Street races and triple-headers offer new challenges for F2’s 2021 contenders

Formula 2

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Formula 1’s top feeder series joins the grand prix in Bahrain this weekend for its first round with a three-race weekend and exciting new rookie talent.

New race format

Formula 2 has a new weekend format this year, with more races but fewer overall events. The change has been made, in theory, to bring down costs for participation, which have spiralled to several million Euros per season and provoked criticism from some teams and drivers over reliability issues with the series’ spec car.

The complete format is somewhat arcane. The 45-minute practice session and 30-minute qualifying sessions on Friday are as they were last year.

Then on Saturday, one sprint race (45 minutes) will be run using the results of qualifying but with the top 10 fastest drivers reversed, then a second sprint race (also 45 minutes) will be run using the results of the first sprint race, with the top 10 finishers reversed.

On Sunday, the feature race (one hour) will run using the grid order originally determined by Friday’s qualifying session. The feature race, determined as the main event, will be eligible for more points than either sprint race, using the same points allocation for the top 10 as F1 does, while points for each sprint race will only be awarded to the top eight finishers.

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Who to watch for

Dan Ticktum, Carlin, Formula 2 testing, 2021
Ticktum is back in Formula 2 with Carlin

Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin have graduated to F1, and Callum Ilott hasn’t returned, leaving Robert Shwartzman the only driver from last year’s championship top five to return to the series. The Ferrari-backed driver is up against some strong competition however, notably from Alpine-Backed Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. The rookie crop also features from promising arrivals from F3.

Shwartzman has to be rated highly as a title contender. An appalling run of luck undid his title bid last year, and the 2019 F3 champion is undoubtedly quick. The same is true of his new team mate, 2020 F3 champion Oscar Piastri, another from the Alpine stable who will be an exciting reference against Shwartzman.

Race winners Zhou and Lundgaard, plus Dan Ticktum, Jehan Daruvala and Felipe Drugovich have also stayed on from the previous season. For several of them, this is a make-or-break year as they scrabble to maintain or gain places in junior programmes.

The stakes may be highest for Marcus Armstrong, whose 2020 was characterised by shocking reliability problems which saw him finish 13th. A move to DAMS for 2021 should see him more able to compete with fellow Ferrari junior Shwartzman.

F2’s youngest driver this year is Theo Pouchaire, second in F3 last year. He doesn’t quite count as a rookie in the purest sense, having raced at the final rounds last season (much as was the case with Lando Norris in 2018) where the French teenager struggled with a very uncompetitive HWA car but should be better-placed with ART this year. Similarly, last year Red Bull’s Juri Vips did a substitute stint at DAMS (in for injured Sean Gelael) where he earned a podium – and a full time drive this season with race-winning squad Hitech.

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2021 calendar

Jeddah Street Circuit, 2021
Analysis: Jeddah’s surprising track layout swerves F1’s usual formula for overtaking
The 2021 F2 season is a mix of street circuits and high speed tracks. Or, in the case of the new Jeddah circuit which will host the penultimate triple-header round, a high-speed street circuit.

The F2 cars won’t be seen at several European venues which previously made up the bulk of its mid-season: Red Bull Ring, Hungaroring, Catalunya and even Spa. Half of the championship now consists of races on street circuits.

It will also no longer share race weekends with F3 in another move intended to reduce teams’ budgets. There’s considerable debate about whether that’s worked, as well as the fact it has allowed drivers with the (sizeable) budget to do so to run in both series. Matteo Nannini is the only driver so far to take up the opportunity, driving for HWA in both championships, following an 18th-place F3 finish for Jenzer last year.

Title favourite? Shwartzman is the top scorer from 2020 to return
The race-sharing arrangement has left F2 with a distinctly uneven calendar. After opening its championship in Bahrain this weekend it will take a two-month break until Monaco in May and then a relatively rapid turnaround to Baku in early June before another break of more than a month until Silverstone. They’ll then be at Monza, Sochi (which is a sometimes hair-raising but competitive venue for F2, compared to F1) before rejoining at the penultimate rounds in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

With the racing now concentrated to a smaller number of weekends, there’s pressure on the young drivers to make each count – and a risk, if issues with acquiring spare parts from last year continue, that mechanical problems could once again play a significant role in the title fight.

Hopefully, as its in motorsport as a whole’s interests that the premier junior series is fair, even if you decide not to watch it, the bigger breaks in the calendar will work to mitigate those problems and provide a level playing field.

2021 Formula 2 calendar

RoundRacesCircuitCountryDate
11,2,3Bahrain International CircuitBahrain26-28 March
24,5,6MonacoMonaco21-23 May
37,8,9Baku City CircuitAzerbaijan4-6 June
410,11,12SilverstoneBritain16-18 July
513,14,15MonzaItaly10-12 September
616,17,18Sochi AutodromRussia8-10 October
719,20,21JeddahSaudi Arabia26-28 November
822,23,24Yas MarinaAbu Dhabi3-5 December

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2021 Formula 2 teams and drivers

TeamNumberDriverRaces
Prema1Robert Shwartzman24
Prema2Oscar Piastri0
Virtuosi3Guanyu Zhou46
Virtuosi4Felipe Drugovich24
Carlin5Dan Ticktum26
Carlin6Jehan Daruvala24
Hitech7Liam Lawson0
Hitech8Juri Vips8
ART9Christian Lundgaard26
ART10Theo Pourchaire4
MP11Richard Verschoor0
MP12Lirim Zendeli0
Charouz14David Beckmann0
Charouz15Guilherme Samaia24
DAMS16Roy Nissany44
DAMS17Marcus Armstrong24
Campos20Gianluca Petecof0
Campos21Ralph Boschung56
HWA22Matteo Nannini0
HWA23Alessio Deledda0
Trident24Bent Viscaal0
Trident25Marino Sato30

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Author information

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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8 comments on “Street races and triple-headers offer new challenges for F2’s 2021 contenders”

  1. The RB-backed drivers are the ones I’m going to keep an eye on the most, although the weekend format changes unnecessarily penalize success, even more than the previous one. Since being fastest in QLF won’t matter apart from the four bonus points, a better way of determining the grid would be to pick each driver’s name from a hat or a bucket. The starting order would be the order in which names got picked up.

    1. @jerejj Being fastest in qualifying gives them:
      A) A top 10 start in Sprint 1.
      B) If they stay in 10th, they get the pole for Sprint 2.
      C) Pole for the feature race. And,
      D) Points for qualifying.
      How does that not matter?

      Keeping in mind that F2 is primarily a drivers championship – the greater the challenge they face, the better they can show their talents.
      And for us viewers – the greater the challenges, the better we can appreciate the racing, skills and entertainment.

      Personally, I’d love to see F1 do this a few times. Make it interesting.

      1. @S Unnecessarily complicated too.

  2. It’d be ironic if the accident damage bills from three races per weekend on mainly street courses outweighed any savings made from the calendar changes, but hey.

    I think rather than three races I might have preferred them to make qualifying a proper F2 event and do it in the same knockout format as F1.

    Reply moderated
  3. Way to devalue the championship. It just has a bit of a Formula E feel to it. Lots of street tracks and 2 months between race meets.

    To be honest I can deal with the occasional street circuit, it’s the gaps between races that really ruins the championship for me. 2 month gap here, 1 month gap there, then BOOM 6 races in 8 days at the end. I really struggle getting interested in a championship that’s so spread out, A1GP taught me that.

    I’ll probably still watch it (to begin with) but I can’t see this ending well.

  4. Monaco feels to be a better track for F3, than for F2. While Spa is likely would be better as a track for F2, than for F3.
    I guess F2 races pretty well at faster street circuits, but I see no point in taking F3 to the fastest GP circuits, apart from taking almost all corners at full throttle is funny.

    “S” said rational things above, as a reasoning of his opinion, or at least came up with the likely close to optimal strategy.
    While changes around F1 often were reasoned with reasons like this : “it’s too complex, fans just do not understand it”, like the naming of the tyres, then they brought 3 compounds of the 5 available compounds, and labelled those 3 in a way, that implied sometimes you had to look up which sidewall color is which hardness. A simplification, which brought pure simplification for the very casual fans, and for the all knowing experts likely, while added a layer of complexity, if you were sometimes unsure which color is actually which compound. Although hard tyres seemed to be almost everlasting, if they were not destroyed by going outside of their operational window, and apart from their somewhat frequent and sadly silent failures.

    I don’t find this change at the qualis and starting orders simple. WTCR had some similarly complex IIRC with two qualifications, and 3 races in the recent years, and different length of quali with different length of sessions for street circuits. I don’t know whether a prominent series ever came up with such a complex qualification system.

    A bit it feels like a live test of F1’s reverse grid sprint races. Which I consider as a run it twice, a filter after qualification, and you know at poker, run it twice is only an insurance for the good players.

    On the other hand: I don’t have problem with feeder or development series having some kind of reverse grids, especially if the machinery is not equal, to support all participants with a better opportunity to show their talents, that they can manage front running, or battles of the midfield even with a lesser car. F2 is said to be a spec series, but there were some struggling teams, I guess because of financial reasons. But still this system seems to be complex.

    I think F1’s reliability requirements on the tech side would be at a nice place at F2 instead. And also there is no problem for me with a development series having very specificated tech rules. These are good things when it’s about the success or failure of those young drivers and the lof of money invested into them.

    I find the gap between the race weekeds big for a development series too, especially in contrast winth F1.

  5. Not excited for this new format. Revert back next year.

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