Tsunoda bounced back from a disastrous first weekend in Bahrain, which saw him slip from third to fifth in the championship, by taking pole position and a vital four points yesterday. He started alongside Mazepin, though the Hitech driver’s 2021 Haas team mate Schumacher was mired in 18th after colliding with Roy Nissany in qualifying.
Schumacher’s team mate Robert Shwartzman, an outsider in the five-way title fight, started fourth alongside Tsunoda’s Carlin team mate Jehan Daruvala. Ilott, the closest threat to Schumacher in the standings, only managed ninth on the grid, and trailled his rival by 14 points before the lights went out.
Mazepin and Shwartzman made the best starts and demoted Tsunoda at turn one, leaving the Carlin driver struggling down the order. Christian Lundgaard, who lined up sixth, stalled on the grid. That helped Artem Markelov, following his best qualifying performance of the year, to briefly surge to fourth from seventh.
Schumacher, starting on hard tyres while most others preferred softs, made swift progress on lap one as usual. He had moved up five places to 13th by lap three. By the time the soft tyre starters were beginning to pit the Prema driver was right behind Ilott for fifth place. Ilott pitted on lap 17, gifting Schumacher the place and allowing him to continue his charge up the order.
Tsunoda jumped both Mazepin and Shwartzman in the pit stops but was unable to hold them off while his tyres warmed, dropping to a net third as they collectively fought up the order. Meanwhile the drivers who had started on hards were involved in a game of chicken as to how early they dared to switch to softs.
Tsunoda made an attempt at passing Shwartzman for second place into turn one on lap 36 but was forced to abort it as Lundgaard emerged from the pits. However he made the move stick with another attempt at turn four.
Tsunoda and Mazepin then renewed their fight for the lead from Spa, with just as much controversy. Tsunoda mae it through after Mazepin pushed him into the pit exit, an incident the stewards are investigating.
Guannyu Zhou’s best attempts to catch up in the final laps couldn’t stop Tsunoda but allowed him to build a gap to Mazepin to seal second, despite a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Mazepin found himself duelling with Drugovich for third as both ran off the track repeatedly. On the final lap Mazepin forced Drugovich to the inside approaching turning four, the MP driver wiping out a braking mark board, leading to a further post-race investigation.
Behind Tsunoda, Zhou, Mazepin and Drugovich came Shwartzman and Ilott, However Schumacher, seventh, snatched the bonus points for fastest lap, meaning he and Ilott came away with eight each, leaving the gap as it had been coming in to this weekend. There are up to 17 points available in tomorrow’s sprint race and as things stand Schumacher will start second with Ilott immediately behind him.
Tsunoda reclaimed third in the standings on 186 points behind Ilott on 199 and Schumacher on 213. Although his title hopes are over he is now set to secure the superlicence qualification which could hand him an F1 debut with AlphaTauri next year.
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