With four rounds down and 10 to go, the 2023 Formula 2 season kicked it up a notch, as one rookie made history around the unpredictable streets of Baku.
Reflecting on a rollercoaster opening phase of the campaign, CEO Bruno Michel assesses how the field have fared so far and what could be in store when the European leg roars into life at Imola in a fortnight's time.
ONE ROOKIE OUT OF SIX DRIVERS
In the opening four rounds of the 2023 season, experience prevailed - with returning drivers taking victory six times out of eight races. It all started in Bahrain with Ralph Boschung and Théo Pourchaire winning in a commanding fashion. Out of the current six race winners, they are the drivers with the most experience on that track.
In the second and third rounds, it was the drivers in their second year who triumphed, and Ayumu Iwasa took a win in each round thus becoming the first repeat race winner in 2023.
And then came Baku...
It’s not unusual to see a rookie take the spoils on that very challenging track, but for the first time ever, a driver claimed P1 in all four sessions, from Free Practice to the Feature Race. Oliver Bearman made a lasting impression on the rest of the field, but also on the Formula 1 paddock, the media and the fans last weekend in Azerbaijan.
Not even a bent steering wheel could stop him from setting the quickest laptime of the Qualifying session! He became the first rookie in 2023 to take a race win, and the second driver to take two, after Iwasa. Following a really strong rookie Formula 3 campaign last year, Bearman has made sure he is the one to watch, going into the European season later this month.
STAYING ON COURSE
As it stands, no one has truly dominated the rest of the field, and it shows in the Drivers’ Championship. Pourchaire is back in the lead ahead of the triple-header, but Frederik Vesti lies 3 points behind. The Frenchman has been very impressive and consistent in Qualifying, with one pole position, one P2 and two P3s. However, he failed to score three races in a row, adding another pointless race in the Baku Sprint. He should have taken more points overall, but he still managed to reclaim the lead after four rounds, putting him in the best position ahead of three race weekends in a row.
Meanwhile, Vesti had a slow start to his 2023 season. Switching to PREMA Racing for his second F2 campaign, Round 1 was a race weekend to forget. Since Jeddah, where he claimed the Feature Race victory, the Dane has been consistently in the points, and on course for a title charge.
Another second-year driver, Iwasa, completes the Top 3 in the Championship. However, the DAMS driver, who had starred in Jeddah’s Qualifying and Feature Race, had a very disappointing weekend in Baku, making him drop from first to third in the Standings. Still, just 7 points cover Pourchaire to Iwasa, meaning that the title fight is just beginning.
As mentioned, Bearman is currently the top rookie, after an incredible performance in Baku, but his maiden F2 win could have come sooner. It’s important to remember that the Briton had managed to lock in a front row start on another challenging street circuit in Jeddah. Bearman ended scoring just one point in Round 2, his first in 2023, and then 2 points in Melbourne. Yet with a total of 38 points collected in Baku, a never-before-done clean sweep, and an almost perfect weekend, he jumped from P16 to P4 in the Championship, kick-starting a title charge.
And to round up the Top 5, I want to highlight Kush Maini’s performance. He is the most consistent driver of the grid so far, having missed out on scoring points only once ,in the Jeddah Feature Race. Since then, he’s pocketed a maiden F2 podium, and qualified in the top eight in all rounds bar in Baku. Starting from P14 in both races last weekend, the rookie from Campos Racing finished fourth and fifth in the Sprint and the Feature, respectively. He’s standing on 41 points in the Championship, on par with Bearman. If Maini keeps it up, he could be the surprising underdog the fans should root for.
THE QUESTION MARKS
In what has been a pretty tight Championship so far, there are still a few questions surrounding some teams and drivers who were expected to fight at the front more frequently than they have in the opening rounds. For one reason or another, they’ve had some ups and downs that have slowed them down in their tracks.
Starting with the reigning Champions MP Motorsport. For 2023, they paired a seasoned driver with a second-year one, both with F2 wins to their names and used to working together since Jehan Daruvala and Dennis Hauger had already been teammates in 2022. But, after four rounds, there’s still something that needs to click so that both drivers can score consistently. Hauger took victory in the Melbourne Sprint Race, while Daruvala scored two podiums in a row in Jeddah. But it’s not enough silverware for MP to challenge PREMA Racing, who are currently leading in the Teams’ Championship. Can the Dutch outfit find their incredible pace returns in the European season?
Frustration must be running high for a few drivers, starting with Jack Doohan, who took 3 wins, 6 podiums, 3 pole positions and 4 fastest laps in his 2022 rookie campaign. But the Australian is having a much more challenging 2023 season, having taken just one piece of silverware in the Jeddah Feature Race. Chasing after his 2022 pace, can Doohan bounce back in style in the triple-header?
Add to the list of drivers who will be after more pace, better luck or cleaner weekends, rookies Zane Maloney, Isack Hadjar and Victor Martins, all of whom were in the mix for the 2022 F3 crown in the final round of that season.
We don’t need to rehash Martins’ woes, which culminated with a disqualification from the Baku Feature Race after a technical infringement. He has lost so many points in the first four rounds of this season that he will need an impeccable performance in the next three events to make his way into the Top 10 in the standings.
As for Maloney and Hadjar, they were also high on the list of “drivers to watch in 2023” when the season got underway. The Bajan ace opened his F2 career with third place in the Sakhir Feature Race, but since then, he has been struggling with pace and consistency. Meanwhile, Hadjar’s surges of performance have been few and afar, as he is still chasing after the race weekend that will give him a much-needed boost for the rest of the season. Will we see all three rookies fight for top-scoring positions in the upcoming rounds?
We should get a few answers already in Imola.