TEENAGER NORRIS REMAINS IN FRONT AS F2 CHAMPIONSHIP HEADS TO EUROPE
Norris qualified second fastest for yesterday’s 29-lap 108-mile race, denied a second consecutive Feature Race pole-position by 0.214secs in the closing moments of Friday afternoon’s twice red-flagged time trials. But his Dallara stalled as the cars left the grid for the final installation lap resulting in a pit-lane start from the back of the 20-car field although Norris was up to 13th place prior to a Safety Car period on the second lap. Lando pitted after six laps, having made up another place, before making his compulsory pit-stop for tyres. With 10-laps remaining, Lando had superbly battled his way into eighth place prior to another Safety Car. He moved up another two places and took the chequered flag sixth – 7.6secs behind the winner – having spent the closing laps fighting for fourth.
Lando began today’s 78-mile Sprint Race from third place on the “reverse” grid, with a six-point series lead, Carlin having made changes overnight to improve the Dallara’s balance which Norris felt had restricted his outright pace the previous day. Delayed by the stalled pole-sitter directly ahead, Norris completed lap one fourth. He moved up a place on the fourth lap, then briefly had second on lap nine exiting Turn 1. Challenging for second place again one lap later, Lando was three abreast on the outside heading into the same corner but had to back out. He went wide, quickly turned around and resumed seventh. He had made up two places by lap 12, ultimately finishing at the back of a three-car dice for third in fifth after 21 hectic laps staged in blustery conditions. He now leads the championship by a single-point.
The 3.73-mile Baku City circuit, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, was the second-longest track on the F2 calendar – just over half a mile shorter than Spa-Francorchamps, the Belgium circuit the series visits in August. The track, that is unusually run in an anti-clockwise direction, is used just once a year and features many contrasts. It includes the longest straight on the F2 calendar, at 1.305-miles the pit-straight produces the highest top speeds of the year (almost 200mph). Meanwhile the left-right flicks alongside the medieval wall of Baku’s Old Town is the narrowest section of the track at just 25ft and down to just 50mph. Baku marked the fifth “street” track Lando has raced on after Monaco (Formula Renault, 2016) plus Macau (2016/17) Pau and the Norisring (both 2017) all in F3. It is worth noting that at all four venues, Norris had either set “pole” or front row times in qualifying and went on to score at least a podium, or a victory, apart from in Monaco. The next F2 races are staged at the Circuit de Barcelona in Spain (12-13 May).
Lando Norris (GB): Born: Bristol, England. Aged 18.“I’m disappointed, I could have done better in both races but I feel confident going to Barcelona. It’s more points but not the amount I’d wanted. The car could have been better and I made too many mistakes which cost possible podiums. Qualifying was hectic with a lot of yellows with drivers cooling or pushing all at the same time. I only got one proper lap in on my first run which was good enough for P2. I tried pushing again but there were yellows and then a red [flag]. I pitted for new tyres and felt confident I could improve. I did an alright lap but was cross that I didn’t nail it having made a mistake in Sector 1. “Sixth place in the Feature was a pretty decent recovery after how the race began. The clutch instantly bit and the car stalled at the green light for the installation lap so I started from the pit-lane at the back. I made up quite a few positions but then lost a couple making sure of a safe release at my pit-stop. I didn’t feel as confident with the car’s set-up as I had in qualifying. But we got a bit lucky with mistakes and failures from others. My start in the Sprint race wasn’t great and then I had to avoid the car ahead of me. I was a little too cautious in the opening laps. Going into Turn 1, I had the slipstream off Latifi and George [Russell] had the slipstream off me. We were three abreast with me on the outside. I could see in my left mirror that they were there but couldn’t tell how far alongside they were. We all braked really late, and I dived into the corner, but needed to leave a big gap not wanting to turn in on them as I still wasn’t sure where they were at. I went in hot, got some oversteer, and knew I’d end up in the wall if I tried to make the corner, so steered right, losing positions. I recovered two places and just as I caught De Vries he got DRS off Latifi. I basically made one big error at T1 which cost me a podium. “Baku was a very different track in many ways to where I’d driven an F2 car before like Paul Ricard, Magny Cours and Bahrain. Very long straights so you want to go low on the ‘wing’ but there were also high-speed corners that weren’t easy ‘flat’ so it’s a compromise. These features made it an exciting and fun track for racing on. It was quite technical too in some places, around the Castle was very tight and twisty, a complete mixture really. Tyre degradation was very small. ”