It was a critical five seconds that ultimately decided the Spielberg Feature Race. After 28 laps of relatively trouble-free racing, a Virtual Safety Car-turned full Safety Car changed the complexion of the race entirely.
Having led the first stint and cleared the traffic he needed to, Frederik Vesti was closing in on what looked likely to be his fourth race victory of the season. Running third on the road, the PREMA Racing driver had made his mandatory stop and had a comfortable 4.5s gap to Jack Doohan behind, his closest rival on the same strategy.
Yet-to-pit, Enzo Fittipaldi was running the alternate strategy and stretching the soft Pirelli rubber as far into the race as he could. He led on the road at the time, hoping for a full Safety Car. One arrived but, unfortunately for the Rodin Carlin driver, it came moments too late. He might not have known it at the time, but a matter of meters had ended his hopes of victory.
Richard Verschoor, who’d started P11 on the grid, was primed and ready to take full advantage.
Running under Virtual Safety Car on Lap 28, the switch to full Safety Car came just as Fittipaldi passed the pitlane entry. Running second to the Rodin Carlin driver at the time, Verschoor was approaching the penultimate corner and, crucially for him, he was yet to pass the earliest point of the white line denoting the pitlane entry.
With his race engineer on the radio updating him constantly as to the race situation under the VSC, he was immediately informed of the switch to full Safety Car conditions, and to box now. He rejoined in the train in fifth position. Fittipaldi on the other hand had to complete another lap at Safety Car speeds before making his mandatory stop, which dropped the Brazilian down to P9.
With Verschoor now in the top five and on fresh tyres, it set up a thrilling ending to the race, but the job was far from finished. The Safety Car was withdrawn on Lap 32, leaving 8 laps on the board for Verschoor to make progress. To add further pressure, he was given his final track limits warning prior to the restart, meaning any further infraction would result in a five-second time penalty.
He wasted little time regardless, with the supersofts reaching the ideal operating temperature window much quicker than those on worn softs. He overtook Victor Martins into Turn 1 on the restart and passed Théo Pourchaire at Turn 4, clearing both ART Grand Prix cars in one lap.
Doohan clung onto second place for as long as he could but on Lap 38, Verschoor was through for P2 at Turn 4, while Ayumu Iwasa was following in his footsteps, passing the Invicta Virtuosi Racing man at Turn 6.
One lap later, the Dutchman forced Vesti to defend the inside line at Turn 3, Verschoor positioned his car to the outside, turned across the apex to straighten the car as soon as possible and fired off the corner with superior traction on his newer supersofts. Against the worn softs on Vesti’s PREMA, it gave the Van Amersfoort driver the momentum onto the long third DRS straight to take the lead.
Some smart defensive driving on the last lap kept Iwasa at bay and Verschoor secured redemption one year on from his disqualification at the same venue, earning Van Amersfoort Racing’s maiden F2 win and delighting the Dutch crowds in the process.