Nato wins drama-packed F2 race in Baku

Norman Nato has won his first Formula 2 race of the season despite crossing the line second. Charles Leclerc saw the chequered flag first but had a penalty that prevented a historic double this weekend. Second in the championship, Oliver Rowland, failed to finish after a gearbox issue ended his race early.

Ralph Boschung started on reverse-grid pole for today’s race after not doing a pit-stop but wasn’t confident of being able to get the win and this showed in his defensive move against Oliver Rowland at the start. The Swiss driver forcefully cut Rowland off into Turn 1 but could do nothing about Rowland’s move into Turn 2. Norman Nato replicated that move on Boschung a lap later but lost part of his front wing in the process.

Yesterday, Rowland had picked up a questionable penalty post-race which dropped him from fourth to seventh but the Englishman’s bad luck didn’t end there. On Lap 8 of 21 and with Nato closing his gearbox failed to find first gear and he was out. Nick de Vries, yesterday’s runner-up was up to second by this point after passing Nicholas Latifi courtesy of a stunning move around the outside into Turn 1. However, the Dutchman would also suffer bad luck, his brakes seemingly failing going into Turn 3.

Up until this point, championship leader, Charles Leclerc, was having a nondescript race, hanging onto the back of a train that ran behind Jordan King in 6th place. Hearing that his closest challenger for the title was out of the race, though, seemed to spark the Monegasque into life as he went on an overtaking spree that was a joy to watch. Markelov, Sirotkin, Boschung, King and Latifi were all passed in a matter of 3 laps in what was a masterclass by Leclerc and only Nato stood between him and the lead.

Leclerc was flying now he was in clean air, catching Nato by at least a second each lap and by Lap 17, he was right on the Frenchman. No man had completed the double (victory in the feature and sprint races) since GP2 was renamed to Formula 2 at the beginning of the season but Leclerc had an excellent chance to achieve this. But the chance of victory would be cruelly taken from Leclerc’s hands before he would challenge for first. The stewards handed Charles a 10-second penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags and it meant that his pass on Lap 19 was, in the end, meaningless.

Norman Nato was delighted, though, he stuck within 10 seconds of Leclerc to claim his first victory of 2017 and the first since Monza last year. It was also Arden’s first win since Silverstone in 2012. Despite his penalty, Leclerc finished in second and extend his lead in the championship. Nicholas Latifi achieved the first double podium of his F2 career and Jordan King matched his best finish of the season so far in fourth. However, King would later be disqualified for illegal tyre pressures.

That meant that Sergey Sirotkin and Artem Markelov, who were in very close company, finished in fourth and fifth, respectively. Nobuhara Matsushita finished a respectable sixth after a lowly grid-slot. Luca Ghiotto had an excellent race to climb from 16th at the start to 7th by the finish and Ralph Boschung ended up in 8th place and scored the final point after starting on pole.

The next races in Formula 2 are in Austria in 2 weeks’ time.

Full Classification:

P1: Nato

P2: Leclerc* +8.7s

P3: Latifi +11.5s

P4: Sirotkin +12.7s

P5: Markelov 12.8+s

P6: Matsushita +14.4s

P7: Ghiotto +16.8s

P8: Boschung +21.3s

P9: Sette-Camara +27.3s

P10: Galael +27.8s

P11: Visoiu +31.6s

P12: Fuoco +32.6s

P13: Malja +34.6s

P14: Cecotto +35.7s

P15: Canamasas +40.3s

P16: Deletraz +57.1s

P17: Jeffri +98.9s

Ret: de Vries (Brakes, 8 laps)

Ret: Rowland (Gearbox, 7 laps)

DSQ: King**

*Charles Leclerc had a 10 second penalty for ignoring yellow flags.

**Jordan King was disqualified post-race for illegal tyre pressures.

Fastest Lap: Leclerc – 1:53.635

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