With a 25-point gap to make up, Frederik Vesti says it was win or bust in the Yas Marina Sprint Race when he woke up this morning. The PREMA Racing driver had ambitions of victory, and turned that into reality in some style, driving superbly to claim his sixth win of the 2023 Formula 2 campaign.

Théo Pourchaire was focused on making a recovery drive into the points and he too achieved his goal. He took seventh in the Sprint to limit the damage and maintain a healthy 16-point cushion over his rival heading into the final day of the season.

It’s the first time since 2018 that the Drivers’ Championship battle will go to the final day of the season, and both drivers fancy their chances after their performance in the penultimate race of the year.

“The race went well from my side,” Pourchaire said. “I gained seven positions. Starting from P14, P7 is a good recovery, a very, very important recovery and maybe the two most important points of my life probably. Every point is very, very important from now on, so I’m happy with that.”

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He added: “It’s much better to be leading than behind, so I’m still focused. I’m very happy about the pace today. The car was good, the start was good, I just have to do the same tomorrow and also hope for a bit of luck.”

Rival Vesti was understandably more enthusiastic, having completed a stellar fightback after falling to fourth on the opening lap and earning a statement victory going into the deciding race.

READ MORE: SPRINT RACE: Vesti soars to Yas Marina victory to bring title fight down to final race

“It was a great race. I love racing like this. I had a really good start and was fighting for P1 with Enzo, actually got into first at T5, but then just had people flying around me and I was down to fourth.

“Then straight away during the Safety Car, my engineer Pedro was really, really good at keeping me calm, giving me the right amount of information and pushing me. We had a great car, I was able to improve very quickly, overtaking Richard and Hadjar, and then the game was on with Enzo!

“It was a really cool last 13 laps where I was just trying to chase him down and with four laps to go, I managed to pass him.”

For Pourchaire, his disappointing Qualifying result has left him with a potentially precarious Feature Race laying in store. The ART Grand Prix driver goes from 14th on the grid but is remaining positive having made seven places up in the shorter Sprint Race.

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Having taken some risks on his rise from P14 on Saturday, Pourchaire believes that while the early phase of the race was a positive to take into tomorrow, he had been conservative in order to ensure a scoring finish limited the damage to Vesti.

“I took some risk on the first lap, and I did some good moves. Then with the DRS train, I couldn’t overtake anyone, but I didn’t want to take too much risk at the end of the race. The two points were really important. I don’t want to say it’s good because we are in a difficult situation, even if I’m still leading the Championship by 16 points going into the last race.

“It gave me quite a lot of confidence because after Qualifying yesterday I was very, very disappointed. I have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow’s race. I will do what I love to do – racing and take as much pleasure as I can in my last Formula 2 race. I’m still the leader, I have good margin. Let’s hope for a great race.”

READ MORE: 2023 Round 14 post-Sprint Race press conference

Following such an important victory for Vesti, the Mercedes Junior Team driver has set himself up with the best possible chance of overturning what looked to be a practically insurmountable gap in the Standings.

The performance of the PREMA car around the Yas Marina Circuit has given Vesti an even greater boost, and he’s hopeful of replicating his speed once more on Sunday as he chases a crucial podium finish.

“The win was – this is going to sound wrong – but it was meant to be. It had to happen so I think I’m at my most confident right now. The car was really, really great today and that’s something we can use tomorrow if we can set it up in a similar way, and if I can drive even better than I did today.

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“I truly think we have a great shot at this. It’s 16 points, so it’s a fair amount, but there’s 26 up for grabs tomorrow, so anything’s possible if we do it right.

“I woke up this morning knowing I had to win with the fastest lap to put myself in the best possible position for tomorrow. That’s exactly what we did and now it’s full push tomorrow going for that title.”

Pourchaire himself isn’t discounting his rival, though knows it would take a huge swing in fortunes in order for Vesti to overturn the gap in one title-deciding swing.

While seventh was not what he’d have planned for coming into Round 14, the Frenchman sees it as a critical result in the bigger picture. Of course, he and teammate Victor Martins will be aiming to help their team secure what would be a first F2 Teams’ title tomorrow. Outside of his own driving though, Pourchaire says everything else will be decided on the day.

READ MORE: Théo Pourchaire & Frederik Vesti: From teammates to title rivals

“Those two points will for sure help me a lot. Now he has to finish on the podium at a minimum and he has to do the fastest lap if he finishes P3, and he will start from P9 so it’s another story for him. I have my teammate starting P2 and that’s very, very important for me.

“We are also fighting for the Teams’ Championship, but we know that Bearman is starting far back, so this can help us. So, my teammate will be a key factor in this fight. I won’t put much pressure on myself, I just have to do the job from my side starting P14. With the pace I have, I can clearly finish in the points, easily in the points, I hope.

“I cannot control what he will be doing from the other side. He will do his race and I will just have to do mine, drive as well as possible and enjoy it.”

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Vesti has rebounded from the disappointment of Monza and says the Feature Race retirement is a distant memory. In fact, he has turned that low point in the season into a strength.

Chasing down Pourchaire in the title race, he feels free of the pressure after winning the Sprint and is targeting one final push to complete an unlikely comeback.

“I think I felt the maximum pain you can feel as a human at least in sports after Monza. That took me more than two weeks to sort of understand fully and get over. But it also taught me a lot. I’m a stronger driver now, I don’t feel those emotions anymore.

“Regardless of what’s going to happen tomorrow, I’m extremely proud of the year we’ve put together as a team and from myself. I think that gives me a freedom to really go for it tomorrow and drive purely from the heart. I have nothing to lose tomorrow, Théo has it all to lose. I’m aware of that and I’m going to use it to my advantage tomorrow and go for it.

“To win this Championship would mean everything to me. I’ve had some incredible highs as well as some terrible race weekends, especially in the last three before coming here. Some of that was down to my own mistakes, some of it was out of my hands, but I’ve learned from it and I’m here to fight tomorrow, which is the only thing on my mind right now.”