Six rookies made it inside the top 10 at Monza during Qualifying. It’s the highest number of first-year Formula 2 drivers in the first 10 qualifierssince Melbourne back at Round 3 of the 2023 campaign.
Interestingly, Melbourne represents the only race this year in which every driver has gone in on equal footing, with it being F2’s first visit Down Under.
Assessing the Australian Qualifying session, it must be said that while the rookies shone on the day, the session wasn’t the most representative, taking place amid torrential conditions. The 1.569s field spread from Ayumu Iwasa on pole and Jak Crawford down in 10th isn’t the truest depiction of the difference between experienced and rookie drivers over a single lap.
Discounting Melbourne and Spa-Francorchamps Qualifying sessions, both taking place in wet conditions, the average deficit from pole position to second on the grid has been 0.226s. From no rookies being within that window at Round 1, five were below that gap in Monza, with Jak Crawford missing the cut to make it six by just 0.003s in the latest Qualifying session.
On 13 occasions in 2023, a rookie has been below that benchmark gap to pole, though each of the 13 have come in the most recent half dozen race weekends.
Up until his retirement from the Monza Feature Race, Victor Martins was in the midst of a 15-race streak of top 10 finishes. It was easily the longest such streak for any driver on the 2023 grid and a stint that put him tied for second in the F2 record books for consecutive top 10 finishes with Mick Schumacher (2020).
In fact, the ART Grand Prix driver’s consistency has been a strength this season. After a somewhat shaky start to life in F2, the Frenchman has recovered plenty of lost points in the early stages having been as low as 17th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Qualifying performances in particular have been a strong suit for Martins, who has taken pole three times already this season and lined up in the top three a further four times. His one lap pace combined with being nearly ever-present in the top five since Round 6 and Barcelona has made him one of the top performers this season, even if the points totals don’t quite show the big picture.
DRS failure at Monza deprived Martins of a 16th-consecutive top 10, though he was looking hugely competitive until the rear wing flap went off script. Having posted an average finish of 10.2 in the opening four rounds, that has dropped to 4.8, a huge improvement and reflective of a rookie that has grown very comfortable with the F2 machinery at his disposal. You would be hard pressed to bet against Martins fighting for pole and victory in Yas Marina.
Oliver Bearman has four race victories to his name in his rookie campaign, the most since Oscar Piastri in 2021 and, like the Australian, has been an exciting talent to watch all year.
No one can argue that the Briton has great speed. He has taken three pole positions so far in 2023, the most of any driver on the grid. One point behind rival Martins and sixth in the Drivers’ Championship, some crucial races that resulted in scoreless results have cost the PREMA Racing driver a potential top three charge in the standings.
Taking into account all of the races in which Bearman has been classified in prior to the summer break, the Ferrari Driver Academy talent had an average finishing position of 7.8. After the resumption of racing following the summer break, he has lowered that to 5.8 in the five races he has made the chequered flag in since. That could’ve been stronger still, having looked set to fight for a podium in Zandvoort until contact took him out of the running. Is he beginning to find the consistency that was missing from earlier in the year? For his rivals’ sake, they will hope not.
He hasn’t enjoyed the rookie season he’d have envisaged prior to the 2023 campaign getting underway, but things are beginning to turn a corner with Isack Hadjar. In four of the past five rounds, the Hitech Pulse-Eight youngster has achieved a top 10 start after a torrid time on Fridays earlier in the year. Prior to that, Hadjar had just two top 10s in Qualifying.
Teammate Crawford has five podium finishes and a win on his 2023 record, but his Zandvoort weekend might be the most impressive of the lot. The most recent podium for the American driver came after he secured pole position around the Dutch circuit, his first P1 result in F2 during Qualifying.
Strategy and Safety Cars ultimately took a potential victory out of his hands, and he crossed the line in third, but the team were extremely impressed on the work he underwent prior to the race weekend and his on-track performance. 13th and 14th in the Drivers’ Standings is not the full story for either Hitech Pulse-Eight driver, and both look well equipped now to carry their recent momentum into the finale at Yas Marina next time out.