The 2020 FIA Formula 2 Championship gets underway this weekend as the paddock heads to the Red Bull Ring in Austria for Round 1.

When to watch All times local (GMT +2)

Friday Free Practice: 12:55 – 13:40 Qualifying: 17:00 – 17:30 Press conference: 18:15

Saturday Feature race: 16:45 (40 laps) Press conference: 18:05

Sunday Sprint race: 11:10 (28 laps) Press conference: 12:15

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The story so far

2020 marks the fourth exciting season of Formula 2 as the thrilling Championship action returns with a new-look calendar. It’s been seven months since Nyck de Vries was crowned 2019 champion, joining Charles Leclerc and George Russell in F2’s Hall of Fame, with Nicholas Latifi adding his name to our list of graduates who have progressed to Formula 1. There have been a host of changes in the paddock since then, and not just the mandatory safety and distancing protocols enabling the new campaign to begin.

January saw Hitech Grand Prix bring the total number of Formula 2 teams to 11, with Nikita Mazepin and Luca Ghiotto joining the British outfit for their debut outing at pre-season testing. Elsewhere, line-up changes mean that just three drivers occupy the same seats they held at the start of last season (Guanyu Zhou, Jack Aitken and Mick Schumacher). Artem Markelov returns full-time with the newly rebranded BWT HWA RACELAB team, while no fewer than seven Formula 3 drivers will continue their journeys on the Road to F1 by stepping up to Formula 2, including last season’s top three in Robert Shwartzman, Marcus Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala respectively.

The F2 machinery has a new look too, and not simply in some dazzling new liveries. Pirelli’s 18-tyres make their competitive debut this weekend as Formula 2 continues to showcase itself as the proving ground for the pinnacle of motorsport - not just in terms of fresh driver talent, but also as a technological testbed.

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The challengers

New tyres and talent this season mean the 2020 campaign has the potential to be the most entertaining since the Championship began. It’s simply not enough to expect the unexpected. A blend of youth and familiarity, mixed with cunning, passion and strategy, all served over an unrelenting will to win. Add new Pirelli rubber to that concoction and the result of that recipe is practically impossible to predict.

Hitech wasted no time in introducing themselves at pre-season testing in March, the experienced Ghiotto going fastest of all to silence any who expected the new team to make up the numbers in their first season. Daruvala however, in his first F2 outing was consistently quick in his new Carlin machine, while fellow rookie Pedro Piquet also hit the ground running by setting the fastest time of Day 1.

More than half the drivers have links to F1 outfits, including last season’s top rookie Zhou. All will want to ensure their performances stand out as they chase the dream of reaching the top step of the motorsport ladder. Whoever it may be that duels for the crown come the end of the year, this season has all the ingredients to be a true classic.

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From the grid – Guanyu Zhou (UNI-Virtuosi)

I like the Spielberg track. I’ve always been fast there, but I have just never had any luck! Hopefully, this year we can change that and have a good first two races. Last year I was one of the quickest during the race, having qualified P3, but then had a gearbox issue that meant we never had the chance to fight for the win.

This track is quite ‘high speed’ in the last section, with a few hard-braking zones in the first two sectors. That means that tyre management is really important, especially during the races. Compared to other circuits though there is usually a bit less degradation so the drivers can push a bit harder, but the window is small. It is really important to keep all the tyres in the window otherwise it is quite easy destroy the tyres. I think a lot of drivers had a lot of tyre degradation last year.

There's two main overtaking points; going to Turn 3 and the same with Turn 4. Turn 1 is also a good opportunity but normally drivers wait to try for the overtake because you have a long straight with DRS so it's quite easy to get the speed up and pull off moves through there. When you do a move in Turn 4 it's a bit more of a challenge because it's a downhill corner and it can be easy to lock up, but I think you can expect to see the most moves heading to these two corners.

After such a long break I think I am more than ready to get going and have a good season! Naturally, my hope remains to try and help the team perform as efficiently as possible, bring home some decent points for us and fight for the race win.

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Tyre talk – Mario Isola (Pirelli)

It’s fantastic to see the Formula 2 seasons finally starting together with Formula 1 in Austria – especially with the debut of the 18-inch tyres. This in particular is an exciting moment for us as we build up to the introduction of 18-inch tyres in F1. It also gives the F2 drivers the chance to gain experience that could be very important for them in the future. We’ve additionally got different tyre nominations for each Austrian race weekend, following a request from the promoter to add in an extra element of unpredictability for the second weekend. The drivers have been out of the cockpit for a long time now, so it’s probably going to be a steep learning curve.

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Stat pack

  • Luca Ghiotto is the highest-placed driver returning from last year's championship having finished third in the standings in 2019

  • Nine rookies will start the 2020 campaign, including seven FIA Formula 3 graduates. Only six drivers have completed more than two seasons in F2

  • The F2 race lap record at the Red Bull Ring is 1:15.854, set by Nobuharu Matsushita with ART Grand Prix in 2017

  • The pole sitter for the Austrian Feature Race has gone on to win the championship every year since the beginning of the modern era of FIA Formula 2

  • ART Grand Prix have taken pole position for the Feature Race in Austria for the last two consecutive years

  • Artem Markelov is the most successful driver in Austria on the current grid. The Russian driver has taken two wins in the past here in 2017 and 2018

  • If Markelov wins a race this weekend he will surpass 2019 champion Nyck De Vries as the driver with the highest number of wins in the modern era of Formula 2

  • Matsushita is the only driver apart from Markelov on the current grid that has previously won a race at this circuit