One year on from losing the race victory at Spielberg for a lack of fuel, Richard Verschoor left those memories firmly in the past as he secured redemption and race victory at the Red Bull Ring.
The Dutchman was a popular winner, with plenty of Dutch fans packing into the Austrian circuit on Grand Prix Sunday. While there was a helping of luck that went his way, the Van Amersfoort Racing driver had to work for the win in the closing laps.
The first of four races in July, Round 7 in Spielberg kicked off a pivotal month in the 2023 Championship as the gaps ebbed and flowed in both the Teams’ and Drivers’ Championships.
Victor Martins claimed the first of his back-to-back pole positions in convincing fashion, comfortably quickest throughout Qualifying on Friday. His second pole position of the 2023 campaign never looked in doubt, as he was the first into the 1:14s during the initial runs before improving with his pole lap to a 1:14.643 by the end, leading the pack by 0.139s.
Championship leader Frederik Vesti was the closest rival to the ART Grand Prix driver, earning his second front row start of the 2023 campaign. Having ended the session 10th, Hitech Pulse-Eight rookie Jak Crawford lined up on reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race.
A pre-race shower meant strategies were split on the grid, with some opting to start on wet tyres while others went for dries. Pole sitter Crawford led for the first few corners until a wet-shod Arthur Leclerc came through for P1 just prior to an early Safety Car. Jehan Daruvala found himself in the gravel as all drivers struggled for tyre temperature.
While the leading DAMS remained out on wets, those behind bailed out of that strategy and used the Safety Car to pit for dry tyres. A brief return to racing conditions didn’t last long as Verschoor got into a spin at the restart, requiring a second Safety Car right after the first. This time, Leclerc followed the popular decision and boxed himself for slicks.
Those on dry tyres had to be patient but one racing resumed again, drivers on the wet tyres began to struggle. Crawford escaped up the road from Juan Manuel Correa running in second, leaving Kush Maini to hold off a number of contenders for the final podium places.
Going three-wide on Lap 8, Maini battled with Rodin Carlin teammates Enzo Fittipaldi and Zane Maloney, with the latter coming out of that fight on top. Their fighting allowed Martins to close in and the ART Grand Prix man cleared all three to take third on the run to Turn 4.
The Frenchman caught Correa to seize second position at Turn 3 on Lap 14, while Trident’s Clément Novalak was also another to make late-race progress on soft tyres.
He was next through on Correa, followed through by compatriot Isack Hadjar on Lap 18 before a brief Virtual Safety Car of the race arrived following a spin for Fittipaldi between Turns 3 and 4.
Through all the battling, Crawford remained out of trouble and out of reach of those behind him to secure his maiden F2 victory in comfortable fashion. Martins followed 2.5s back having started in 10th while Novalak rounded out the podium before Hadjar was promoted to third following a post-race disqualification for the Trident for tyre pressures below the prescribed limit.
Vesti got the upper hand immediately at lights out, acing his launch to take first from Martins into the first corner. Bogging down from pole, Martins also lost out to teammate Théo Pourchaire before falling to fourth after a late-braking manoeuvre by Maini at Turn 3 on the second lap. Jack Doohan cleared both on the run to Turn 4, using their battle to opportunistically get the run he needed to move up into the top three.
Those on the conventional strategy began to make their stops on Lap 8 which left Fittipaldi leading Verschoor, both running the alternative option and running long on soft tyres.
Leclerc’s afternoon was run on Lap 28 after his mandatory pitstop left him without all the wheels fully attached, leaving the Monégasque driver stranded on three wheels halfway round the circuit on his outlap, necessitating a Safety Car.
It provided those yet to pit with the perfect opportunity, but Fittipaldi had already passed pit entry, leaving Verschoor in the prime position to make his stop first. When the Rodin Carlin driver did pit next time around, the Dutchman emerged clear with the lead and Ayumu Iwasa, Maloney and Roy Nissany had each profited to split the pair on track.
With green flag racing resuming on Lap 32 of 40, Vesti led the pack once more but on fresh tyres, Verschoor led the charge, clearing Martins immediately for fourth at Turn 1, followed through by Iwasa at Turn 3.
The Van Amersfoort driver passed Pourchaire at Turn 4 and was onto the rear wing of Doohan in the final three laps. With DRS, Verschoor moved into second and was once again followed by Iwasa right away with the Japanese driver keeping him well within range.
Onto the penultimate lap and Verschoor got the switchback out of Turn 3 to pass Vesti and crucially kept Iwasa behind the Dane until Turn 6 to open up the slenderest margin over his pursuer.
A final lap charge by the Red Bull Junior Team driver wasn’t quite enough despite getting a nose alongside the VAR driver, and Verschoor held on to win in Spielberg a year on from his disqualification in 2022.
Vesti claimed a vital podium to extend his points advantage over Pourchaire to 20 points on 206, while PREMA Racing held a comfortable 43-point lead over ART in the Teams’ Standings, now on 206 at the top. Iwasa’s P2 finish moved him into triple digits on 101, with DAMS remaining third on 137 points.