Speaking ahead of the Sprint Race, Frederik Vesti believed it would be decided on the final lap around Baku, but even he probably couldn’t have predicted what was about to unfold. Throwing caution to the wind late on, the ART Grand Prix driver charged his way to the front and to his first victory in Formula 2.
Having led for the majority of the race, Jehan Daruvala was forced to settle for second after three safety cars in the second half of the race wiped away his advantage. Meanwhile, Liam Lawson demonstrated Baku’s overtaking capabilities, carving his way through from P9 to the final step of the podium.
Marcus Armstrong brought his Hitech Grand Prix car home in fourth, whilst Felipe Drugovich kept his nose clean to bring home a solid haul of points in fifth. Carlin’s Logan Sargeant dropped down to sixth in the final laps after looking on course for a second F2 podium. Théo Pourchaire and Ayumu Iwasa were two of the biggest movers as a they rounded out the points scorers.
AS IT HAPPENED
After the pain of stalling off the line in Monte Carlo, pole-sitter Jake Hughes was hoping for much better luck a second time around. However, it was those behind him who got the strongest getaways – Vesti snatched the lead into Turn 1, but a slide on the exit bogged him down and allowed third place Daruvala to cruise past the pair.
Jüri Vips and Liam Lawson might be lining up alongside each other on the Feature Race front row tomorrow, but the New Zealander had no qualms about diving up the inside of the Hitech for P8 in the opening lap.
Out front, Daruvala looked untroubled in a race of his own. He’d pulled over 1.4s clear of Hughes, the Van Amersfoort Racing driver was forced to go on the defensive when Vesti began exploring potential overtakes.
However, well aware of the risk versus reward around the Baku City Circuit, the Dane stayed cautious, allowing Sargeant to close in on their battle. Eventually on Lap 6, frustrated by the sight of the Brit’s rear wing, Vesti took a risk and carved around the outside of Hughes for second.
Unfortunately for Hughes, the battle allowed him to become pray for the DRS train of cars down to P12 behind. The orange and black VAR car steadily began to slip down the order and out of the points, as Sargeant, Richard Verschoor, Armstrong, Drugovich and Pourchaire followed through in quick succession.
Pourchaire wasn’t content with overtaking one car at a time, dispatching both Hughes and Dennis Hauger in one move up the inside of Turn 2. The ART man soon found himself in the middle of a Red Bull junior sandwich between Vips and Hauger. In an attempt to snatch P9 away from the Frenchman, Hauger tried to push past Pourchaire into Turn 3. However, a huge lockup sent the Norwegian straight into the barrier to bring out the safety car – which spelt disaster for his PREMA Racing teammate Daruvala out front.
Backing up the field until the very last moment, Daruvala got racing back underway on Lap 17 and managed to keep Vesti at bay. A lockup for Sargeant allowed Verschoor to make a move on the Carlin driver and move up into the podium positions, whilst Lawson and Drugovich tussled over P6.
This burst of action wasn’t to last as the safety car was deployed again that same lap. Vips’ run of back luck continued, as the Hitech driver was cut off by Enzo Fittipaldi and was unable to turn left, sending the duo into the run-off area at Turn 2.
Leaving it late on the restart a second time, Daruvala locked up, leaving the door wide open for Vesti to storm past the PREMA and up into the lead. This mistake then forced the Indian driver to race in his mirrors with Verschoor eager to take advantage of the opportunity.
Meanwhile, Lawson finally made his way past Drugovich and set his sights on Verschoor ahead for P3. Unfortunately for the Trident driver, he went too deep into Turn 7 and planted himself in the barriers to bring out the safety car once more.
With Vesti in the lead, it was all or nothing for the Mercedes junior in a one lap dash to the chequered flag. The rookie kept his nerves under control and nailed the restart, allowing him to pull well away from Daruvala, who was being put under pressure by Lawson.
Ralph Boschung and Calan Williams were involved in a multi-car collision as they fought on the edge of points at the restart. The battle ended with Williams crashing into the barrier, and with Cem Bölükbasi and Marino Sato left with nowhere to go they made contact with the Trident.
Meanwhile out in front Vesti cruised home to his maiden Formula 2 victory in his rookie season, boosting him up to 10th in the Drivers’ Championship.
KEY QUOTE – Frederik Vesti, ART Grand Prix
“I just won my first Formula 2 race here in Baku and honestly, I just want to thank ART. This win is for my sponsor Hybel – they are one of the reasons why I’m here and this one is for Michael, my sponsor.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Staying out of trouble in the Sprint Race has allowed Felipe Drugovich to extend his lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship. The MP Motorsport driver’s tally of 117 points puts him 34 clear of his nearest rival Théo Pourchaire. Jehan Daruvala extends his hold on third, with the biggest mover being Frederik Vesti, who has climbed four places.
In the Teams’ Championship, ART Grand Prix continue to close the gap to MP Motorsport. The French team currently sit second on 118 points to their rivals’ 139. Hitech Grand Prix remain third on 106, ahead of PREMA Racing on 91.
Vips will be hoping his luck turns around in Sunday’s Feature Race. He’ll be lining up on pole when lights go out at 11:05 local time.