Sochi, Race 1: Albon wins Feature Race for DAMS one-two
Thai driver collects fourth victory of the season in Russia
Alexander Albon swept to his fourth win of the year in the FIA Formula 2 Championship Feature Race at Sochi, Russia, powering ahead of polesitter Nyck de Vries in the pitstops and working his way through the alternate strategy-runners to claim victory. His DAMS teammate Nicholas Latifi passed de Vries late on to clinch second, giving the French team their first one-two finish of the season. A late lock-up left de Vries having to be content with third place.
An action-packed start was avoided by de Vries, who got away cleanly and slinked off into a strong early lead, while George Russell collected a good start to fall into rank behind the Dutch driver. After the opening laps, Russell began to come under fire from Albon, while home favourite Artem Markelov – starting from 19th – swashbuckled his way through the pack and was as high as ninth by the end of the third lap.
Tyre degradation started to bite hard quickly, and the likes of Antonio Fuoco, Jack Aitken and Markelov were able to pick their way through the front half of the field with consummate ease. Meanwhile, Albon preserved more life in his tyres and blasted past Russell on the fifth lap, but the pair slipped behind Fuoco and Aitken shortly after – not wishing to fight too hard with those on a different strategy.
Fuoco took the lead moments before de Vries stopped at the end of lap 6, but Markelov then sent the fans into raptures after he blasted past Fuoco moments after to assume first place. The action spilled over into the pitstops, and a good stop by the DAMS team was enough to put Albon out in front of de Vries, with Russell just behind them. Meanwhile, Lando Norris’ stop was nightmarish; first stopping in the wrong pitbox, the Brit left his Carlin mechanics without a correctly-attached front-right wheel, coming to a stop and ending his race.
Markelov began to build a lead over Fuoco, and was seeking to create as much of a gap over Albon as possible to maximise his chances of a strong points haul. Albon then came under fire from de Vries at the start of lap nine, but was resolute in defence and snuffed out the PREMA driver’s advances. The Thai driver then began to extend his advantage over de Vries, which stood at almost three seconds by the end of the subsequent lap.
The Russian fans cheered each time Markelov completed another lap, and the RUSSIAN TIME driver could breathe a little easier as Fuoco began to fall back – dropping behind F2 newcomer Niko Kari before the halfway mark of the race. Albon then began to catch the drivers yet to stop, dispatching Arjun Maini on lap 15 before reeling in to Aitken and Dorian Boccolacci.
Albon was clinical in dealing with those ahead of him on older prime tyres, while de Vries crucially took longer to make his way through – making contact with Maini on lap 19. Immediately after, Markelov called in to pit, enduring a slow stop which spat him back out in 11th place. Fuoco then led from Nirei Fukuzumi, but the Japanese driver was quickly dealt with by Albon on the 22nd tour of the circuit before Fuoco pitted a lap later.
This handed the lead to Albon, who was over eight seconds clear of de Vries. The Dutchman was unable to make any inroads into the gap, instead watching his advantage over Latifi erode away after the Canadian had passed Russell for third. Capitalising on a heavy lockup from de Vries, Latifi wrested control of the runner-up spot with three laps to go.
A late virtual safety car emerged for the stranded Maximilian Gunther, who stopped on track, but the race ended under full-speed running – Albon crossing the line 11.4s ahead of Latifi to lock out the top two places on the podium. De Vries captured third ahead of Russell, as Sergio Sette Camara drove a quiet race to fifth. Fuoco took sixth as Alessio Lorandi claimed his first F2 points in seventh. Fukuzumi, Roberto Merhi and Tadasuke Makino completed the top ten.
Russell now leads the standings by 30 points from Albon, who moves up to second – three points clear of Norris. Carlin continue to lead the teams’ championship with 349 points, 56 points clear of ART Grand Prix – who are now just one point behind DAMS.
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