Victor Martins’ first Formula 2 victory never seemed to be a matter of if, but when. The ART Grand Prix driver had already proven himself as a rookie not to be overlooked, earning five podiums thus far. Yet that maiden win remained elusive – that was until Round 9’s return to the legendary Silverstone circuit.
Unsatisfied after being unable to convert pole position in Spielberg into a win, Martins immediately set out to make amends by claiming his second consecutive P1 spot. The Frenchman took control early on with a 1:40.576 before two Red Flags in quick succession. With just eight minutes left on the clock, it was all or nothing.
Title contender Ayumu Iwasa usurped Martins but was displaced by home hero Oliver Bearman in turn. However, Martins’ pace was rapid, regaining the fastest time of the session, whilst Kush Maini rocketed up the order to close to within 0.113s of pole. One last chance remained, but only Iwasa could take advantage to move up into third.
Despite bringing out the yellow flags towards the conclusion of Qualifying, Frederik Vesti had done enough to secure himself 10th and reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race. Greeted by a pre-race downpour, it was down to the Dane to get racing underway with a rolling start, untroubled by Isack Hadjar and fellow Championship contender Théo Pourchaire behind.
It was the second PREMA Racing car of Bearman who capitalised on the conditions once the green flag was waved, dispatching Enzo Fittipaldi with a daring move around the outside of Becketts. It wasn’t long before the Safety Car made a brief appearance after Brad Benavides was tagged by Clément Novalak and spun off at The Loop, as the pair attempted to avoid a slowing Iwasa.
Nailing his getaway once again on Lap 4, Vesti took one look at the pack behind him and never looked back, pulling almost a second a lap advantage in clean air out front. Teammate Bearman showed no hesitation in making moves, overtaking Pourchaire at Turn 3 before selling Hadjar the dummy into Stowe that same lap.
However, the Ferrari junior’s efforts were swiftly undone on Lap 6. A spin at Club allowed the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver back into second, with Pourchaire following his compatriot through one lap later. As the Silverstone circuit steadily dried out, Jack Doohan loomed ever closer to Bearman, finally catching the Briton’s tail on Lap 11.
In the battle for second, Pourchaire’s ability to carry more speed out of Club enabled him to find his way past Hadjar and the Sauber junior set his sights on slashing Vesti’s 8.1s lead.
Bearman and Doohan continued to lock horns and it seemed the Invicta Virtuosi Racing driver had got the job done, but he was squeezed onto the run-off at Stowe. A momentary break in their battle allowed Bearman to pile the pressure on Hadjar up ahead, diving up the inside at Copse to wrestle third away from the Red Bull Junior.
Doohan got his own move done on Hadjar one lap later and he and Bearman resumed their battle. Desperately trying to fend off the Alpine junior’s advances as the pair went side-by-side out of Stowe, Bearman locked-up into Vale, sending the Briton bouncing across the gravel and dropping him back to sixth.
Out front, nothing was going to deny Vesti his third victory of the campaign, taking the chequered flag 13.4s clear of Pourchaire and Doohan’s fierce fighting was rewarded with the final podium spot in third.
After his ART teammate finished second, Martins looked to go one better in the Feature Race, but it was third-place Iwasa who stole the show off the line. Fighting hard to regain the lead, the Alpine junior sent a move up the inside of The Loop but went beyond track limits in doing so.
Meanwhile, Maini lost out to Bearman at lights out, climbing up into third, whilst Fittipaldi dived past Doohan to take fourth.
Martins wasted no time in building a gap to the DAMS driver, but his 4.5s gap was swiftly wiped away by the first Safety Car of the day on Lap 7 following Amaury Cordeel’s spin at Stowe. The #6 ART and the top six soft tyre runners took advantage of the chance to box, promoting Hadjar to the lead on the alternative strategy ahead of Arthur Leclerc and Martins.
Once racing resumed on Lap 11, the top three held position. Further back, Championship leader Vesti’s race was brought to a premature end. Tagged from behind by MP Motorsport’s Dennis Hauger, the knock-on effect sent him straight into Trident’s Roman Stanek. With another Safety Car deployed, the PREMA driver limped his way back to the pits but had to call it a day after suspension damage.
Controlling the restart once more, Hadjar remained in the lead on Lap 15. A wide moment through Abbey meant Bearman’s earlier efforts undone as the Briton dropped back from eighth to 12th. By contrast, Zane Maloney was on a charge. The Rodin Carlin driver carved his way around the outside of Ralph Boschung at Stowe, before capitalising on a mistake from fellow Red Bull Junior Iwasa for sixth.
Martins’ opening lap excursion came back to haunt him after he was awarded a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. The Safety Car was deployed once more on Lap 17 after contact between Campos Racing teammates Maini and Boschung sent the duo into a spin.
Seizing the chance to pit, the alternative strategy runners bolted on the softs, with DAMS’ Leclerc peeling out in front of Hadjar in fourth.
Returning to the lead, Martins knew he had his work cut out if he wanted to hold on to the win and began setting fastest lap after fastest lap, as Maloney tried to hunt him down.
Leclerc made the most of the restart on Lap 19, slipping past Pourchaire through The Loop. However, the Monégasque’s pace quickly peaked as the soft tyres fell away, allowing Pourchaire to breeze back into third and Doohan followed the Sauber junior through shortly after.
Undoubtedly a driver on a mission, Martins’ relentless fast laps paid off. Maloney was unable to stay within the five-second window he needed to deny his fellow rookie victory and Pourchaire brought more joy to the ART garage in third.
Although Vesti was unable to score on Sunday, his hold on first in the Drivers’ Championship remained, with the Dane on 135 points. With Pourchaire on the podium, the gap now stood at only six points.
Margins were tight as ART Grand Prix’s stellar weekend allowed them to also close to within six points of their rivals PREMA Racing in the Teams' Standings. With another double header remaining before the summer break, these battles were far from over…