A Detailed Look at the 2021 F2 Monaco Grand Prix

The historic streets of Monaco had incredible highs and tragic lows for the F2 grid. Chiara takes you through the chaotic weekend.

Written by Chiara Scha

June 13, 2021

Bonjour tout le monde et bienvenue à Monaco! 

After over 50 days of no action in Formula 2, the support series finally made its much-awaited return on Thursday, 20th May. However, before the weekend started, HWA Racelab announced that Matteo Nannini would not be driving for them anymore due to funding issues. In his place, Jack Aitken would take the number 22 car around the streets of Monaco and in Baku.

Due to Monaco’s narrow, twisty streets, the qualifying format was different. The drivers were split into two groups randomly and both had the same amount of track time and the times would then be combined into one list to determine the starting grid.

French rookie Theo Pourchaire set the quickest lap of group A with a time of 1:20.985. Reigning Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri was the second-fastest driver of group A going less than a tenth quicker than Jüri Vips in P3 of their group. Aitken set the slowest time of this group with 1:23.353 but was close to beating Petecof, who was only 0.009 seconds faster than Aitken.

In group B, the top two drivers were Shwartzman P1 and Ticktum P2. They were followed by Swiss driver Ralph Boschung from Campos Racing. Shwartzman’s time was 1:21.403, meaning he was only P2 overall. This gave Theo Pourchaire his maiden F2 feature race In P5 of group B and only P10 overall was Sakhir feature race winner Guanyu Zhou. However, this meant pole position in the first sprint race for the Alpine junior.

Alessio Deledda, who had been the slowest driver to set a lap time in free practice, was once again the slowest driver on the track. His lap time of 1:27.744 was outside the 107% rule. Consequently, HWA Racelab had to ask for permission to let him run in the races. The FIA allowed Deledsa to continue and he would start the race in P22.  

For the first sprint race on Friday morning, it was a UNI Virtuosi front row with Felipe Drugovich starting in P2 alongside his teammate Zhou. Row two consisted of Christian Lundgaard in P3 and Roy Nissany in P4.

At lights out, Zhou had a good start while Drugovich struggled to get away from the line. His bad getaway allowed Lundgaard to pressure the Brazilian driver, which resulted in an overtake on the inside in Turn 1. On the uphill section of the track, Shwartzman hit the outside wall, resulting in severe front wing damage and last place for the Prema driver. Limping back to the pits, Shwartzman got a new front wing, and was able to get back out on track but ultimately retired the car one lap later.

Aitken, who started in P21, made up the most places in the opening phase of this race and found himself in P17 on lap 6. At this point, everything had calmed into a typical Monaco race with the most action being the battle for fastest lap in the top 10. 

By lap 11, Zhou had a comfortable lead on Lundgaard, the Chinese driver being about 2.3 seconds ahead of his Alpine academy mate. Drugovich tried to close in on Lundgaard but did not make it work.One lap after successfully keeping Drugovich at bay, Lundgaard’s bad luck struck as smoke started to come out the back of his car. He tried to keep the car going, not dropping back considerably despite his issue. Over the radio, the team advised him to keep going, seemingly hoping that the problem would resolve itself. Unfortunately, the amount of smoke only increased. On lap 15, the Alpine junior had to stop the car at an emergency exit in Mirabeau.

The first and only driver to be lapped was Deledda, whom Zhou lapped on lap 20. The Chinese driver once again had a comfortable gap to P2 of over 5 seconds. On lap 25, the narrow characteristics of Monaco caught another driver off guard. Petecof hit the wall at the exit of the swimming pool chicane after jumping over the curb. The incident first brought out the full Safety Car. After only two laps, the Safety Car ended again, which meant three more laps of racing were possible. Due to the Safety Car, all gaps that drivers had managed to form were neutralised. The two UNI Virtuosi cars were still in the lead and on the way to a 1-2 finish. Both of them got a clean getaway, Zhou accelerating out of the last corner to resume green flag racing.

During the first lap under race conditions, lap 28, Ticktum put pressure on Vips. Further down the field, Armstrong was still trying to overtake the Red Bull junior driver Daruvala in front of him. Neither pressuring resulted in an overtake on this lap. By the time Zhou and Drugovich crossed the finish line to start the second to last lap, Zhou had a lead of 2 seconds on his teammate behind. Shortly after, there was a yellow flag in sector one as Sato hit the wall in Turn 1 and could not continue the race.

On the last lap, everything seemed to have settled. After a battle that essentially lasted the whole race, Armstrong was still trying to make a pass on Daruvala for P10. Then, in the second to last corner, the Kiwi driver pushed Daruvala to the outside wall, squeezing him there. Consequently, the Indian driver had to slow down for the final corner to not turn into his opponent. However, this also meant that Armstrong passed him for P10 on the inside line, taking pole position for the next race.

The race ended with Guanyu Zhou in P1 (+15 points), Felipe Drugovich in P2 (+12 points), and, with his first Formula 2 podium, Roy Nissany in P3 (+10 points). The race’s fastest lap went to Jüri Vips in P5 (+6 +2 points), which he set on lap 22. His fastest lap was only 0.003 seconds faster than fifth-placed Dan Ticktum’s fastest lap (+4 points). However, at this point, Vips was under investigation for an infringement during the Safety Car period. He did not receive a penalty, which meant he got to keep his result. In P9 was Vips’ teammate Liam Lawson, who would start the next race on P2 next to his countryman Marcus Armstrong. Sato was classified as P19 after completing a sufficient amount of race distance. Following their DNFs, Petecof, Lundgaard and Shwartzman were set to start the next race from P20, P21 and P22.

 

Conditions changed notably overnight for the second sprint race. Due to rain during the night and early morning hours, the track was damp, enough so that everyone started on wet tyres. Armstrong, who was set to start from pole position, did not make it to the grid because his car stopped. Instead of having the best starting position thanks to his final corner overtake the day before, he would only start from the pitlane.  Armstrong was later forced to retire the car about 2 laps in. With an empty P1 grid spot, all drivers were essentially promoted one place up the order when the race started.

Lawson, who started in the P2 position, struggled to get away from the line at lights out. At the same time, Piastri from P3 had a stellar start. The Australian overtook the Red Bull junior on straight-line speed. Something similar happened to Pourchaire, who started P4 but was overtaken by Ticktum from P5 on the straight. Ticktum then put pressure on Lawson in Turn 1 but ultimately did not make the overtake work. Further down the field, Petecof hit the wall in Turn 1 after a hit from Sato. The Brazilian driver was unable to continue the race. 

By the time the two leading drivers got into Turn 1 again, there was the green flag again, and Lawson tried and failed to get back his position from Piastri.

There still was a tight battle for the race lead between Piastri and Lawson. On lap 5, the Kiwi driver pushed Piastri wide in the nouvelle chicane, and both drivers cut the chicane. Neither received a penalty as neither gained an advantage nor could have avoided cutting the chicane without a crash. The same lap a few corners later, Lawson finally made the overtake work in Rascasse and immediately managed to pull away from Piastri.

The hardest part of the track seemed to be Turn 1, as various drivers had to use the emergency exit not to crash. On lap 10, in more or less the same place as Armstrong, Sato had to retire after running wide at Turn 1. His engine had stopped running, which resulted in another Virtual Safety Car. The second virtual safety car phase prompted the UNI Virtuosi team to take a gamble and pitted both their drivers for the super softs, the softer dry compound tyre. This gamble did not pay off, as Drugovich and Zhou were lapped soon. On lap 15, Zhou drove back into the pits to change to wet tyres again, and his teammate followed the lap after. The team that had a 1-2 finish the day before were now running at the back of the field.  

At the front of the field, Lawson had pulled up a big gap to Piastri and Ticktum, who were battling it out for P2. On lap 15, Ticktum made a clean move on Piastri in the nouvelle chicane, resulting in the Williams junior taking P2. As Lawson did, the British driver was able to immediately form a gap between himself and Piastri, who struggled in the drying conditions with his tyres.

At the front, the gap between Lawson and Ticktum in P2 shrunk from about 3 seconds to less than a second by lap 19. Just like the previous race, Ticktum had been setting fastest laps attempting to close in on the driver in front. At the same time, six drivers: Ralph Boschung, Roy Nissany, Jehan Daruvala, Richard Verschoor, David Beckmann and Lirim Zendeli were battling for P6. On lap 20, Verschoor overtook Daruvala for the final point-scoring position P8.

At the front, Ticktum had been closely following Lawson for a few laps. However, after a significant drift in the uphill section, the British driver significantly dropped off. He revealed later that he did so deliberately.

The battle for P6 was still intense, and by lap 21, there were eight cars within the DRS range of each other (P6 to P13). On lap 23, while trying to follow Boschung, Israeli driver Nissany hit the wall in Turn 1 with his left rear, resulting in a retirement. 

Further up the road, Piastri was more or less the cork in the bottle with Pourchaire and Vips stuck behind him while also battling with each other. At Casino Square, the Estonian was able to take the inside line to overtake the 17-year-old Frenchman. Luckily for Piastri, the Safety Car was deployed due to an incident before Vips could overtake him.

In Turn 1, Beckmann and Bent Viscaal collided. While Viscaal was able to drive away, Beckmann was not that lucky. His car stopped sideways on track, blocking part of the pit lane exit road. Shwartzman, who had pitted for supersoft tyres, had to drive past the partially blocked part but did not have any troubles.

Formula 2 Monaco sprint races are either 30 laps or 45 minutes plus one lap long. And while the Safety Car completed its first lap, there were less than four minutes left on the clock. Due to the damp track and the wet tyres, the lap times had been significantly slower than the day before. Most likely, the drivers wouldn’t have completed 30 laps, even without the slow Safety Car phase. Lawson crossed the line with about 20 seconds to go at the restart, meaning that there would be two laps of green flag racing should there be no further incident. Both Lawson and Ticktum got a good getaway, but Ticktum could not put up a fight for P1. Vips battled Piastri hard, but couldn’t overtake before the end of the race. Zendeli was able to overtake Daruvala for the last point-scoring position (P8) in the last stage of the race. As the only driver with dry compound tyres, Shwartzman was the fastest driver on track, setting two fastest laps in the now almost dry conditions. He was only P11 on the road, meaning he would not be awarded the extra points.

Lawson crossed the line in P1, followed by Ticktum about 8 seconds later. Piastri came home in P3, closely followed by Jüri Vips and Theo Pourchaire.

However, heartbreak struck for Liam Lawson and the Hitech Grand Prix team after the race was well over. The 19-year-old driver was disqualified from the race after using the wrong throttle map at the race start. The disqualification promoted Dan Ticktum to the podium’s top step, with Piastri now in P2 and Vips, Lawson’s teammate at Hitech GP, being awarded the final podium place. Additionally, Robert Shwartzman now found himself in the top ten. He was awarded two bonus points for the fastest lap. The clear loser of this race was the UNI Virtuosi team after having a glorious Friday race. Both cars had been lapped twice and crossed the finish line in the last two positions.

 

On Saturday afternoon after Formula 1 qualifying, Theo Pourchaire was finally allowed to start from the position he had qualified in, pole position. Before lights out, Gianluca Petecof got the message from race control that he would need to start the race from the pit lane instead of P19 on the grid. According to race control, Petecof failed to leave the pits in time for a grid start. The Brazilian driver insisted over team radio that he had seen a green light when passing the pit lane exit on his way to the grid. In the end, there was no definite reveal of whether or not Petecof saw a green light. He had to follow the instructions from race control and lined up at the pitlane exit instead of the grid after the formation lap.

When the lights went out, Pourchaire had a great getaway. Aitken, in P21, failed to get away from the line at all. During the first lap, the marshals pushed him back into the pits so the team could try to solve the issue but later rejoined the race.

In Turn 1, various drivers cut the corner to avoid others, causing an investigation by the stewards. However, they concluded later that there was no further action needed. Just like in the two races before, there was no major incident on the opening laps.

On lap four and lap six, Lirim Zendeli in P17 and Jehan Daruvala in P12 were shown the black and orange flag by race control. They both pitted for a new front wing, but it wasn’t revealed why exactly they required a front wing change in both cases. Daruvala was under investigation for pit lane speeding afterwards and got a five-second penalty.

After being shown the black and orange flag early on in the race, Daruvala was one of the backmarkers. On lap 19, when he wanted to overtake Petecof at the nouvelle chicane, a hit to the front left part of his car caused damage. He had to retire, and after an investigation, Petecof was awarded a ten second time penalty. A few laps later, he was also shown the black and white flag for ignoring track limits.

The top five, Pourchaire, Shwartzman, Piastri, Ticktum and Vips, were close together, but nobody was close enough to make a move. While most of the field had pitted or was pitting for soft tyres after starting on the supersoft specification, the top runners and Zhou had started on the harder compound and were yet to pit. The front runners’ first to pit was Ticktum from P4 on lap 27, attempting an undercut on Piastri. Despite a good pitstop, the strategy call didn’t work. It was difficult for the drivers to get their tyres up to temperature on their out laps, and Piastri pitted the lap after Ticktum. On lap 30, Shwartzman went into the pits to have his mandatory pit stop for his second specification of dry tyres. An attempt at an undercut turned into a nightmare for the Russian Prema driver. He had a horrendous pit stop as the mechanics struggled to change the left rear tyre. Vips, who had come into the pits the same lap, also had a less than ideal pitstop, with problems at the front right. Instead of being on a podium course, Shwartzman fell back a considerable number of places. Pourchaire came into the pits on lap 31 and, after a clean pit stop, came back out in P2, after Zhou, who still had to pit. On lap 31 as well, Armstrong retired from the race. In Turn 18, he had been pushed into the wall by Vips and suffered front wing and suspension damage. Vips was given a five-second penalty. The incident caused a Virtual Safety Car, which was resolved on lap 32 but as soon as the race returned to green flag racing, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed again. In Turn 18, Zendeli had gone straight into the wall after a lockup from the German driver.

For the second time in a few laps, racing resumed on lap 34. Ticktum, who had been closely following Piastri in P3, was trying to overtake the Prema in front. Piastri had a lockup at the swimming pool chicane after the restart but managed to keep his car on the track. However, Ticktum was able to get alongside and almost passed him on straight-line speed afterwards. Turning into Turn 18, Ticktum only had the outside line but tried to finalise the overtake. Ultimately, he ran out of room and got stuck when he tried not to hit the wall. It led to his retirement and yet another Virtual Safety Car. Race control announced that there was no investigation necessary. Ticktum immediately apologised to the team over the radio for his misjudgement. 

On lap 37, leading driver Guanyu Zhou pitted, giving the lead back to polesitter Pourchaire.

In the second to last lap, Petecof received another time penalty of five seconds for ignoring track limits.

After 42 laps, the chequered flag ended the Formula 2 weekend.

Theo Pourchaire won (+25 points), becoming the youngest Formula 2 winner ever. Piastri came home in another P2 (+18 points) of the day after starting in P3. Felipe Drugovich climbed onto the last step of the podium after only starting in P9 and a great strategy (+15 points). Shwartzman recovered to P4 after his horrible pit stop (+12 points). Championship leader Zhou finished the race in P5 (+10 points), ahead of Swiss driver Boschung and Jüri Vips after a battle in the last laps between the three. Zhou was also awarded two additional points for setting the fastest lap on the final lap.

Formula 2 returns in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 4th June to 6th June.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am Chiara Scha from Germany. My father introduced me to F1 at a young age, shortly before Red Bull’s golden era. I didn’t keep up with motorsports until 2017, when I started to get interested in F1 again. With time, I started watching more Motorsport series. Now, I watch F1, F2, FE and XE. Besides racing, I enjoy listening to music and singing. 

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