Shwartzman closes F2 championship gap on Ilott after crazy feature race in Spain

Prema’s Robert Shwartzman was left thankful for three Safety Car periods and a correct tyre strategy as the Russian closed the gap on title rival Callum Ilott in the F2 championship standings with second in Spain’s feature race.

Shwartzman had started from second on the grid for Saturday’s feature race and things quickly got better as he passed pole sitter Ilott for the lead into Turn 1 as Prema teammate Mick Schumacher catapulted from fifth to third.

All was looking rosy in the garden of Prema in the early stages of the race, but the duo were on alternate strategies, Schumacher gambling by starting on the hard white-banded tyre. Initially, it looked good for the German, who was able to establish a 33 second cushion after Ilott passed Shwartzman under DRS after the first restart.

It prompted Shwartzman to pit early as his soft tyres grained quickly in the baking Barcelona track temperatures, leaving his teammate to stay out until lap 23 before his switch to softs. But it quickly became apparent that the soft/hard strategy was the way to go, especially when a second Safety Car period caused by Giuliano Alesi’s stranded HWA saw many pit for fresh softs. It allowed Nobuharu Matsushita to pull off a quite astonishing victory from 18th on the grid, as Shwartzman was able to pass Guanyu Zhou and Yuki Tsonoda to take second, Ilott dropping alarmingly down to 5th from second on the final lap.

“The start was good and then I made a mistake, a lock-up big time in Turn 1,” said Shwartzman after stepping from his Prema.  “So, in the first lap my car was vibrating a lot, so I knew I had destroyed the front left. We tried to stay as long as we could with this tyre but at some point the tyre just completely went off, so I pitted one lap before Callum on the exit basically on that lap he pushed he gained an advantage and therefore on the exit was in front and then I knew basically I had to just try to save my tyres and I was more or less quite similar pace as Callum.

“At some point there were cars that didn’t pit but were going quite slow and then it started to get really, really messy with the positions. Then the Safety Car came out and the team did a really good job to pit, to take that risk and good job from the mechanics for a good pit stop. Then we had fresh tyres and after the restart I hit my best, there was a lot of fighting going on and then Callum and Nikita did some mistakes and I managed to get past both of them in one corner. And at the end there was another Safety Car and we just did one lap and I’m really happy. Big thanks to the team, and for the fans for supporting me.”

Second place for Schwartzman means that he narrows the gap to just 17 points to Ilott in the drivers’ standings with Sunday’s sprint race to come and rounds in Belgium and Italy to complete the series.

Motorsport Technology