ART Grand Prix’s Théo Pourchaire won a chaotic first Feature Race of the season in Sakhir, beating Carlin’s Liam Lawson – who started from sixth – and Hitech Grand Prix’s Jüri Vips, who had to recover from 12th after a slow pitstop.
Starting from third, Jüri Vips had initially stormed ahead of Pourchaire and polesitter Jack Doohan when the lights went out, as those around him struggled to switch on the hard Pirelli tyres. The Estonian’s slow stop briefly gifted P1 back to Doohan, but the Virtuosi racer got caught in a scuffle with Pourchaire on his way out of the pits and had to go back in for a new front wing.
Pourchaire evaded damage and claimed first from the Australian, with Lawson in tow. Returning 12th, Vips had the bit between his teeth and made light work of scything through the field to P3, taking the final podium spot ahead of Campos Racing’s Ralph Boschung.
After starting from 13th, Hitech’s Marcus Armstrong made the alternate strategy work to break into the top five, ahead of MP Motorsport’s Felipe Drugovich and Carlin’s Logan Sargeant. DAMS’ Roy Nissany and Van Amersfoort Racing’s Jake Hughes steered clear of the trouble to take eighth and ninth, respectively.
Doohan recovered from his earlier disappointment to take the final points’ position, climbing back up to 10th from last place.
AS IT HAPPENED
Vips enjoyed the getaway of his life when the lights went out in Sakhir, attacking through the middle of Pourchaire and polesitter Doohan. The front row starters were unable to get near the Hitech for pace and had conceded the lead at the exit of Turn 1, with Boschung also scampering ahead of them.
Those who had braved the alternate strategy all benefitted off the line, with Calan Williams, Armstrong, Olli Caldwell and Ayumu Iwasa gaining multiple positions at the start.
The first Safety Car of the afternoon arrived three laps in after Frederick Vesti was spun to a stop on track. Vips aced the restart and got back to work building a buffer between himself and Boschung. The Estonian Red Bull junior was given a helping hand by Doohan, who kept the Swiss driver busy when the Safety Car peeled into the pits.
Boschung dashed in to ditch the hard tyre and clearly wasn’t the only one struggling as those around him began to follow - the race leader amongst them. It was at this point that Vips’ luck turned, as a slow pitstop put him back in 12th.
On paper, this handed Doohan the lead, and although the Virtuosi racer got through his pitstop cleanly, he got tangled up with Pourchaire on his return to the track and suffered damage to his front wing, forcing him back into the pits for repairs.
This remarkably handed the provisional lead of the race to Iwasa, who was up from 21st. The DAMS racer finally ditched his softs on Lap 19 and returned in 10th as Pourchaire – who avoided damage from his contact with Doohan – assumed the lead.
On the charge after his disastrous stop, Vips was lapping more than a second quicker than those around him in P5, catching up to Boschung and passing him at the first turn. Drugovich was next and Vips passed the Brazilian for third with seven laps to go.
A five-car tussle for 10th resulted in the second Safety Car of the day as Enzo Fittipaldi tagged the rear of Sprint Race winner Richard Verschoor, spinning the Trident to a stop. A flurry of activity in the pitlane led to two further retirements as Dennis Hauger and Williams both lost a tyre during their teams’ attempts to get them back out on track quickly.
Pourchaire, Lawson and Vips all kept their places at the restart as Drugovich dropped behind Boschung and Armstrong. Sargeant, Nissany and Hughes followed, with Doohan recovering from his slow stop to finish in 10th.
KEY QUOTE – THEO POURCHAIRE (ART GRAND PRIX)
“It is an amazing feeling to win the first Feature Race of the year in Bahrain. It is a good start for the season. Yesterday in the Sprint Race I had an issue, unfortunately, but luckily it was only a maximum of 10 points that I missed out on.
“I am leading the Championship now with 25 points. I am so tired now, but a big thanks to ART, to the Sauber Academy and everyone else involved – let’s do that again!”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
As he said in his initial post-race quote, Pourchaire leads the Championship on 25 points, with Lawson in second on 24 and Vips in third on 18. Boschung is fourth with 17 points and Drugovich is fifth with 12 points.
Carlin sit at the top of the Drivers’ Championship with 33 points, ahead of Hitech Grand Prix on 28 and ART Grand Prix on 25. Campos Racing are fourth with 17 points and MP Motorsport fifth with 12 points.
The F2 campaign will continue in less than a week as the grid head to Jeddah for the second round of the season.