Théo Pourchaire claimed the first Feature Race of the season, winning by a comfortable 19 seconds to kick off his 2023 campaign in style.
Ralph Boschung secured his second podium of the weekend after winning the Sprint Race for Campos Racing. Zane Maloney pulled off a stunning drive, rising from 18th on the grid to take the final podium spot in what was an overtake-filled Feature Race in Bahrain.
AS IT HAPPENED
Pole man Pourchaire got a clean launch to retain the lead while teammate Victor Martins slipped down to fourth by Turn 1. Kush Maini got a great start and climbed to second from sixth on the grid into the first corner.
Up at Turn 4, push came to shove as Richard Verschoor was tapped into a spin as the field bunched up for the right-hander. Roman Stanek, Victor Martins and Frederik Vesti were all involved, and the trio were left out of the running as a result. Verschoor got going again but was last as the Safety Car was deployed. Oliver Bearman profited massively, avoiding the chaos and reaching fourth having been P12 on the grid.
Racing resumed on Lap 4 and Pourchaire moved clear once again ahead of Maini, Ralph Boschung and Bearman. Campos Racing opted to split its strategy with Boschung on softs and he put a move on the hard-shod Maini at Turn 1 to take second from his teammate.
The first pitstops were made on Lap 11. Arthur Leclerc pitted from 10th and was followed in by Jack Doohan and Jehan Daruvala just behind him. All three switched from the hard compound to softs and rejoined 15th, 16th and 17th following their early stops.
Fifth-placed Bearman, Ayumu Iwasa and Fittipaldi responded on the following lap. The PREMA Racing driver came out alongside Leclerc, getting his elbows out to keep the Monégasque behind. Pourchaire and Maini were the next in, but Bearman and Leclerc were able to clear the Indian driver with their rubber up to temperature.
Boschung inherited the lead until Lap 14, when he was in for his mandatory pitstop. The Campos driver came out between Pourchaire and Bearman, fourth on the road. Leclerc fought back against Bearman on Lap 16, making a late dive down the inside at Turn 1 to take fifth from the Briton. Maini followed through later on the same lap with DRS at Turn 11.
At the halfway point, Pourchaire led the pack by twelve seconds from Boschung, Leclerc, Maini and Bearman. Leclerc was under pressure from Maini which told on Lap 19. The DAMS driver went deep under braking for Turn 10, giving Maini the momentum on the subsequent DRS straight to take third. Bearman and Iwasa piled on the pain, relegating Leclerc to 6th on Lap 20.
Rodin Carlin teammates Fittipaldi and Maloney went wheel-to-wheel on Lap 22. The Barbadian driver took 8th into Turn 6, setting off in pursuit of a recovering Jack Doohan ahead. It didn’t take him long to get by, surging around the outside of the Invicta Virtuosi Racing driver at Turn 4 on Lap 24.
Fittipaldi was through on the next lap courtesy of a lock-up by the Australian. Up ahead, Leclerc was defending hard from Maloney, and the Rodin Carlin driver forced a lock-up from Leclerc, moving through for sixth.
Maloney was full of confidence and put a move on Iwasa at Turn 11 on Lap 26, looking comfortable on his softs as the grip levels began to fall away for others. He took fourth from Bearman on Lap 27.
Having been last on the opening lap after his spin, Verschoor moved back up into the points on Lap 29, clearing Hadjar at Turn 2. Leclerc continued his recovery after the earlier lock-up, passing Bearman with three laps to go.
Iwasa relegated the PREMA driver to 7th at Turn 1 while Verschoor snuck his way through on Fittipaldi in the same corner. The Van Amersfoort Racing man was down the inside of Bearman at Turn 8 to continue his recovery drive. Iwasa was next, through at Turn 1 on the final lap. Up ahead, Maloney caught Maini and, with DRS down the main straight, claimed P3 after starting 18th.
Bearman fought tooth and nail to keep a five-car train behind him but ultimately ran out of rubber on the final lap. A lock-up at the final corner left him off track and out of the points.
Pourchaire went untroubled to win by 19 seconds from Boschung, who claimed back-to-back podiums in Sakhir. Maloney’s heroic drive was rewarded with third.
Verschoor moved past Leclerc on the final lap to secure a P5 finish along with taking the fastest lap. Hadjar passed Iwasa at Turn 11 on the penultimate lap to take seventh. Fittipaldi and Juan Manuel Correa completed the top 10.
KEY QUOTE – Théo Pourchaire, ART Grand Prix
“An amazing way to start the season by winning the first Feature Race of the year. It’s been an amazing weekend. After putting the car on pole by seven-and-a-half tenths, which was surprising but I was quick, we won the Feature Race. I have to give credit and thanks to my team, ART Grand Prix, and the Sauber Academy as well. Without them, I wouldn’t be driving. Let’s focus on the rest of the year, there’s still 13 rounds to go.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Pourchaire takes the lead of the Drivers’ Standings on 32 points to kick off his season. Boschung is close behind in second on 28 with Maloney third following his Feature Race exploits on 15.
Campos Racing lead the way in the Teams’ Standings after a great weekend for the team. Their 42-point total is closely followed up by ART Grand Prix, second on 38 after Pourchaire’s Feature Race win.
Formula 2 heads the Jeddah for Round 2 of the 2023 season from 17-19 March. The track has undergone several changes for the latest edition. Who will master the fastest street circuit in the world?