Théo Pourchaire took his second FIA Formula 2 win in commanding fashion by nearly five seconds from Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. The drivers blew off the cobwebs after eight weeks without a Formula 2 race, with an incident-packed race hinting at some post-summer break rustiness.
The Frenchman, linked with a move to the Alfa Romeo F1 team, managed to navigate through a chaotic first Sprint Race and eventually take P1 from Yüri Vips on Lap 15.
The ART Grand Prix driver never looked back, and tore off into the distance, taking the fastest lap of the race to get the maximum points haul.
Lundgaard brilliantly capitalised on the incident-fuelled race to scythe through the field, standing on the bottom step of the podium having started all the way down in P19, after a penalty demoted Robert Shwartzman from P3 to P6.
Vips made an excellent start, moving alongside pole-sitter David Beckmann to take the inside line into Turn 1, taking the race lead through the chicane.
Behind, Enzo Fittipaldi made contact with Marino Sato who collided with Marcus Armstrong, forcing Fittipaldi to retire. Although, he still received a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.
Shwartzman was judged to have overtaken while off the track at the start, and was hit with a five-second time penalty.
The field was generally well-behaved at Turn 1, especially towards the front of the grid, although this would not have been repeated on Lap 2.
Lirim Zendeli passed Zhou going into the Ascari chicane, demoting him to ninth position.
Turn 1 of Lap 2 saw the first major flashpoint, with both Pourchaire and Dan Ticktum locking up into the chicane. Then the Brit made contact with Felipe Drugovich who had also out-braked himself, spinning Ticktum and forcing him into retirement.
Both Drugovich and Ralph Boschung pitted for a front wing change after contact, hoping to rejoin and catch up the pack.
At the Safety Car restart, Liam Lawson caught his front wing on the back of Pourchaire’s ART Grand Prix car, forcing the Kiwi to pit for repairs.
Drugovich’s morning came to a premature end when the Brazilian spun going through Ascari, bouncing backwards across the gravel, putting the car into the barriers and out of the race.
Meanwhile, Zendeli made an impressive progress, taking fifth position from Zhou.
After a Virtual Safety Car period, Shwartzman was quick to react to the restart, and passed his team mate at the 2nd Lesmo, forcing Oscar Piastri half onto the gravel trap.
Piastri then lost momentum, losing place to Roy Nissany, and then to Jehan Daruvala on Lap 8. The PREMA driver fought back versus Daruvala at the Della Roggia chicane to retake eighth position.
With the Top 3 drivers closely matched at the front of the race, Beckmann locked up and took the escape road at Turn 1, nearly wiping out Vips ahead, and losing second position to Pourchaire.
Nissany spun on the exit of the Ascari chicane, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car and then a Safety Car on Lap 11, just as Pourchaire was shaping for a move for the lead of the race.
Piastri showed off his lightning-quick reactions to avoid the spinning DAMS car, but lost momentum and his position to Lundgaard.
After the third Safety Car restart, Pourchaire made the crucial race-winning move, taking the lead from Vips, and showing an immense confidence on the brakes into Turn 1.
Meanwhile, Lundgaard continued his progress through the field as both ART Grand Prix cars brought their Pirelli tyres quickly up to temperature.
The Danish driver was on hand along with Zhou, Shwartzman and Piastri. Eventually Lawson and Viscaal took advantage of Vips’s mistake, as the Estonian driver had a huge lock-up into Turn 1 on Lap 18, succumbing to the pressure of Zhou behind, and falling down the order.
After such a hectic opening race, the drivers will want to avoid incidents in this afternoon’s second Sprint Race, with plenty of action still to follow this weekend.
Image Credit: Formula Motorsport Limited