Among the glittering Mediterranean and the chiselled mountainscapes that surround the Principality of Monaco, the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo perches in the centre like a prized bird, its patrons bearing witness to an enthralling Round 4 of the FIA Formula 2 Championship. Conveniently, the Casino’s prominence complements the idea that racing in Monaco requires a gamble or two, especially as the claustrophobically-close barriers and impossible corners present great risks for each of the 20 drivers to overcome.
PERTAMINA PREMA Theodore Racing’s Nyck de Vries was first to show his hand, sailing to the top of the Free Practice timesheets with a 1:21.670 – 0.650s faster than second-placed Nicholas Latifi – with pace that appeared to be ominous. At this stage, most would be forgiven for betting all of their chips on red.
But try as he might, de Vries couldn’t get the rub of the green in qualifying; Alexander Albon rolled the dice and set a 1:21.727 to lead the first group, edging a rapid Artem Markelov by a tenth to guarantee a front-row start. De Vries headed the second group, but his ultimate laptime ended up just a hundredth over Albon’s benchmark, and any chance of further improvement was ended by a red flag for Sérgio Sette Câmara’s heavy crash at Sainte Devote – the Brazilian was ruled out of the rest of the weekend.
“I think it was the hardest qualifying out of the three,” explained Albon. “I really struggled in free practice to get confident with the car and I really felt qualifying was going to be hard. But once I put the new set of tyres on I had a lot of confidence, and in the end we did really well.
“My lap wasn’t the cleanest lap I could have done, but I think it was quite similar for a lot of people; Nyck gave the same kind of feedback. With the traffic and everything, it’s really difficult in Monaco, but I’m really happy and we made some great steps from free practice to quali.”
Keeping de Vries at bay off of the line in the Feature Race, Albon was quickly accosted by the safety car after Antonio Fuoco edged Luca Ghiotto into the wall before the first corner of the race. On the restart, the two qualifying group toppers battled furiously through the Monte Carlo streets before a second safety car – brought out for Lando Norris dumping Ralph Boschung into the Anthony Noghes barrier – in which their fight boiled over. As de Vries drifted towards the pits, Albon cut across in a seemingly late decision to come in for fresh tyres; the two collided, with the Dutchman picking up damage while Albon was left facing the wrong direction.
This left Markelov to shuffle to the front and, with plenty of pace at his disposal, his gameplan was different at the next restart. Electing to stick with his soft-compound tyres for the time being, the Russian set about building as much of a gap as possible over Sean Gelael, who had bet the house on an alternate strategy run – starting on the supersofts, the Indonesian pitted early in anticipation of a safety car. Regardless, Markelov was imperious, and continued to hurl his RUSSIAN TIME-run car through the streets to clear Gelael after his own stop, cashing in his chips to cross the line with a 10s advantage.
“I was trying just to get the flow in the car,” said Markelov, “and just tried to manage it all the time. When I started the race I was trying to sit behind the guys and get a good enough gap to the cars behind without destroying the tyres.
“Then on the second safety car, they [Albon and de Vries] were fighting on the entry of the pitlane and afterwards the speed was getting a bit quicker. When I had a free gap at the front, I was trying to make a gap to the cars behind and make a clear pitstop to finish P1. I was already struggling in the end, but I just know how to save tyres – I couldn’t say any more than this!”
Having received a drive-through for his incident with Ghiotto in the first race, Fuoco recovered to grab the reverse-grid pole for Saturday’s Sprint Race. The Italian preserved his lead off of the line, absorbing a flurry of challenges from Norris – who had charged past a slow-starting Jack Aitken – as another first-lap safety car entered the stage. Weathering the storm of further real and virtual safety cars, Fuoco played his cards right at every restart to keep Norris behind in the pack. Behind them, Louis Delétraz was in third place and on for his best F2 result, and was having to defend from a rampant Markelov while suffering from electronic issues in his car.
With two safety cars in a dramatic final four laps, the race was brought to a comparatively tame end – Fuoco keeping his lead to secure a first ever victory for the Charouz Racing System team. After Norris was relegated to third after he and Fuoco had gained advantages under the virtual safety car, the two cherry-red Charouzes slotted into first and second – a fantastic result for the Czech team in its first season in F2.
“First of all, I think we showed we have good pace throughout the weekend,” revealed Fuoco. “Yesterday we were a bit unlucky with the drive-through, I think what I did was a bit much on Ghiotto, but we got the drive-through and managed to finish P8 so today we started from the front.”
“Throughout the race today we had good pace, I managed to keep Lando behind. I saw him pushing to close up but everything was under control. So I’m very happy, and I’m happy for the team because we finished with both cars on the podium today. This is an excellent result for the whole team. To be honest, we were quite lucky with the safety cars, because they came in the middle of the race – we struggled a bit with the front left tyre, but it was something we could control.”
For now, the drivers have three weeks to rest their poker faces and prepare for the next round in Le Castellet, France. With a third of the season already gone and with six different winners so far, who knows which number the roulette wheel will land on next?
The upcoming trio of back-to-back rounds will be the sternest challenge yet.