The back-to-school feeling was a little sweeter for Théo Pourchaire than the others after the ART Grand Prix driver stormed to pole position at the opening round of the season. His 1:40.903 was 0.7s quicker than anyone else, as teammate Victor Martins joined him on the front row as one of just four drivers within a second of the pole sitter.
Championship rival Frederik Vesti ended up fifth on the grid, while it was a positive start for Campos Racing, with both rookie Kush Maini and Ralph Boschung inside the top 10. The Swiss ended Qualifying in 10th and on reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race.
He aced the getaway from lights out on Saturday, surging into an early lead and was comfortably setting the pace out front. Behind him though, Pourchaire and Martins were making moves, going from 10th to sixth and eighth to third in the opening laps respectively.
The ART pair were holding nothing back, with Pourchaire passing Arthur Leclerc with a big late-braking dive to the inside of Turn 1, mirrored by Martins as he cleared Ayumu Iwasa with the same move. The Japanese driver was able to put his DAMS back ahead of the Frenchman to keep second, albeit only temporarily.
On Lap 13, Martins made the move stick at Turn 8 and Pourchaire was quickly past as well, an opportunistic pass at Turn 10 gave him the spot, until the DAMS driver powered back through with a better run up to Turn 11.
A resilient Iwasa placed his car perfectly in defence across several laps to keep Pourchaire back, though was powerless to stop Dennis Hauger taking third on Lap 15 as the MP Motorsport driver cleared both on successive laps.
The Norwegian wasn’t done there, taking second from a fading Martins with a late charge in the closing stages closing a three second gap and take P2 on the penultimate lap.
Out in front, Boschung was 10 seconds clear by the end in a superb drive for his maiden Formula 2 victory that made him the early Championship leader.
Pourchaire escaped up the road from pole position into an early lead while the chasing pack tangled at Turn 4. Vesti tagged Richard Verschoor into a spin while Roman Stanek and Martins were out because of damage. It left Kush Maini and Boschung in second and third place before the Safety Car was called upon to recover the Trident.
Back racing on Lap 4, Boschung made a pass on teammate Maini into Turn 1 and tried to chase down the race leader as he ran the soft Pirelli tyres on the alternative strategy.
The first of the mandatory stoppers were in on Lap 11 but Pourchaire kept on going with the hard tyres until Lap 13, handing the lead over to Boschung. The Campos driver was in for his stop two laps later, taking on a set of the hard tyres. He rejoined in fourth, though with an earlier stop and switch to softs, Pourchaire was a long way up the road in the lead.
A nine-car train from third down to 11th battled away for the remaining laps but it was Rodin Carlin’s Zane Maloney who was the one to watch.
Having been as low as 15th following his mandatory pitstop, the Bajan driver began to make moves and cleared several rivals to progress up inside the top 10. While teammate Enzo Fittipaldi looked to save his tyres, Maloney moved up to eighth on Lap 22 and continued up the order in the final 10 laps.
Clearing Jack Doohan, Leclerc, Iwasa, Oliver Bearman left him with a seven-second gap to make up on Maini for the final podium spot in six laps. On the penultimate lap, Maloney made his move and swept through on the Indian driver to take third.
Pourchaire went untroubled after the early threat from Boschung, winning the first Feature Race of the season by a sizeable margin. His 19.6s gap over the Campos driver was the largest F2 winning margin in Championship history, and he claimed an early lead in the title battle. Not a bad start to what has turned into a stellar campaign for the 20-year-old.