With the dust settled after another enthralling FIA Formula 2 race weekend at the Hungaroring in Budapest, we take a look at the talking points from Round 3.
SHWARTZMAN SHOWS HIS CLASS
Robert Shwartzman is special, make no bones about it. His Feature Race win took phenomenal race craft on so many levels -from the way he put Friday’s difficult Qualifying session behind him to spring off the line to make up five places from 11th in the first lap, to the faultless management of his tyres on the prime-option strategy.
The Russian even seemed to surprise himself. “I was like 'oh my god, I am in P6 now,’” he said in his post-race parc fermé interview.
Having dominated Formula 3 last season, it was always going to be interesting to see how Shwartzman adapted to a more challenging, more experienced grid. The early signs have been extremely encouraging. One third place, two P4s, and two victories. No other driver gets close to those numbers.
The only blot on his copybook is his spin in damp conditions in the Round 2 Sprint Race, which forced him to retire for the first time in F2.
The key juncture from here on in, will bewhether or not has Shwartzman peaked early, or is this just the beginning?
PREMA HAVE TURNED THINGS AROUND
Shwartzman cannot take all of the praise for his early season form. PREMA’s turnaround from a pretty torrid 2019 season has been remarkable. The Italian outfit finished second to last in the Championship last season, with a sole victory and only 68 points – 350 fewer than Teams’ champions DAMS.
It’s been a stark turnaround. They have arguably been the class of the field so far, with the aforementioned Shwartzman and teammate Mick Schumacher taking five podiums and two victories between them. The German driver took the season’s first double podium in Round 3, finishing P3 in both races.
Schumacher sits fourth in the standings, well within the title fight, and could be closer to his teammate were it not for some bad luck, and a few self-confessed mistakes.
The Italians finally look to be replicating their form from 2017, when Charles Leclerc and Antonio Fuoco helped them to second – could they go one better in 2020?
GHIOTTO TURNS A CORNER
“For anyone who watches F2, they will know that I always have those weekends in my life!” Luca Ghiotto’s statement post-Round 2 says all you need to know about the type of luck he’s been having so far.
Ghiotto joined Hitech Grand Prix as the highest finishing driver returning from 2019, and would have envisaged enjoying a much stronger start to the year than he has had.
His expectations were slightly tempered, given Hitech only joined F2 in December, but the Italian would have at very least expected to get a point on the board from the opening two rounds. But, things just weren’t going right for him, or for the team in the early stages.
It’s for that reason that his win in the Sprint Race was all the more impressive. The Italian had already been in resurgent form, taking P2 in Qualifying and fourth in the Feature Race, and topped it off with a strategic victory on Sunday.
With all bar two pitting in the Sprint Race with heavily degraded tyres, Ghiotto managed his rubber to perfection to cross the line ahead of polesitter Callum Ilott, without stopping.
This could be the kickstart to the season he needed.
THE NEW TYRES MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Despite the introduction of the new 18-inch Pirelli tyres, it was pretty much business as normal in the opening two rounds when it came to tyre wear, so a curve ball was probably a little overdue.
Degradation caught out the entire grid in Budapest, with the prime medium tyres pretty much falling apart around the Hungaroring. This made for some sublime racing, and provided an entirely different kind of challenge for the grid – one that will serve them in good stead for the future.
For a start, it provided us with our first alternate strategy winner of the season in Shwarztman. But while the Russian’s win - and the tyre management and strategy that it took to get him there – were rightly heralded, less discussed was Nikita Mazepin’s drive from 16th.
The Hitech racer claimed his first-ever F2 podium after making up 14 places as one of just a handful of drivers to brave the alternate strategy. This required superb tyre management until his pit stop, something that those on the option-prime strategy struggled with.
It was a similar story with Hitech’s Ghiotto too, with the Italian managing his tyres better than those behind him to earn victory in the Sprint Race.