At times you didn’t know where to look there was so much going on in both Monza races. The famed circuit cannot ever be described as boring.
Another huge weekend for the 2023 Formula 2 Championship had some standout overtaking moves and a sprinkling of drama for good measure too. Here is how everyone faired on Italian soil.
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Théo Pourchaire in Monza. The Frenchman took his first pole position since Round 1 back in March while title rival Frederik Vesti was stuck down in seventh. Though the Dane was victorious in the Sprint Race, his opening lap tangle with Roman Stanek on Sunday left the path clear for Pourchaire. P3 in the Feature puts the Frenchman in a great position heading into the final round. 25 points is the difference between the top two in the Drivers’ Championship. Can the ART Grand Prix driver hold on in Abu Dhabi?
On the other side of the garage, Victor Martins put in a serious challenge in the Sprint but couldn’t stop Vesti from taking the win. An unfortunate DRS issue prevented him from fighting for a podium in the Feature having been impressive up to that point. His daring dives on the brakes into Turn 1 in particular made him a standout. ART retain the lead of the Teams’ Standings ahead of PREMA Racing, 26 points clear of their rivals, down from the 32-point lead they held arriving at Monza. It will take a huge swing in momentum to displace them at the top but in Formula 2, you never know what could happen.
Victorious on Saturday with Vesti and then on Sunday with Oliver Bearman, the winning feeling won’t be as sweet as usual leaving Monza. A pair of PREMA Racing victories on home soil to close the gap in the Teams’ Standings is impacted by Vesti’s untimely retirement at possibly the worst moment it could have come. A 15-point swing with one round to go will be incredibly tough to overcome, but there is a window of opportunity for the Danish driver. Pourchaire has never finished higher than fourth in the five races he has competed in at Yas Marina. While Vesti failed to take a point there last season, he has found pace around tracks he struggled with a year ago, chiefly winning in Monaco and Silverstone, having gone point-less in both rounds last year. In all likelihood, Vesti needs a bit of drama to prevent a scoring result for Pourchaire, but it’s not over just yet.
For Bearman, he demonstrated impressive pace and an ability to deal with pressure, handling four Safety Car restarts with aplomb to avoid giving away a slipstream and escaped his closest challengers. Taking four wins in his rookie season, he has shown great speed throughout the 2023 campaign, but the consistency hasn’t quite been there to challenge for the Championship right away. Still, he has the chance to take the most wins for a rookie driver since Oscar Piastri managed six back in 2021.
While Enzo Fittipaldi was able to rescue a P4 finish in the Feature Race, the Monza weekend did not unfold how Rodin Carlin would have planned. 13th and 20th in Qualifying left both drivers with a sizeable recovery job on their hands going into the rest of the weekend. Unfortunate Red Flag timing and a few scruffy attempts meant neither driver nailed a clean lap at the perfect moment which left them down the order.
They had their elbows out in full force during the Sprint but an intrateam fight over P14 and 15 was hardly according to plan. Come Sunday, things took a turn for the worst after Zane Maloney was clipped by Roy Nissany on the main straight and suffered a sizeable crash. He fortunately was able to exit the car, but it summed up his difficult weekend. Fittipaldi’s race was one of patience, using an early Safety Car to make his mandatory stop and from there, he picked off rivals when he could. Rising to fourth from P13 was a satisfying outcome, but starting further back hid some of the team’s potential in Monza.
Another team hampered by Red Flags in Qualifying, DAMS was heading for another disappointing weekend until Ayumu Iwasa took his car by the scruff on the neck and hauled it onto the podium. Proving to be much more competitive in race trim versus Qualifying, Sunday was Iwasa at his best, pulling off a highlight overtake on Pourchaire at Turn 1 late on to secure P2 on the podium having started down in 15th. Perfect strategy called from the pitwall gave him that chance to put in a sterling performance. While he is technically not out of contention for the title, Yas Marina will be more about putting in a final statement drive to round out a tricky 2023 season.
Leclerc has had a more difficult time of things compared to his more experienced teammate. Points in the Sprint Race were a welcome result and his first since the Silverstone Feature Race back in July. His difficulties started in Qualifying too, unable to generate the temperature necessary to put the tyres into the ideal operating window. Showing encouraging pace in the Feature like his teammate, a misjudgement braking for Turn 1 ultimately put him on the sidelines early.
It was a much better time for MP Motorsport in Monza as both Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala were points scorers on Sunday. It marked the first time since the Jeddah Feature Race that both MP drivers were in the points together on a Sunday. A very aggressive strategy for Daruvala meant an early switch to the supersoft tyres under the first Safety Car and, while it didn’t pan out entirely as hoped for him, the team’s rolling of the dice ultimately led to his late surge back into the points. Dropping from fourth to 11th with an extra stop was in all likelihood the better option and a smart move to prevent a freefall out of the points on severely worn supersofts. Daruvala made several late moves to climb back into the points and post-race promotion to seventh via penalties for the Van Amersfoort Racing duo meant a well-earned reward.
An aggressive start from Hauger lifted him from 11th on the grid up to eighth position and an early stop under the second Safety Car put him on mediums to the end. While he initially lost ground to those around him on track, a patient race from the Norwegian kept him out of trouble and he was there to pick up the pieces to claim more points at this late stage in the 2023 campaign. His second fifth place finish in two weeks won’t have fully satisfied him, but after a tough run of form in the middle of the year, Hauger is putting in composed performances as others trip up.
In terms of pure race pace, Jack Doohan was probably more value than his eventual P6 finish in the Feature Race suggests. The Australian was stuck between a rock and a hard place with the timing of the second Safety Car intervention coming right at the beginning of the pitstop window. Those that opted to get aggressive with the alternative strategy later paid the price as Daruvala proved, forced to pit after the supersofts gave up long before the end. Doohan stuck with the mediums until another Safety Car gave him a window to pit, putting him in a good spot with four laps to go on fresh tyres. Unfortunately, one final Safety Car prevented his charge going any further than sixth on the road.
Late season scoring results seems to be an Amaury Cordeel speciality. Once again, the Belgian was back in the points in the Feature Race with his second consecutive P8 finish on a Sunday. Out of the running early on in the Sprint Race after contact with Rodin Carlin’s Maloney at Ascari, he made up for the retirement in the Feature. Keeping out of trouble was easier said than done, and Cordeel was able to benefit from a late-race Safety Car to climb into the points for Invicta Virutosi Racing.
There were a few close calls for Hitech Pulse-Eight teammates Jak Crawford and Isack Hadjar across the Monza weekend. Fresh from a promising Zandvoort round, both were hoping to transfer their form to the penultimate round of the season, but things didn’t transpire quite how they’d planned. Hadjar was able to achieve a P4 result in Qualifying, two tenths down on pole position while Crawford ensured both started inside the top 10 in both races with P7 on Friday. The pair finished sixth and seventh on the road in the Sprint after a spirited battle amongst teammates but fell out of the points after earning in-race time penalties.
Things looked good for the Frenchman on the run to Turn 1 on Sunday, but a charging Martins put himself three-wide with his compatriot and Roman Stanek, leading to the Red Bull Junior Team driver taking to the escape road. He lost momentum as a result and his race never really recovered. Crawford kept himself in contention and after the pitstop phases, he became locked in a fight with Kush Maini over fifth. With Doohan and Daruvala yet to pit, their scrap was effectively for the final podium place, but it all came undone with eight laps to go. Contact left the American with a puncture and further contact on the final restart put him on the sidelines. Discounting the disappointing results on paper, both drivers have stepped up their performances since returning from the summer break. It will be interesting to see how they go in the final races of the year around Yas Marina.
Kush Maini was crestfallen after the Monza Feature Race, and it summed up Campos Racing’s weekend. Ralph Boschung earned reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race with 10th in Qualifying while Maini was more than in contention inside the top five, threading together a fine effort to line up sixth on the Sunday grid, just 0.008s off third.
The Sprint Race was not what the Swiss driver had hoped for, heavily locking up into the first corner, flat-spotting his tyres and necessitating a pitstop to a fresh set. Maini achieved P5 in Saturday’s race, his first Sprint points since Budapest.
The Feature Race was more like a horror movie playing out for the team. Maini was an effective third after making his mandatory stop under the second Safety Car. His battle with Crawford was hard but fair right up until Lap 23 when the pair made contact. His reaction told the story as Campos looked well placed to take their first podium since the Melbourne Sprint Race.
Roman Stanek had a prominent role in Monza, but it wasn’t the one the Czech driver would have envisaged after qualifying third on the grid. The Trident driver’s robust defence against Vesti on the opening lap of the Feature Race was enough to earn him a time penalty, but he rebounded to still leave Italian soil with two points finishes. P8 in the Sprint Race was followed up with 10th in the Feature, but it was a scrappy weekend when he had a great opportunity to race at the front of the pack.
After the highs of Zandvoort, Clément Novalak couldn’t reproduce the winning feeling around the Temple of Speed. A top 10 result in the Sprint was a solid foundation to build from having kept himself out of trouble on Saturday, but his race was over before it really begun, with a Lap 1 retirement in the Feature.
It was a misjudgement that led to the tangle between Roy Nissany and Maloney but overall, Monza wasn’t too bad a weekend for PHM Racing by Charouz. The team is still pursuing their first points of the season, but Joshua Mason was more than satisfied with his efforts in Italy. The Briton was parachuted into the seat for a tough run of races around some old-school venues, but Monza brought his best result since joining Formula 2, with P12 on Sunday in the Feature Race. The whole team will be hoping for a little bit of luck and some further improvements to notch up their first scoring result of 2023 at the final hurdle.