Liam Lawson made his opportunity on the front row count, bringing home a dominant fourth victory of the year. Duelling at dusk with Richard Verschoor, the Carlin driver bided his time after an early Red Flag restart to slice past the reverse grid pole sitter. He’d built up an almost eight second margin by the chequered flag.
Felipe Drugovich mastered his tyre management to make a late charge onto the podium, ahead of Dennis Hauger and Amaury Cordeel, who secured his best Formula 2 finish so far in fifth.
After several nervous moments on the opening lap, Logan Sargeant kept himself out of trouble to hold off Jack Doohan for sixth. Roy Nissany’s strong start was rewarded, as the DAMS driver rounded out the points finishers in eighth.
AS IT HAPPENED
It was a frenetic start to the final Sprint Race of the 2022 campaign, but not for Verschoor who calmly kept his rivals behind him to retain the lead off the line.
Immediately putting pressure on Hauger ahead, Sargeant attempted a move around the outside of the PREMA Racing driver on the exit of Turn 1 to no avail and found himself getting squeezed by the pack down to ninth.
Meanwhile, a lock-up left Théo Pourchaire with nowhere to go as he tagged Doohan’s Virtuosi Racing car. It left the door wide open for Drugovich and Nissany to make up two places, taking fifth and eighth respectively.
Jehan Daruvala and Enzo Fittipaldi collided and hit the barriers at Turn 3, bringing out the Red Flag at the end of the opening lap.
Slotting back into position for the rolling restart on Lap 3, Verschoor got a good getaway to hold the lead. Meanwhile, Sargeant, who had moved back up into sixth, was instantly put under pressure by Doohan.
The cooler early evening conditions left the field struggling to light up their tyres. After being passed by Frederik Vesti for P11, Ayumu Iwasa attempted to go the long way around the outside of the Dane at Turn 9. Unfortunately, the Japanese driver couldn’t hold on long enough to make the move stick and eventually fell prey to Jüri Vips behind.
Out front, Verschoor was unable to pull out of Lawson’s DRS window. It wouldn’t take long for Lawson to pounce on Lap 10 – going late on the brakes to catch the Trident driver by surprise and snatch the lead. Trying to fight back, Verschoor used the slipstream into Turn 9, but there was nothing he could do to wrestle P1 back from the New Zealander.
Behind them, Sargeant was driving on his mirrors as he continued to keep Doohan at bay, but a heavy front left flat spot left him vulnerable to the Virtuosi driver’s speed in the battle for sixth.
In the latter stages, Drugovich’s pace came to life as he closed in on Hauger for fourth. Tucking up behind the Norwegian’s rear wing, the 2022 Champion nailed his exit out of Turn 6 to get the run in down the first DRS straight but found the door slammed firmly shut. Undeterred, Drugovich spotted his chance, pulling off the switchback to barge his way through up the inside into Turn 9.
With the yellow-walled mediums waning in the final five laps, those who’d saved their tyres were primed to capitalise on their extra grip. Erasing a two second gap in three laps, a rapid Drugovich sized up a move on Cordeel for the final podium position.
A lock-up for the VAR driver allowed Drugovich to slot his way through into third and left Cordeel at the mercy of Hauger, who made his own move on the Belgian into Turn 6. Missing the corner, Hauger tactically gave the place back into Turn 10, in order to avoid losing out to Sargeant and Doohan behind.
Instantly on the attack once again, Cordeel put up a steely defence, but with more left in his tyres, Hauger finally made the move stick into Turn 9.
Contrastingly out front, long-time race leader Lawson had extended his advantage lap-by-lap and drove off into the distance to claim victory by a whopping 7.9s, ahead of Verschoor and Drugovich.
Hauger would finish where he started in fourth, ahead of Cordeel and Sargeant. Doohan was unable to find his way through on his fellow rookie and had to settle for seventh, as Nissany claimed the final points-paying position in eighth.
KEY QUOTE – Liam Lawson, Carlin
“Had a really nice race, managed to win, which is nice to at least have a win in the final weekend. Obviously, the season hasn’t gone exactly to plan, but it’s nice to finish the year like this. Hopefully we can repeat something similar tomorrow.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
It all comes down to the final Feature Race to settle the fight for the top three. Pourchaire holds a 26-point advantage in second on 164 points, but the rest of the top seven are all separated by only 12 points. Carlin duo Sargeant and Lawson sit neck-and-neck on 138 and 134 points, respectively. Meanwhile, Alpine junior Doohan is fifth on 128, two points clear of Daruvala and Fittipaldi.
In the Teams’ Championship, it’s advantage MP Motorsport thanks to Drugovich’s podium finish. On 287 points, the Dutch outfit hold a seven-point lead over nearest rivals ART Grand Prix. However, with both their drivers inside the top four in the Standings, Carlin remain a strong contender in third on 272.
Iwasa will have the chance to end his 2022 campaign on a high, as he and Nissany line up for an all-DAMS Feature Race front row on Sunday at 13:00 local time.