Carlin’s FIA Formula Two team added to the history books this weekend becoming one of only three teams to have ever locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying since the championship’s inception. Enjoying the Russian circuit, the Carlin pair were quick out of the blocks and, despite Jehan Daruvala dominating throughout the majority of qualifying on Friday, it was Yuki Tsunoda who marginally beat him in the final minutes to clinch pole position – with just 0.006 seconds between the pair as they locked out the front row of the grid. Tsunoda converted this to a second-place spot on the podium during the Feature race on Saturday while both drivers had a truncated Sprint Race the following day due to an accident elsewhere in the field causing the race to be red-flagged.
For the first time since the delayed 2020 season got underway in July, the F2 teams made their way outside of Europe. Setting their sights on Sochi, the race weekend would also be the first with more than just a handful of fans in attendance. Friday got underway in beautiful conditions and, as the only other championship on the support bill, with a change in the schedule. Free practice commenced at a much earlier time and saw the Carlin pair finish the 45-minute session with Tsunoda second and Daruvala third – quite clearly signalling their speed and intentions ahead of the weekend.
However they were in a league of their own come qualifying just a few short hours later. Daruvala was the man to beat throughout; setting fastest lap after fastest lap, he held the top spot for most of the qualifying session. The exciting 30-minute show-down came to an exciting conclusion as Tsunoda pulled a lap out of the bag in the dying moments to snatch pole position away from his teammate by an incredible margin of just 0.006 seconds. The Carlin duo couldn’t be touched and took a fantastic front row lockout – only the third in Formula two history.
Racing the next day for the Feature Race was an interesting affair with tyre wear not fully coming in to play as expected for those on the alternate strategy. Off the line, Tsunoda enjoyed a good start but Daruvala struggled on the dirty side of the track and fell back initially. In the first round of pit stops, Daruvala went for the undercut but lost out while Tsunoda found himself behind Mick Schumacher who took the net lead of the race. He then picked up rubber and became vulnerable to Callum Ilott behind who stole net third.
Once all pit stops were complete, Daruvala had sadly lost out on his podium position but was still fighting well and brought home brilliant points as he took the flag in fifth. Meanwhile, Tsunoda had started to catch Ilott and was hunting him down to gain a further place on the podium. A last lap overtake secured him the second spot on the podium.
Sunday brought a difficult race for the entire field. A huge crash for Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken brought out the red flag as their stricken cars were dealt with. However, damage to the barriers was considered to be far too much to fix and the race was completely suspended. In a confusing turn of events for many, the race counted back to lap five which allowed those who had caused the red flag to maintain their points-paying position. It also meant that Daruvala was penalised for an incident that occurred on lap six (after the official end of the race) which resulted in a five-second time penalty being applied. As a result, Tsunoda finished sixth and Daruvala was taken out of the points in 11th.
Tsunoda said, “Race1, the start was good and until the pit stop it was perfect. It was a little bit unfortunate that Schumacher passed me down the straight after I came out of the pits. When that happened I picked up a bit of rubber from the outside of the track and that caused less grip and I also got overtaken by Ilott. After that the pace was OK, I recovered pace and caught Ilott again on the last lap and overtook him. So that was not too bad and I got good points for P2,
“For Race 2 the start was OK, I kept my position and after that the pace was good and I overtook 3 cars. Then 2 cars ahead went into the barrier and we got the Red Flag. A bit of a shame as I had strong pace and I think a better finish was possible.
“A good race weekend and now 3rd in the championship. It is a really tight championship. I am going to keep pushing just like this weekend. Pushing for the championship and to enjoy my racing. Refocus for Bahrain.”
Daruvala added, “Qualifying went really well, I think that in all the first 3 laps I was the fastest by 2 or 3 10ths and honestly, even my 4th lap was good. Obviously it was really close in the end between me and Yuki and he just managed to beat me by 6 1000ths so I couldn’t really complain about that.
“The Feature Race the start was pretty OK, but I still got away third because the dirty side of the track here is really bad. I had a better start than everyone on the dirty side so that was good. I lost out in the pit stop, lost the podium position, then fell back one more place with a mistake on my side into Turn 1.
“In the Sprint Race , again I made a good start from the dirty side of the grid. Unfortunately I made a few errors myself and then got a 5 second penalty for the way I rejoined the track on lap 6 even though the race was classified from lap 5. It’s tough to swallow but all in all a good weekend and I’ve now had 5 good starts in a row, that’s positive and the speed was also a positive this weekend. It’s nice to go into the break with these positive things to think about.”