It was a weekend full of potential but mixed fortunes for the Carlin FIA Formula 2 team in Bahrain this weekend. Red Bull Junior Liam Lawson leaves the Bahrain International Circuit with two podiums having finished third and second in the Sprint and Feature races respectively. Teammate Logan Sargeant endured a tougher season opener; sixth place in the Sprint race was followed by a hard fought seventh place in Sunday’s Feature race after an eventful outing saw the American battle back through the field after a prolonged pit stop.
Saturday evening’s Sprint race was the first time the Formula 2 cars took to the track in racing anger this season, with Lawson lining up fifth and Sargeant seventh for the reverse grid race under the Bahrain flood lights. As the lights went out, Lawson moved up a place to fourth while Sargeant was squeezed down to 10th. An early safety car was required after Marcus Armstrong was tapped into a spin and left stranded on the track. Lawson wasted no time and was fighting Jehan Daruvala for third at the restart. The New Zealander fought wheel to wheel with Daruvala, and was almost passed by Drugovich in the process, as behind Sargeant moved up to eighth place.
Both Carlin men saw their pace improve in the second half of the race compared to the rest of the field. Sargeant was one of the fastest drivers on track in the final stages, catching and passing Yuri Vips for sixth place. With just three laps to go, Drugovich was in his sights, but the Williams Racing Academy Driver reached the chequered flag before he could mount a challenge. Lawson was also making moves, the Red Bull Junior passed Ralph Boschung with two laps to go to take the final podium spot; the position he would maintain to the flag.
Sunday’s Feature race saw Sargeant and Lawson line up in their qualifying positions of fourth and sixth respectively. A difficult start for Sargeant saw him dropdown the order to ninth, while Lawson was fighting for third in the first few corners but settled into fifth at the end of lap one. In a repeat of Saturday’s race, another early safety car period was required, this time for the spun and stranded car of Frederick Vesti. At the restart Lawson held fifth with Sargeant making up a place to eighth.
Lawson passed Boschung for the second consecutive race, this time taking fourth on lap six. The Rodin backed driver lost that to Armstrong though who was running an alternate tyre strategy.
Sargeant pitted from ninth on lap 13, but an issue in the pit stop and pulling out of the box saw the Carlin man loose a handful of seconds, leaving him running at the back of the field when he exited the pitlane. Lawson followed his team mate into the pits next time round, the Carlin pit crew recovering sufficiently to deliver the fastest pit stop of the race, putting Lawson back out on track in a good position and fighting with Jack Doohan.
With strong pace, Sargeant pushed on with his recovery, down in 17th place on lap 17, while at the front, Lawson was back in the podium positions after Iwasa made his compulsory pit stop. Lawson stole second from Drugovich on lap 22, with Sargeant making his way back through the field in 13th. The American was involved in some intense mid-field wheel to wheel action, yo-yoing positions for several corners until moving up to 11th place. The second safety car period of the race was required when Richard Verschoor was spun round in the middle of the track. That triggered a handful of teams taking advantage of the interlude to pit for new rubber, but a shortened safety car period and several incidents in the pit lane, not least a car blocking pit lane completely meant it quickly became the wrong strategy. Both Carlin men stayed out with Lawson holding second and Sargeant by now eighth with three laps to go.
With the race ending to time rather than laps, there was just one lap to go when the safety car came in with Sargeant immediately passing a struggling Iwasa who clearly had an issue. Lawson was right behind leader Pourchaire but the chequered flag was shown before either driver could make up any further positions leaving Lawson and Sargeant second and seventh respectively.
Reflecting on the weekend, Lawson said, “Overall a decent weekend, not perfect, but yeah a decent weekend. The qualifying wasn’t ideal, we should have been higher up so that will be the target for Saudi and onwards in the championship this year. In terms of the races, two podiums is good, but again the speed wasn’t quite where it needs to be. I think overall it was good weekend but not perfect; we need to be just a little bit faster next time.”
An understandably disappointed Sargeant said, “The first F2race weekend of the season is done and dusted. Many positives to take from the weekend. Our pace has been solid, so we need to put each weekend together a bit better to bag more points. Thanks to Carlin for their hard work. I can’t wait to have another go in Jeddah.”
The Carlin team leave Bahrain with an early lead in the teams’ championship. Lawson and Sargeant will have just a couple of days before they are back out in action again, for the second round of the season at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix this weekend.