BIC, Al Sakhir: The FIA Formula 2 Championship kicked off at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain as the first round of the 2017 championship held on Friday. As the penultimate step in the motorsport ladder, Formula 2 hosted a hugely competitive grid of race and championship winners all looking to take the final step in their careers before nabbing the ultimate prize, a seat in Formula 1.
The grid, which includes multiple GP2 race winners such as Luca Ghiotto, Norman Nato, Artem Markelov, Johnny Cecotto, Nobuharu Matsushita and Jordan King as well as five of the top six drivers from GP3 in 2016, including champion Charles Leclerc and vice champion Alexander Albon, promises to provide electric action on track as they compete to be the first Formula 2 champion.
The teams and drivers return to Bahrain after a successful pre-season test at the circuit 2 weeks ago: DAMS driver Nicholas Latifi set the pace across the 3-day period with a time of 1:40.541 on the 2nd day, just ahead of Nyck De Vries at Rapax on the final day. As such the circuit is well known to the whole grid, who will be working hard on setting up their cars to management tyre wear, which is particularly tough here. To that end, Pirelli will provide the drivers with their Medium and Soft compounds for this round.
“Bahrain is a circuit we know well, where we tested with GP2 – as it was known then – last year. Now we have a new name, Formula 2, which underlines the intention of the championship perfectly, providing a natural stepping-stone to Formula 1. The 2017 tyres we are supplying are exactly the same as last year, because together with the promoter we felt that they were doing exactly the job that was required: providing opportunities for overtaking and preparing the drivers for future challenges. Of course, Formula 1 takes a slightly different direction in terms of tyres this year, whereas Formula 2 sticks with the characteristics we had before. For Bahrain, thermal degradation will be a key factor, especially with the Formula 2 races being held in the heat of the day, as opposed to in the evening for Formula 1,” Pirelli’s racing manager Marion Isola, said.
“Bahrain is quite a difficult circuit to find the limit to make a good laptime, because you have to brake right on the limit, especially at turn 1: it’s quite bumpy, so it’s difficult to find and stay on the limit, and it’s so demanding on brakes. Sector 1 is more about braking, sector 2 is about slow corners, and sector 3 in qualifying you can feel that you are losing your tyres, and you just have to manage them to the line,” according to Norman Nato and Pertamina Arden.
“For qualy that’s tough, to make the tyre last for the full lap, and for the race it’s one of those where you really have to think about managing your tyres. It’s quite demanding, and it will be really hot next week for the race: the forecast is that it will be around 33 degrees, which extreme. In Bahrain if you are leading it is easier to manage your tyres, but if you are further back it’s much worse, so qualifying is really important for the whole weekend.
“The race is all about set-up, to adapt the car for the tyres: during the test, we saw it was easy to lose 2-3 seconds from lap to lap, so the key will be to manage this and find consistency. But the test was good: I have raced with Arden before but the team is completely new, so it was important to work and to get to know each other better. And I think we have done this, we are working well together, and are ready for the season.”