One team stood out above the rest this weekend and appears to be going from strength to strength in 2023. Catching PREMA Racing will be a tough ask for their rivals, but ART Grand Prix and DAMS are both still showing their strengths in the fight for first.
Elsewhere, rookies endured a tough weekend while there are experienced heads that were expecting more so far this year. Who left Barcelona happiest of all and which teams and drivers will have work to do ahead of Spielberg?
Two wins from two across the weekend, three in a row and six in total this season. PREMA Racing are a force to be reckoned with in 2023 and they are leaving rivals in their wake everywhere they go at the moment. From the speedy bumps of Baku to the tight and twisty streets in Monte Carlo and now the aerodynamically demanding Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, PREMA has been the top force. Whether it be controlling things from the front, overtaking in the races or one lap pace, the Italian outfit has it covered, as evidenced by their three consecutive pole positions split between Championship leader Frederik Vesti and highest-placed rookie, Oliver Bearman.
The Dane mastered the rain in Spain and won comfortably in the end when conditions demanded so much from the drivers throughout. Great speed in the wet, tyre management as it dried up and then a smooth restart in the final laps when things could have fallen apart, Vesti can feel very satisfied leaving Barcelona. Two Feature Race wins already in his six Rounds as a Formula 2 driver, Bearman is getting more and more comfortable in the F2 car. If his Formula 3 form in 2022 is anything to go by, he’ll be one of the drivers to keep a close eye on throughout this European leg of the season.
Three podiums in Barcelona represents a solid points’ haul for ART Grand Prix, as both Théo Pourchaire and Victor Martins made the rostrum in Round 6. For the latter in particular, it was a much-needed weekend as he looks to right the ship having been lost at sea in F2 Drivers’ Championship. Rebounding from a spin in Free Practice that left him without any fast laps going into Qualifying, Martins rescued a top 10 start for both races and made his overtakes count, clinically cutting through traffic in the Feature Race to make his alternate strategy work. Replicate that kind of performance in the upcoming races and Martins will quickly climb the standings.
Pourchaire has kept Vest in his sights despite missing out on a victory in Barcelona at the weekend. The Sauber Academy man has appeared on the podium in four of the six Feature Races this season, targeting consistency in his F2 title charge. It hasn’t gone unnoticed in the team, with Team Principal Sébastien Philippe commenting that his driver has improved markedly over the winter break. It is a solid strategy and bears similarity to Felipe Drugovich’s approach last season, who finished all but one Feature Race in the points. There’s a maturity to Pourchaire so far this season, it’s now up to him to make it count and use his F2 experience. ART remain optimistic of their chances in Spielberg and beyond.
It was a gutsy performance from Ayumu Iwasa in Barcelona. Yes, his closest rivals in the Championship finished 1-2 in the Sprint Race but with Feature Race points on the line, the DAMS driver finished ahead of both Vesti and Pourchaire on Sunday. It wasn’t straightforward either or down to misfortune for the other pair. With Pourchaire struggling in traffic, Iwasa got the best out of his tyres following the pitstops and when they were past their best, he still had enough in reserve to hold off Vesti with the PREMA on the alternative strategy. Placing his car just right in their battle, Iwasa drove maturely and secured a well-deserved P4. If it hadn’t been for a rejuvenated Martins, it would have likely been a brilliant podium result for the Japanese driver.
On the other side of the garage, Arthur Leclerc branded his weekend a ‘wakeup call’ after qualifying outside the top 12 left him with too much to do come Feature Race Sunday. The Monégasque did recover to the points but a P9 finish was not what he had in mind. The smallest details are beginning to count more than ever with every team and driver getting acclimatised and the early phase of the season now out of the way. Teething problems are no more and tenths of a second make or break the weekend. Fortunately, F2 heads to Spielberg next, scene of one of his best F3 weekends in 2022.
It has not been the Championship defence that MP Motorsport envisioned at the beginning of the year. 83 points behind leaders PREMA and fourth in the Teams’ Standings after a tough start to the season is behind expectations. Lacking one lap pace for a reason or another compared to their closest rivals means both Jehan Daruvala and Dennis Hauger have to make things work in the races, and early on in Barcelona, it looked like Hauger might just do it. After running ahead of Martins during the opening stint, the Norwegian’s race faded as the tyre wear began to bite, something that hurt the team in the Sprint Race also.
When Daruvala finishes inside the points, they are usually very strong results. However, those finishes have come far too inconsistently for MP and the Indian driver’s liking. Slowly, the team have become detached from the leading trio of teams. It was an especially disappointing weekend considering how strong the team had been around the same venue 12 months ago, as eventual Champion Drugovich secured the only Sprint/Feature sweep of 2022. Overtaking should be more straightforward around the Red Bull Ring, with three DRS zones to play with. Should Qualifying not go their way, Hauger and Daruvala should have strong enough race pace to be fighting with those ahead come lights out.
It was Enzo Fittipaldi’s turn to lead the Rodin Carlin charge after a disappointing Qualifying session left Zane Maloney down in 21st position. The Brazilian couldn’t make headway in the Sprint Race, but he was Bearman’s closest challenger for victory in the Feature. Another podium finish to add to his Baku result from earlier in the year was exactly the response he needed after a tough Monte Carlo weekend. Now less than 10 points from breaking into the top five, the Red Bull Junior Team driver will be hoping to put together a strong weekend off the back of his Barcelona exploits, something that has been a challenge for both Rodin Carlin drivers so far this year.
Maloney’s weekend was heavily compromised after Qualifying and the Bajan missed out on points in both races. What might give him hope though is following every weekend in which he has failed to score in the Feature Race, he has finished inside the top five on Sunday at the next round. The team’s run of three consecutive Feature podiums has lifted the British outfit up the order in the Teams’ Standings though, now tied with MP on 97 points in fifth.
It was a glorious run but Kush Maini’s streak of points in every round as a rookie has finally come to an end. Campos Racing had hoped to carry on its early season form around its home track but no points after Barcelona means it remains on 82 points, now behind Rodin Carlin in the Standings. The team’s gamble to go onto the slick tyres in the Sprint a few laps earlier than the perfect crossover point cost them, but it was a chance they had to take without either Maini or Ralph Boschung running in the points positions. Recovering its performance levels from earlier in the campaign will the focus heading to Spielberg.
Richard Verschoor has arguably been one of the best performers in F2 in 2023 so far this year. The Dutchman has five consecutive points finishes and is creeping up on the top five in the Drivers’ Championship. Seven points from breaking into that club, Verschoor’s ’23 form has been fascinating to watch as he has consistently worked is way up the order from sometimes outrageous places on the grid. This weekend he claimed sixth and 10th from P12 on the grid, pulling off a brave overtake on Bearman at the late restart in the Sprint Race.
It has been the case at several rounds this season where Van Amersfoort Racing have better race pace than over a single lap and so it proved to be in Barcelona. The team will of course be working hard to rectify that discrepancy but if it can, Verschoor’s form could be boosted even further. Juan Manuel Correa endured a difficult weekend after a spin in the Sprint put him out of the running, but the VAR driver’s experience was useful, nonetheless. He picked the crossover point well but couldn’t capitalise for a stronger result.
Bad Qualifying and a broken front wing on the opening lap of the Feature Race spelled disaster for Isack Hadjar, who suffered a weekend to forget in Barcelona. Teammate Jak Crawford pulled off a late lap on Friday to put himself in contention inside the top 10 but didn’t have the speed around the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona to make it four Sprint Race podiums in a row.
Hadjar’s weekend was always going to be tough following a small mistake in Qualifying that had big consequences. Not getting a strong lap in left him down the order and there was no way back around a track that is so tough to overtake around. Crawford’s chances were better, but against rivals who managed their tyres better, the American fell away and contact in the Feature Race put him on the sidelines early. The Hitech Pulse-Eight rookies will be looking forward to Round 8 having both won there in Formula 3 last season.
If you’d offered Jack Doohan two points finishes after Baku, he’d have probably still said no because of his ultra-high expectations for 2023. Having found a solution to the problems faced earlier in the year during in-season testing in Barcelona, a fifth and sixth place finish will be a disappointment for team and driver. Likewise, Amaury Cordeel slipping back in the Sprint Race was a tough result to take for a team hoping for some consistency following early season struggles.
Doohan’s Monte Carlo crash carried over implications for Qualifying, with the team eager to avoid another Red Flag scenario. The Australian says that it compromised him but that a top 3 starting position was more than workable for the races to follow. Unfortunately, neither the Sprint nor Feature went his way, falling back outside of podium contention. All eyes on Spielberg for Invicta Virtuosi Racing.
While there were no points added to the Trident 2023 total, Barcelona was a more promising weekend for the team. The overtake of the weekend arguably came from Clément Novalak, who pulled off a superbly risky around-the-outside pass on Maini at Turn 1 with the track still wet. P13 and P12 for Roman Stanek wasn’t exactly what the Czech driver had been targeting pre-weekend, but the close finish to the points was on pure pace and the Italian team can take something from their performance this weekend.
The Sprint Race was the peak of the weekend for Brad Benavides as he climbed up to P15 from 22nd on the grid. Roy Nissany recovered from his Sprint Race collision with Daruvala to finish 18th from 21st, fighting for P16 in the closing stages. PHM Racing by Charouz will be eager to move on to the next round in Spielberg and put the lessons it learned in Spain into practice.