Ayumu Iwasa claimed his third FIA Formula 2 pole position in a frantic Qualifying session in Melbourne. The DAMS driver kept himself out of trouble around a drenched Albert Park Circuit to set a 1:45.118, before a late Red Flag brought a conclusion to running.
ART Grand Prix continued their run of strong Friday performances, as Théo Pourchaire secured a spot on the front row ahead of teammate Victor Martins, who found the wall after a snap of mid-corner oversteer.
Adding to the challenge of racing at the Australian track for the first time, torrential rain blew the fight for pole wide open, with eight different drivers taking their turn in the P1 spot throughout the 30 minutes of Red Flag-affected running.
The first Red Flag was brought out five minutes into the session. The slippery conditions caught several drivers out with PREMA Racing’s Oliver Bearman spinning sideways into the wall between Turns 8 and 9, whilst Jak Crawford damaged the front wing of the #9 Hitech Pulse-Eight car.
After a short wait and with the rain slowly easing off, running resumed and Jack Doohan led the way, setting an opening benchmark of a 1:52.238. Track evolution meant times were constantly changing with Isack Hadjar, Frederik Vesti and Roman Stanek all slotting themselves into provisional pole, before Doohan responded with a 1:47.721.
Breaking into the 1:46s for the first time, Iwasa then pulled a comfortable eight tenths advantage over the rest of the field as the session approached the halfway mark. Ditching their well-worn wet tyres for a fresh set, it was the French rookies who took charge. Hadjar and then Martins put down the times to beat, with the Alpine junior three tenths clear of the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver.
Despite the drying track, conditions remained tricky. Bearman, Arthur Leclerc, Clément Novalak and Championship leader Ralph Boschung all took a trip over the grass at the penultimate corner, whilst Dennis Hauger was lucky to avoid beaching himself in the gravel.
With less than four minutes remaining, Pourchaire leapfrogged his teammate by just four-thousandths of a second. However, a third consecutive ART pole position wasn’t to be. Iwasa put down a 1:45.118, rocketing six tenths clear of the pack.
That lap came not a moment too soon, as Martins slid into the barrier between Turns 5 and 6 to trigger the second Red Flag. With two minutes left on the clock, the session wasn’t resumed, awarding the Red Bull junior his first pole of the season.
Hadjar eventually had to settle for fourth, with fellow Red Bull junior Zane Maloney just behind in fifth. Bearman overcame his earlier struggles to take sixth ahead of Leclerc and Campos Racing’s Kush Maini. Crawford made it seven rookies inside the top 10 in ninth.
Lining up on reverse grid pole for Formula 2’s first Sprint Race in Melbourne, Hauger will get racing underway on Saturday for the 23-lap Sprint Race, set to begin at 14:20 local time.