Frederik Vesti won the Abu Dhabi Sprint Race to make sure the 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship goes right down to the wire in the final race of the season.
The Danish title contender had to fight his way to his sixth win of the season after falling from second to fourth place on a busy opening lap. Vesti made some daring moves on his way to victory, while championship leader Théo Pourchaire did well to finish P7 after qualifying a disappointing fourteenth.
The Prema driver reduced the gap to his rival to 18 points, keeping him in with a chance of a last-gasp title win in the Feature Race which he will start from P9, while Pourchaire will have to fight through from P14 again.
With one final Feature Race remaining, Pourchaire only needs to finish P5 to be crowned champion even if Vesti wins.
If Pourchaire fails to score any points, Vesti will still need to finish second to win the title.
As it happened
The first drama arrived before the five red lights went out, as we learned Pourchaire would be investigated after the race for a practice start infringement – with a potential penalty looming over the ART Grand Prix driver.
Vesti got the jump at the start and went up the inside of polesitter Fittipaldi at Turn 1, but the Brazilian held the lead around the outside on what was an explosive first lap.
Vesti dived down the inside of the race leader at the Turn 5 hairpin, which invited Richard Verschoor and Isack Hadjar to get involved. After going three-wide down the back straight, Vesti was shuffled down to P4 as Fittipaldi resisted the pressure out front.
Further back in the field, Juan Manuel Correa spun at Turn 4 and stalled the engine, bringing out the Safety Car. Pourchaire narrowly avoided the spinning Van Amesfoort car to emerge from the first lap in P9, just one place off the points.
Vesti wasted no time at the Safety Car restart, squeezing past Verschoor into third place. Behind, Doohan found himself on the outside of Iwasa, pushed wide as the pair made contact.
Pourchaire dived up the inside of Kush Maini on Lap 8, putting himself back into the points. A lap later, he pressured Iwasa wide at Turn 9 to get into seventh place – an impressive first half of the race from P14.
Vesti made a daring move around the outside of Isack Hadjar at the fast Turn 9, risking it all to fight his way back to the front of the race. He then set about closing up to Fittipaldi, making a 2.5-second gap just a second’s gap within the next eight laps.
Meanwhile, his title rival stayed in P7, seemingly unable to challenge Jack Doohan ahead. Richard Verschoor slipstreamed past Hadjar for P3, as the Red Bull Junior then came under pressure from Hauger, Doohan and Pourchaire behind.
Vesti turned the pressure up on Fittipaldi, and got his opportunity to take the race lead on Lap 20 when the Brazilian locked up into Turn 5, giving Vesti the chance to dive up the inside into Turn 6.
Once in the lead, Vesti pulled away, taking the extra point for the fastest lap and showing pace which would give him confidence of another strong performance in the season-defining Feature Race.
Hauger finally managed to overcome the defences of Hadjar on the final lap to take fourth place, as Pourchaire finished in seventh, unable to move up any further in a DRS train.
The 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship will now be decided in a final Feature Race showdown between Vesti and Pourchaire. The Prema driver still trails in the points, but with his rival starting so far back, nothing is decided just yet.
Image: Formula Motorsport Limited