The trio have each led the Championship at one stage during the 2023 campaign, each have had at least one pole position and a Feature Race victory apiece, but who will be the big winner come the chequered flag on Sunday?
Pourchaire leads the way on 191 points, 25 points clear of Vesti in second with the Dane on 166. Iwasa is holding out a slender hope of overturning a 39-point deficit to the ART Grand Prix driver, currently on 152 and needing a full score to stand any chance of taking the title away from his rivals with Pourchaire taking nothing from the weekend.
Which one will have the edge around the Yas Marina Circuit and are we in store for another twist in what has been an enthralling title fight in 2023?
It all comes down to one race weekend and arguably this is where Iwasa could feel like he has an edge. Of the trio in contention, he has the best historic record around the Yas Marina Circuit, taking pole position last season as DAMS secured a front row lockout.
He then went on to hold 2022 Drivers’ Champion Felipe Drugovich at bay during the closing laps to secure Feature Race victory, and he is the only one of the ’23 contenders to stand on the rostrum in Abu Dhabi.
Pourchaire is yet to secure a podium around Yas Marina, with his best effort coming in 2021 when a late charge on the alternative strategy was good enough for fourth position in the Feature Race. 2022 marked a difficult end to a tough campaign, as he ended the Sprint Race in ninth while he was forced to retire from the race early on Sunday, ultimately classified 19th.
For Vesti, he too hasn’t enjoyed the best of times in Abu Dhabi, finishing last season with a pair of 11th-place finishes on what was his final weekend with ART.
Pourchaire is the only driver with more than one previous visit, though it’s a circuit that all three know well having completed post-season testing at the Middle Eastern venue in both 2021 and 2022 alongside racing there last season.
In a straight fight in the last round at Monza, Iwasa was also able to pass Pourchaire on track for position, albeit on a different strategy to the ART driver. Still, any confidence boost matters for the man who has the longest odds to overcome at the final hurdle.
On current form, it’s Pourchaire that should feel the most confident. The Frenchman has an average finishing position of fifth in the past four rounds. That stint includes five top five finishes and three podiums, though the ART Grand Prix driver still has not won a race since the opening Feature event of the season back in Sakhir.
Vesti’s 6.25 average since Budapest runs Pourchaire close but the PREMA Racing man has had a torrid time of late. He failed to make the grid in Spa-Francorchamps, spinning in wet conditions ahead of the Feature Race.
In Zandvoort he was an early retirement after his rear wheels came detached following a pitstop and he then suffered a crash on the opening lap of the Monza Feature Race, putting him on the sidelines as Pourchaire and Iwasa made the podium.
While Iwasa has the most work to do in order to overhaul the points deficit, the Red Bull Junior Team driver has been in decent fettle as of late. An average finish of 6.83 since Budapest includes two podium finishes, most recently second position at Monza in Sunday’s race. A messy weekend in Zandvoort though also cost the DAMS man, as all three Championship contenders failed to score that weekend.
Of course, Pourchaire has a 25-point gap to Vesti and an almost uncatchable 39 over Iwasa, meaning has a degree of freedom this weekend in his pursuit of the title. Both of his rivals will need to remain out of trouble but still aim to maximise their scoring chances, a difficult balancing act to achieve. If things go relatively smoothly, Pourchaire should become the first Frenchman since Pierre Gasly to win the title at the penultimate step to Formula 1.
While he is behind in the Championship standings, PREMA Racing have been something of a winning machine in 2023. Teammate Oliver Bearman has taken four wins of his own while Vesti has added five to the Italian team’s tally.
Vesti is the most recent race winner of the trio of Championship contenders, winning the Monza Sprint Race in convincing fashion. You have to look back to the Monaco Sprint Race for Iwasa’s last victory, while Pourchaire’s came back in Round 1.
Bearman was also dominant in his win in the Monza Feature Race and PREMA still look to be the team to beat this year on pure pace. The team has a deficit of their own to make up in pursuit of the Teams’ Championship with ART leading the way still, but having accumulated nine wins already this year, there’s no reason to think that won’t be 10 by the time things are all said and done.
It’s never over until it’s over and with 25 points to make up, it’s an uphill struggle for Vesti to overcome. But PREMA have been incredibly quick all year and have won both races across a single weekend three times already in 2023.
They were also winners twice in 2021, the last time the F2 Drivers’ Championship was decided on the final weekend of the season. Oscar Piastri was the man to beat that season, as the Australian helped PREMA to a Championship double as the Italian squad also clinched the Teams’ honours that year too.
Vesti will be hoping to emulate that effort and produce some Yas Marina magic of his own come the weekend.