Théo Pourchaire has thrown down the gauntlet to long-time Championship leader Felipe Drugovich by snatching victory in the Budapest Feature Race. As the last race before the summer break, it was fitting that all the lessons the ART Grand Prix driver has learned so far this season came into play, as he balanced carving his way through the field and surviving long enough to get his tyres to the chequered flag.
Enzo Fittipaldi risked it all on the overcut but made it work to bring home back-to-back podiums this weekend. An average start for pole-sitter Ayumu Iwasa undid his chance to take victory but the DAMS driver performed tyre miracles to complete the podium.
Frederik Vesti perfectly executed the alternative strategy to claim fourth, in spite of a five-second time penalty early on. Jüri Vips and Marcus Armstrong gave Hitech Grand Prix a handy haul of points in fifth and sixth respectively, as Liam Lawson finished seventh ahead of Trident’s Richard Verschoor. Felipe Drugovich held on all the way to the line to keep the second Carlin of Logan Sargeant at bay for ninth.
AS IT HAPPENED
With the grandstands filled with eager-eyed fans, the Formula 2 field was ready to put on a show. After achieving his first pole position in the second tier, Iwasa lined up ahead of Armstrong, while title contenders Drugovich and Pourchaire sat side-by-side on the second row.
Rain overnight and into the morning meant there was a lack of grip around the Hungaroring and everyone was unsure which strategy would prove best. The top 10 on the grid split their strategies equally, with Sargeant and Vips the leading drivers to opt for the alternative and start on the medium rubber.
As soon as the five lights went out, Armstrong vaulted himself up into the lead with a stellar reaction off the line, matched only by Pourchaire. Keen to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s opening corner drama, the Frenchman swooped around the outside of Iwasa and Drugovich, as the MP Motorsport driver locked up.
Meanwhile, Sprint Race winner Jack Doohan’s day was over before it really began as the Virtuosi Racing driver coasted back into the pits and into retirement at the end of the opening lap.
Those on the prime tyres weren’t having a fun time of things, as low track temperature meant the mediums failed to switch on quickly. Sargeant dropped down the order to P12 before being caught by surprise by soft-runner Cem Bölükbasi.
At the same time as Armstrong set about building a gap up front, Fittipaldi put a move on Vesti into Turn 3 for fifth. However, the Danish driver would soon experience more pain as he was awarded a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track during an earlier incident.
Bouncing back after his start, Iwasa set out to prove that experience isn’t everything as the rookie fought hard with Pourchaire, forcing the Frenchman to go on the defensive and slam on the brakes into Turn 1. Refusing to yield, the black and white ART held firm, which allowed Drugovich to close in on the back of the Japanese driver momentarily.
With the pit stop window wide open, Drugovich became the first to jump onto a fresh set of mediums on Lap 7. Concerned about the undercut, Armstrong, Pourchaire and Iwasa all responded by boxing the following lap. It was a miracle that Iwasa had managed to make his soft tyres last, but luckily for the Japanese driver he and Pourchaire jumped Armstrong, as the New Zealander had to be held stationary due to his team’s position at the end of the pit lane.
Risking another lap on threadbare softs, Fittipaldi pulled a strong in lap out of nowhere to put himself right inside the fight for the net podium positions. His stop promoted Vesti up into the lead and as dark clouds began to loom, the Mercedes junior cautiously strengthened his advantage over Vips with an eye to their pit stops later on.
Carving his way through the midfield, Pourchaire drove further and further away from Fittipaldi and the pack behind. He wasn’t the only one with pace as Lawson battled hard with fellow Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger. Unfortunately for the New Zealander, the PREMA driver saw his move coming up into the apex of Turn 1 and used the up and under to keep him behind.
However, his defence couldn’t last forever and it was clear that Hauger was struggling immensely with his tyres. When Lawson repeated the move a couple of laps later, there was nothing the Norwegian could do to fight back and he slipped into the pits, becoming the first of the alternative runners to swap to softs on Lap 19.
Picking their way through those yet to stop gave Armstrong the perfect opportunity to make his way past Drugovich, as it was finally time for race leaders Vesti and Vips to pit on Lap 26. Unfortunately, the ART locked up down into Turn 1 and instantly flat spotted his tyres. This then began a succession of cars pitting with Sargeant hopping in for a fresh set of softs, followed by Lawson a lap later.
Promoted up into the race lead, it was all about survival for Pourchaire as spots of rain fell on the Hungarian circuit. His teammate meanwhile had no such worries on his softs. Electrifyingly quick, Vesti carved his way through from P9 to P4, breezing past the likes of Drugovich and Armstrong with ease. Sargeant, Lawson and Vips all capitalised on the fresh rubber. Whilst the American driver slipstreamed past Daruvala into the points, the two Hitechs squared up and it was Vips who got the better of teammate Armstrong for fifth.
Yet it was Pourchaire who cruised to victory 3.6s clear of Fittipaldi, who suffered a last lap scare – slowing down and dropping almost two seconds off in a handful of sectors. Further back Drugovich’s decent down the order continued but the Brazilian driver clung on at the last second to deny Sargeant an extra point in ninth.
KEY QUOTE – Théo Pourchaire, ART Grand Prix
“What a way to go on my holidays! It’s amazing, P1 here in Budapest in the Feature Race. Really happy, big thanks to ART for the strategy and also for the pitstop, it was very good. Very good race, clean race and a stressful race also at the end, but I’m so happy and now it’s good to have a bit of rest and we’ll be back in Spa.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Felipe Drugovich makes it seven consecutive rounds at the top of the Drivers’ Championship on 180 points. However, it’s Théo Pourchaire who seems to have the momentum, cutting the Brazilian driver’s advantage down to 21 points with four weekends remaining. Logan Sargeant’s lack of big points in Budapest sees him fall off the leading pair on 119. Enzo Fittipaldi moves up three places to fourth and demotes Jehan Daruvala to fifth.
There’s plenty of movement in the Teams’ Championship. Although ART Grand Prix leads the way on 250, it’s Carlin who moves up to second on 207 – one point clear of MP Motorsport. Hitech Grand Prix leaps above PREMA Racing by three points as the reigning Champions round out the top five.
Heading into the summer break with plenty still to play for, it’s time for the drivers to rest and reset before the decisive final few rounds get underway. The Formula 2 action resumes with the first event of the triple-header in Spa-Francorchamps in just under one month’s time.