid, Felipe Drugovich has slightly extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 25 points over Théo Pourchaire. Logan Sargeant and Enzo Fittipaldi remain third and fourth on 119 and 100 points respectively, but victory has promoted Liam Lawson to fifth and only one point behind the Charouz Racing System driver.
There’s no change at the top of the Teams’ Standings as ART Grand Prix continue to hold firm in first on 253 points, with Carlin 35 points adrift in second. MP Motorsport are third on 213, ahead of Hitech Grand Prix and PREMA Racing.
Felipe Drugovich will be looking to strengthen his hold at the top of the title standings even further when he lines up on pole for Sunday’s Feature Race as the lights go out at 10:20 local time.