Having recovered from the demanding triple-header that bled into the start of the month, the FIA Formula 2 Championship circus moved east into Hungary for the eighth round of the year, reconvening at the Hungaroring circuit. A tight, technical circuit located north-east of the city of Budapest, the field was greeted with hot and sunny conditions – providing a further element of challenge as tyre degradation was set to play a factor.
Not that it bothered George Russell at the start of the weekend. A man on form going into the weekend, having left Silverstone with a 37-point lead over Lando Norris, Russell picked up from where he left off and topped the opening Free Practice session. Posting a 1:28.886 in the opening half-hour of the session, the ART Grand Prix driver was looking to clinch his fourth pole position in a row in the Friday afternoon running.
Unfortunately for the British driver, it didn’t quite go his way. His teammate Jack Aitken was a bigger presence in the battle for pole, setting a timesheet-topping lap before jumping out of the car and watching from the pitwall in the final five minutes of the session. There, he watched his time fall, as Sergio Sette Camara breezed in with a 1:27.400 to clear Aitken’s best time by just three-hundredths of a second – clinching his first Formula 2 pole position.
“I just put in a clean lap,” Sette Camara said matter-of-factly, “Hungary’s a circuit similar to Barcelona in a certain way, so we’ve got to make the tyres last even within a qualifying lap. I believe I also had a purple sector three, so I had good tyres by then and this was key.”
“Altogether, it’s a good car from the team, not being so aggressive on the rears, and clean driving that was all part of it – and from there it was just about putting the lap together. I had a small mistake, but if you go for a lap that’s quite aggressive then it’s hard to make it a perfect lap. I’m happy with the lap, and it was clean and quick.”
Perhaps expecting a hot race with buckets full of tyre degradation, the Feature Race on Saturday afternoon was instead greeted by a pre-session downpour, prompting the teams to thrust the wet compound tyres on their cars to cut through the standing water. After a trio of formation laps, Sette Camara was able to preserve his lead at the start of the race, as Nyck de Vries charged up to second while Aitken fell back.
What came next was – to paraphrase a footballing cliché – a race of two halves. The first half was dominated by Lando Norris, who scampered past de Vries before dispatching Carlin teammate Sette Camara at the chicane to power into a seemingly-unassailable lead. With the downpour pausing early on, the Hungaroring circuit quickly began to dry – prompting Tadasuke Makino to take a gamble on slick tyres. As the Japanese driver began to set frequent fastest laps, the rest of the field took to the pits to collect a set of the medium compound Pirellis – Norris pitting with a 14-second lead over second-placed de Vries.
From there, the pendulum swung. Norris began to lose his edge in the drying conditions, while de Vries was enjoying a new lease of life – carving away at Norris’ lead at a vast rate of knots to reel the Brit in. In less than ten laps, de Vries had caught up to the back of Norris, stalking him to the top of the circuit before cutting inside at the chicane, showcasing the superior grip in his corner to surge into first place. From there, he cruised into a colossal lead, crossing the line with a 16.8s advantage over Norris.
“It was a very exciting race in difficult conditions, obviously it’s never ideal when so many things change from everything you have planned, and starting from the front of the grid you hope for a normal, smooth race. So things changed, but we expected the track to dry up towards the end so we didn’t put everything on too much of a wet setup. We knew things would be tough at the start of the race, but luckily the timing was good and the track started to dry out, and that was the moment we needed to go and change our tyres.
“The others had anticipated more wet conditions than us, which worked to our advantage. Big thanks to the team, and I’m very happy to have scored our first feature race win today in Budapest – Hungary never lets me down! I’m just happy to come back after two difficult weekends.”
The Hungaroring was bone-dry as the Sprint Race rolled around on the Sunday morning, with temperatures over 30°c hinting at a race of tyre management. Claiming reverse-grid pole, polesitter Artem Markelov had a slow getaway and was powerless to resist the lightning starts of Luca Ghiotto and Alexander Albon, who swarmed the top two positions from the second row. After an early virtual safety car – brought out for a three-way tussle between Ralph Boschung, Roy Nissany and newcomer Alessio Lorandi – Albon attempted to challenge Ghiotto at the restart, but the Italian held on.
Building a lead of three seconds plus change, Ghiotto looked to exert his control over the race in his bid to take his first victory of 2018. Feeling that he had the legs over Albon, the Campos Vexatec Racing driver soon hit the cliff in his tyres and began to drop back. This thrust Albon back into contention, and the Thai driver had steadily managed his tyre wear to ensure he was in the best possible position at the end of the race. Catching Ghiotto quickly, the DAMS ace burst past with five laps to go into turn 1 and scurried off into the distance – winning with a 9.5s advantage over the long-time leader.
“It was very clear from the first few laps that it was going to be a long race.” Albon remarked. “Luca was really quick at the start, so even if I wanted to I couldn’t keep up with him, so it was about managing myself. I could see Sergio was struggling a little bit as well, so I had a bit of a safety buffer and I could afford to be too slow rather than too fast. In that sense, it was a really good race. That first lap after the restart, I thought that was my chance to get Luca, but he quickly pulled away and I decided to settle into my own rhythm.
“I just kept the same lap time going, the car was evolving during the race and I could maintain my gap – Luca was coming to me rather than I was coming to him – and by the end I could really see he was struggling. So it worked out well.”
Heading into the summer break, F2 will get back at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit from the 24-26 August. With its famous Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex as the cars blast through the Ardennes forest, the Belgian venue is an all-time classic and should throw up some great racing. After a dismal weekend in Budapest, Russell’s lead over Norris stands at just 12 points – which means there’s everything to play for once the racing starts again.