Schumacher crowned F2 champion after brave Ilott falls short

Mick Schumacher will begin life as a Formula One driver as reigning F2 champion after a chaotic race saw both himself and title rival Callum Ilott drop from third position out of the points.

Schumacher’s lead at the start of the race was 14 points, and realistically Ticktum needed to win with a fastest lap and hope for a nightmare race for the German. And for a while it looked as if that unlikely scenario may well happen, as Ilott eventually got past the Prema for third place on lap 19, Schumacher’s tyres totally shot from an early flat spot prompting him to fall back down the field and pit for new rubber.

The gap now was only 4 points in Schumacher’s advantage, but the exertions of trying to fight his way past had also cost Ilott, whose tyres were now also cooked, and he too shuffled back down the field, eventually finishing tenth.

It was Jehan Daruvala who went on to take the race victory, from Yuki Tsunoda and pole-sitter Dan Ticktum. But all the attention was on the new champion, a Schumacher yet again conquering the field after a dramatic season.

“It would feel or sound a lot better if I had a good race today,” reflected Schumacher afterward. “But nevertheless we made enough, we did enough to be champion now today. I owe it all to them (Prema). Such a great bunch of people.”

It was a dramatic start. The Bahrain air thick with sand blown up by strong winds, Schumacher misjudged his braking into Turn 4 and almost ran into the back of Ticktum as Ilott swapped places with Robert Shwartzman behind.

The lock-up caused a huge flat spot on his tyres, reported by Schumacher on lap 3. Nevertheless, he even managed to build a gap between himself and Ilott after briefly taking second from Daruvula with a brilliant move around the outside of Turn 6 before conceding the place a lap later.

Ilott continued to be involved in a battle for fourth with Shwartzman as the pair again traded passes. Then, with Schumacher’s tyres reaching the end of their life, Ilott swept past on lap 19. And with Guanyou Zhou taking fourth with ten laps remaining and acting as protection for teammate Ilott, the championship battle suddenly appeared alive again.

“I really don’t know what happened,” reflected Schumacher. “I knew the wind conditions were going to be tricky. It was very gusty, we had a lot of tail wind going into Turn 4. I braked too late. That’s the brutal truth. I was too late on the brakes which kind of compromised the whole race. In the end, after that, I really had to do my very best to try and stay in front of Callum, obviously I knew he had good pace.

“Afterwards, to be honest, I felt my rears going off and I kept on going, kept on going, but I can’t drive any more on this tyre. We have to do something. I was a bit afraid to come in but the team said let’s try because we can’t finish on this set anyway, so. We didn’t manage to get back to the front, but nevertheless were champions now and that’s what people will remember.”

For Ilott, it was a case of so ear, and yet so far, as he fell dramatically back down the field after all his efforts as Daruvala led home Tsunoda and Ticktum. It meant Schumacher claimed the title by the 14 point margin he began the day on, Ilott just managing to remain vice champion by one point from the flying Tsunoda, who finished the year with a win and second place.

“To be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed and I don’t really understand or feel a champion,” added Schumacher. “I guess it’s going to take a few days maybe. And as I said, I am so happy and so grateful to have been working with those people I have got to know personally so well and really can say that they are all friends of mine. Basically I want to say I love you, to those guys. They’re the best.

“The guys who are driving this year are all absolutely amazing. They’re all on a high level of competition driving and have all been very respectful, they’ve been great. And also to Callum, he gave me a run for my money. It’s been really tough, but so enjoyable at the same time. A really big thank you to him and thank you to Robert (Shwartzman) who has kept on pushing me this year and kept making me want to work harder, work on myself, put those extra hours in and that’s why we are where we are now.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.