Luca Ghiotto clinched first in the Sprint Race, for his maiden Formula 2 win of the campaign, but it was strategy which once again dominated the day in Budapest, as the field struggled with tyre degradation.
The Italian was one of just two drivers not to change their rubber and he hung on to the win ahead of reverse polesitter Callum Ilott, who had pitted from first and narrowly failed in his attempts to catch up with the Hitech racer.
Mick Schumacher took his second podium in a row, and his third at the Hungaroring in F2 to get his title bid underway, after a difficult opening two rounds.
Robert Shwartzman followed up his stunning Feature Race win yesterday with a strong fourth place, ahead of Nikita Mazepin, who enjoyed his best weekend in F2.
AS IT HAPPENED
Ilott pulled away at the race start as Ghiotto and Louis Delétraz went side-side at the first turn, with the Italian coming out on top. Mazepin and Dan Ticktum enjoyed excellent starts and fired into fourth and fifth.
By the end of the first lap, the fast-starting Ilott had increased his margin at the front to a solid 3.6s, although the trailing pack remained very convoluted. Having enjoyed such a strong start, Ticktum fell down the order following mechanical issues. The DAMS driver returned to the pits for a fix, and did manage to get back out, but five laps behind.
Schumacher was lighting up the timing screens as he went to work dispatching of Mazepin and Delétraz to provisionally get onto the podium again. His teammate Shwartzman had gotten up to fifth himself, but warned his team over radio that his front left tyre was degrading badly.
The rest of the field were enduring the same struggles with their rubber and Delétraz was the first to dive into the pits and change tyre. Schumacher and Ilott made the same decision and dove in for a change in successive laps.
All bar Ghiotto and Giuliano Alesi made the same choice, leaving the duo out in front, desperately trying to preserve their rubber. Shwarztman eyed up Mazepin on his return to the track, his first attempt was down the left, his next was down the right, before Mazepin went wide and allowed the PREMA driver to make the overtake stick.
Ilott was in hot pursuit of Ghiotto from third, setting a lap 5s faster than the Italian, but with a 34s gap between them. The Briton got ahead of Alesi for P2 with relative ease, and the Frenchman started to fall down the order, as his gamble to avoid a pitstop failed to pay off.
Schumacher was amongst those to benefit from Alesi’s struggles, getting ahead of the BWT HWA RACELAB driver, and Delétraz, in one swift move, throwing his car up the inside of Turn 14.
Ilott had closed the gap down to 12s with two laps to go, but was only lapping 4s faster than Ghiotto and quickly running out of time. He increased his speed, but the win was looking more and more unlikely.
The UNI-Virtuosi driver managed to get within DRS range on the final lap, with Ghiotto struggling to find any form of grip, and sliding all over the road. Their battle came down to the final straight, but Ghiotto managed to cling on and cross the line in first, a car-length ahead.
Schumacher claimed his second podium in a row with third, ahead of Shwartzman and Mazepin. Delétraz, Jehan Daruvala and Guanyu Zhou took the final points’ positions.
Shwartzman’s strong weekend increased his lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship to 81 points, ahead of Ilott on 63. Lundgaard is third with 43, ahead of Schumacher and Ticktum. In the Teams’ Championship, PREMA lead on 120 points, ahead of UNI-Virtuosi and ART Grand Prix. Hitech Grand Prix are fourth, ahead of DAMS.
KEY QUOTE – LUCA GHIOTTO (HITECH GRAND PRIX)
“I am in the press conference room for the second time this weekend, this time for P1, and I am super happy. It was an amazing race today, but a tough one, and it was very close at the end with Callum Ilott.
“I was one of only two cars who decided not to stop. It was a big gamble, we had to push and just manage the tyres as best we could. It just about worked out, and after a bad start to the season, we needed this weekend. Fourth yesterday and first today, the team done a mega job and I am super happy.”
The grid will enjoy a brief break from racing before returning to action with a double-header in Silverstone, at the end of July.