PREMA driver Frederick Vesti took his second FIA Formula 2 victory in Saudi Arabia after pole-sitter Victor Martins made a costly error.
Vesti’s first Feature Race win came from sixth on the grid, and the Danish driver took the lead on Lap 18 when Martins lost control of his ART and spun out of the race.
The 21-year-old said: “It was a crazy race! I had a good start and came up to fourth, and I felt I had pace in the car.
“The race was coming to me, a few people made mistakes and I made no mistakes.”
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Championship leader Ralph Boschung failed to score, as did Bahrain Feature Race winner Théo Pourchaire.
Vesti, a Mercedes Junior driver, is the fourth winner in four races of the season so far, joining Boschung, Pourchaire, and Ayumu Iwasa, who won the Sprint Race on Saturday.
Australian Jack Doohan finished second, with MP Motorsport’s Jehan Daruvala collecting a second third-place finish of the weekend.
Vesti’s win moves the PREMA driver up to fourth in a close title battle, the top four covered by just five points.
Vesti keeps a “cool” head in wild battles at the front
Vesti’s route to victory was not straightforward, and it was PREMA teammate Oliver Bearman who led the early laps, after making a better start from the front row than pole-sitter Martins.
Vesti followed Virtuosi’s Jack Doohan into the pit lane on Lap 6, to change off the super-soft Pirelli tyre for the preferred medium rubber, with the PREMA team getting the Dane out ahead of the Australian.
Bearman and Martins remained first and second after their stops on Lap 7 and on Lap 10, Martins made a move for the lead into the first corner, which Bearman defended robustly.
The French driver was forced to leave the track, taking the lead in doing so, but quickly ceded the advantage, as Vesti homed in on the rookie pair at the front.
At the beginning of the following lap, Martins forced his ART into the lead, shoving Bearman wide on the exit of Turn 2, which allowed Vesti to snatch second from his teammate.
Bearman would spin out of third on Lap 16, ending his hopes of a maiden podium, although the 17-year-old Brit did hang on for the final point in tenth.
Moments after the Bearman spin, the race-defining moment arrived, as Martins lost the rear in the flowing first sector sequence.
As the 22-year-old’s race ended in retirement, Vesti coaxed his PREMA home to seal a season-launching victory.
“When I got into the lead, there were still 11 laps, I thought we were way further in the race!” the Dane said.
Vesti added: “I kept my head cool, took one lap after another, slowly the lap count came down and we won the race.”
Pourchaire non-score opens the door for rivals
After demolishing the field in Bahrain, Théo Pourchaire arrived in Saudi Arabia aiming to add to his title lead, but an error in Saturday’s Sprint Race which took out both himself and PREMA’s Bearman, saw the Frenchman slapped with a five-place grid drop for Sunday’s race.
The Sauber Junior driver started from eighth on the grid but struggled to make progress in his ART, eventually coming home 13th, while championship leader Ralph Boschung ended the race 19th for Campos.
This meant that Saturday’s Sprint Race winner Iwasa moved to just two points off the early season pace, while Indian Daruvala also moved into contention, nine points adrift of Boschung.
And with Doohan getting off the mark this weekend, the FIA Formula 2 title race has well and truly got going in 2023.
Image: PREMA Racing