Matsushita rises from 18th to win frenetic Barcelona feature race

Formula 2

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Nobuharu Matsushita won a dramatic feature race at Circuit de Catalunya, despite starting the race from a distant 18th on the grid.

Starting on hard tyres, Matsushita made an unusual strategy work in a race of high tyre degradation which was disrupted by Safety Car appearances.

Pole-winner Callum Ilott came under attack from fellow Ferrari Driver Academy members Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher at the start, the latter making a remarkable getaway from fifth. They went three-abreast into the first corner, with Shwartzman ultimately taking the lead.

The race was neutralised on the same lap as Marcus Armstrong spun off into the gravel at turn 13. The Safety Car made its first appearance was he retrieved, letting Shwartzman hold onto the lead unchallenged.

Racing resumed on lap three with Shwartzman making a quick getaway and immediately pulling away from Ilott. By lap seven those who started on the soft tyres found them suffering in high temperatures and dropping off, and headed for the pits. Yuki Tsunoda, Jack Aitken and Louis Deletraz were the first in, Aitken losing time with a messy pit stop as his team struggled to attach the front left tyre.

Ilott and Shwartzman pitted on lap nine, among the last to pit from the softs, while the cars on hard tyres – including Schumacher, who took the race lead, were able to continue. However by lap 20 the advantage seemed to be firmly with those who started on softs. Schumacher was visibly struggling with grip in almost every corner.

Nikita Mazepin, running second, said that there was “nothing left” in his tyres, but with 17 laps to go, it was clearly too soon to come in for softs. Nonetheless Schumacher was called in for new tyres with what seemed like an impossible number of laps remaining to make the softs last.

Giuliano Alesi beached his car on a kerb in lap 25, after a tap from Sean Gelael, bringing out the Safety Car. Predictably, some tried to take advantage of the opportunity, including Ilott who pitted again for another set of soft tyres. He emerged behind new leader Yuki Tsunoda and Felipe Drugovich.

Matsushita rode his luck, gaining 14 places by immediately pitting and coming out third. Unfortunately his team mate Drugovich was left out for another lap further, dropping him to ninth.

The Safety Car came in on lap 27. Tsunoda held the lead but having not pitted for another set of softs it seemed only a matter of time until he Ilott and third-placed Matsushita used their fresh rubber to pounce.

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But despite near-constant pressure, Tsunoda rebuffed them brilliantly. He was aided in this by Matsushita scrapping hard with Mazepin and Ilott. With six laps to go, Tsunoda was still keeping Matsushita at bay while Ilott was overtaken for third by Shwartzman.

On lap 32, Matsushita finally made the move on Tsunoda into turn one, with Shwartzman following him through to take second. Moments later Williams tester Roy Nissany crashed into the wall at turn three, following a shambolic pit stop, prompting a third Safety Car.

With the clock ticking down, this threatened to bring the race to an end. But the Safety Car returned to the pits with enough time left for a last-lap dash to the flag.

Matsushita led the restart and showed his rivals a clean pair of heels. Shwartzman followed, leaving Tsunoda battling hard with Ilott, Mazepan and Zhou. Mazepin emerged victorious from that four-way scrap, but a five-second time penalty for violating track limits dropped him to 13th.

That promoted Zhou to third, a fine reward for his mechanics who’d worked frantically to replace his engine in time for the race. Tusnoda’s efforts earned him fourth ahead of Ilott, Schumacher, Drugovich and Luca Ghiotto – the latter earning pole position for tomorrow’s race.

Ilott retains the lead of the championship by a narrow margin, on 116 points while Shwartzman moves up to 103. Christian Lundgaard, who failed to score today, remains third on 87.

On the final lap Gelael came to an unexplained stop in the last sector. The FIA subsequently announced he was taken to hospital for medical checks.

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    Hazel Southwell
    Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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    6 comments on “Matsushita rises from 18th to win frenetic Barcelona feature race”

    1. Ilott really got beaten up in the last few laps (and was very ungracious about it on the radio). Sounds strange, but good for the championship to see him have at least some bad luck, as he’s gained much more than the other contenders from good luck so far this season.

      Other than the last few laps, a pretty poor race really. Hope Gelael gets better quickly. Also, not entirely sure why Trident sent Nissany out again when it was clear even from the TV that his steering/suspension was broken, or at least heavily damaged.

    2. Some really amazing wheel to wheel racing in that race, especially in between the second and third safety cars and on the last lap, I’m actually enjoying F2 more than F1 this season! Also, hope Gelael is ok.

    3. Even after making right calls Ilott lost everything in the end. Given how strong he was and where he ended up today he has a good chance of winning.

    4. Awesome race. One of the best I’ve seen for a long time.
      Tyre degradation, Safety Cars, strategy changes, desperate manoeuvers, tight racing, unpredictability.
      Fantastic. If only F1 could be like this.

    5. Robert Shwartzman has some real pace. He has good potential in F1.
      So does Felipe Drugovich.

      1. Not at all.
        Ilott was way faster & handled the tyres better. Without SC he would have won one-handed.
        Swhartzman is good in maximizing the results in crazy races like yesterday’s, but Prema doesn’t look at the top of the game.

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