If you had a clean sweep as part of your pre-weekend predictions, a trip to purchase a lottery ticket could well be in order. Particularly so if you had a rookie claiming a place in the history books as the one to achieve the feat.
Oliver Bearman and PREMA Racing left the rest trailing in their wake, but it was far from a straight-forward weekend for the Italian team or their rivals. Here is a look back at the Baku weekend, team by team.
PRETTY MUCH PERFECT
There has rarely been an F2 weekend where one team has left as satisfied as PREMA Racing departed from Baku. Oliver Bearman’s history-making performance in Azerbaijan has propelled the team into the lead of the Teams’ Standings and both drivers are now in the top five in the Drivers’ Championship also. For Bearman, he was on it from the word go, adapting to the Baku City Circuit almost immediately while Frederik Vesti showed his experience around the venue in which he claimed his first F2 win in 2022.
Even bent steering couldn’t prevent Bearman from storming to pole, and through the chaos he secured Sprint victory on Saturday, Vesti cruelly denied by a matter of metres and an unfortunately timed Safety Car for the Dane. Sunday’s drive to P1 was measured, mature and what many had expected from the Briton prior to the season. Returning to the European heart of the season, there’s little reason to believe the Italian team and both its drivers will not carry this form on.
A WEEKEND TO FORGET
The debriefs will be in-depth and honest after a torrid time in Baku resulted in just a single point added to DAMS’ tally. Already struggling for leading pace in Free Practice, fortunes turned worse still in Qualifying, as miscommunication from the pit wall meant both drivers didn’t attempt to set a second flying lap in the final moments of the session. While rivals improved, DAMS plummeted down the order to 13th for Arthur Leclerc and 17th for then-Championship leader, Ayumu Iwasa.
The team’s hard work in Melbourne has limited the blow in Baku, but the weekend’s underperformance was a hugely disappointing and surprising outcome for a team that started 2023 so strongly. Leclerc maintained his points-scoring streak in the Feature Races but Iwasa’s nightmare in Azerbaijan has dropped him to third in the Drivers’ Championship, albeit well within touching distance of new leader, Théo Pourchaire. The team is also down to second behind PREMA in the Teams’ hunt.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
When things go right for ART Grand Prix, the team looks pretty unstoppable as evidenced in Qualifying sessions in Sakhir and Jeddah. But when it rains around the French squad, it pours, and for Victor Martins, Baku was another blow despite strong pace. Both drivers came unstuck at the final Sprint Race restart on Saturday, Martins ending up in the barriers and inadvertently blocking the path of teammate Pourchaire, resulting in a double non-finish having been second and seventh respectively.
Sunday’s P3 and P4 finish on the road showed that ART is still a serious force in 2023, but a disqualification for Martins undid his hard work and left the Frenchman point-less leaving Baku. Having to rebuild the #6 ART following Saturday’s shunt, floor fins were 3.4mm below the reference plane, contravening the Technical Regulations. A tough result to take for Martins who is still mired down in 15th in the Championship despite obvious speed that should have him much higher. Pourchaire’s solid performances and fourth consecutive Qualifying result inside the top three shows his consistency that has him leading the Championship heading to Round 5.
TALE OF TWO
One side of the Campos Racing garage left Baku without a single regret, full of confidence and riding on a high while the other was left with a little soul searching to do ahead of Imola. Kush Maini’s early season performances have caught a few by surprise but is the culmination of the hard work the Indian driver has been putting in combined with promising Campos performance. He is the best-placed rookie in the Drivers’ Championship, rising up to fifth in the table, picking up points in every race but one in 2023. Ahead of the return to more familiar venues, Maini expects to go from strength to strength.
Ralph Boschung’s early season and title-leading form is a distant memory now as the Swiss driver struggles to find the same speed he had. A crash in the Sprint Race was tough to take having been running inside the points-paying positions. The team hopes he will recover to Sakhir and Jeddah levels heading into Round 5, but the team has continued to build on such a promising start to the campaign.
After Qualifying fifth and sixth, MP Motorsport’s prospects looked positive heading into the Sprint and Feature Races. Dennis Hauger led the pack back to green flag conditions with just a handful of laps to go, with Jehan Daruvala fighting for a strong top five finish also. In the space of a few hundred metres though, the weekend fell apart for the Dutch squad.
Hauger in the barriers and Daruvala underneath Martins’ ART was the point from which the weekend was never quite the same, and the team left Baku with a feeling of what could’ve been. The overnight work the team put in to reconstruct both cars was admirable, as was the recovery on Sunday to leave Baku with at least a few more in the points column than when they arrived, but Imola will need to be a much cleaner weekend for the reigning Champions, a theme that is beginning to emerge more than those in orange and black will be comfortable with.
ONE OR THE OTHER
It seems as though only one Rodin Carlin driver can have a strong weekend at a time. This time around, the ‘Little Shark’ Enzo Fittipaldi was the driver making the moves up front, taking his first podium in 2023 with P2 in the Feature Race. Zane Maloney meanwhile looked poised to fight for Sprint Race victory but was taken out of contention at Turn 1 on the first lap. A puncture ended his hopes of victory, and Sunday’s Feature Race involved little of the chaos that had impacted the previous day, making a recovery to points just out of reach.
Fittipaldi’s drive on Sunday was the highpoint of his season thus far, and included a stellar overtake on Championship leader Pourchaire. It’s the kind of performance many had expected of the Brazilian prior to the season getting underway. He will be eager to reproduce his pace next time out in Imola. Maloney meanwhile will be targeting another rebound, something he managed in Melbourne with back-to-back P5 finishes following a disappointing race weekend in Jeddah.
PAIN AND POTENTIAL
A difficult Qualifying session for Isack Hadjar limited his chances before the weekend could really get underway but Hitech Pulse-Eight once again proved there is untapped potential in both team and driver. Jak Crawford handily demonstrated how competitive the team can be when at the sharp end, securing P3 in the Sprint Race for his second podium of the season.
Hadjar meanwhile staged yet another fight through the field after damage in Qualifying left him languishing in 18th on the grid. His final attempt in Quali had to be abandoned after a small error at Turn 3, but the Frenchman was on the charge come Sunday and ended up with P7 and the fastest lap point. Ensuring both drivers get a clean Free Practice in when the F2 paddock arrives at Imola will go a long way to helping the rookies show their true potential.
BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW
Richard Verschoor’s reverse grid pole looked to be prime position for Van Amersfoort Racing to achieve at least a podium finish. That hope was all but over after the first corner, Verschoor one of Turn 1’s numerous victims. On the other side of the garage, Juan Manuel Correa overcame a pre-race fitness scare that threatened to put him on the sidelines for Baku to achieve a points finish in the Sprint.
Verschoor was able to rebound from his disappointment in the Sprint to secure more points in the Feature, continuing his streak of points finishes in Feature Races at every round so far this season. The team will look to nail down a set-up earlier than it has been capable of so far, one that gives both drivers the confidence to push for Qualifying. It has been a factor that has limited both Verschoor and Correa this year, with the aggressive set-ups leading to nervous attempts in Qualifying. Fixing that may well be the key to unlocking better results for the Dutch squad.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?
A single podium finish from a possible 18 so far is far from what Invicta Virtuosi Racing should be capable of, yet the British outfit’s struggles continued in Baku. Jack Doohan has been in the points just three times this season, while Amaury Cordeel has struggled to press on from his burst in form at the end of 2022 also. The team’s performance levels in Azerbaijan left both outside the top 10 once more.
With the fly away rounds of the early season now out of the way and a busy few months coming up for all of the teams, now might be the time Virtuosi is able to rectify its 2023 struggles. Identifying areas of improvement quickly will be key to turning what has been a tough year so far for the team.
ON THE BOARD
Finally Trident was able to secure their first points of the season with a double points finish in the Sprint Race. While the Italian team won’t have been celebrating seventh and eighth places too much, they have at least opened their account for 2023. Roman Stanek gave an honest evaluation following the Sprint, admitting that while points are always nice, there is still a great deal of work ongoing behind the scenes to boost performances over the next few rounds.
He was strong around Imola in 2022 in Formula 3, taking an early lead in the Championship after victory around the circuit. A nice comfort to have but both he and Clément Novalak will need to put in strong Qualifying performances to give themselves the best opportunity to add to their Baku scores next time out.
TRIAL BY FIRE
The tough days are tough when you’re starting out and that rang true for PHM Racing by Charouz in Azerbaijan. In the Land of Fire, Roy Nissany and Brad Benavides endured difficult weekends, with the latter finding the walls around the Baku City Circuit in Qualifying early on, an error he clearly knew was catastrophic for his hopes of a positive result. Nissany once more fought on the fringes of points but wasn’t quite close enough to get off the mark.
The team will have plenty of time to assess things, and a mid-season test around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya prior to Imola is a great chance to reset and move past the events of Baku. Racing much closer to home for the next few months, PHM might be able to identify some areas of improvement and translate that into results on track over the upcoming rounds.