The FIA Formula 2 Championship headed to Sochi in Russia for the 11th Round, Races 21-22 of the 2018 season on the 28-30 September.
This was the first time that drivers Maximilian Gunther and Nirei Fukuzumi had visited the Sochi Autodrom, leading to a crucial Free Practice session where they set the 11th and 16th fastest times respectively, before focussing on race-runs.
Qualifying saw Gunther post the 10th fastest time during the disrupted session, which was briefly red-flagged following a car stalling on track, denying a lot of drivers a chance to complete their opening laps. Fukuzumi wasn’t able to extract the ideal performance out of the ‘Super Soft’ Pirelli Tyres, setting the 17th.
The Feature Race saw drama from the start, as Luca Ghiotto and Tadasuke Makino collided on the exit of Turn 1, where the two BWT Arden’s avoided the carnage to both move up the order.
Gunther managed to move himself up into 8th position early on, with Fukuzumi gaining four position early on, as he started on the ‘Soft’ Pirelli Tyres, running the alternate strategy.
Tyre degradation played an immediate part in the race, causing the drivers who started on the ‘SuperSoft’ tyres to struggle early on, whilst the drivers on the alternate strategy began to climb through the order with ease.
The pit window opened on Lap 7, with Gunther taking this chance to pit for a change onto the ‘Soft’ compound tyres, as Fukuzumi continued to move up through the field and manage his tyres for a long first stint.
Fukuzumi continued until Lap 22, pitted from 3rd position and re-joined on the fringes of the Top 10. Gunther at this time had recovered back into a points paying position, until his car ground to a halt with two laps to go, denying a potential double points score for BWT Arden.
The race resumed on the final lap, where Fukuzumi had used his strategy effectively to cross the line in 8th position, securing Reverse-Grid pole position for the 21-lap Sprint Race on Sunday.
Starting from pole position in the Sprint Race, Fukuzumi made a good getaway to lead the field away. Behind him, the 2nd and 3rd placed drivers collided at Turn 5, causing the Safety Car to be deployed and bunched the field up.
The Honda Junior made a great restart to resist the pressure from championship leader George Russell. Fukuzumi would maintain the lead for another three laps, before Russell made his way past him with DRS assistance on Lap 7.
Fukuzumi was battling to maintain his position on the podium, defending from Sergio Sette Camara and Alexander Albon, whilst making his tyres last the race distance.
Gunther meanwhile was making progress from his starting position of 16th to move up into 14th following the opening exchanges.
Conditions took a twist from Lap 9, as the heavens began to open with a rain shower – causing the MP Motorsport car of Niko Kari to crash out of the race, soon followed by the spinning ART car of Jack Aitken which stalled and triggered a Virtual Safety Car Period.
The rain falling and slow pace under the VSC required most drivers to pit for ‘Wet’ tyres after losing tyre temperature and grip from their ‘Slick’ tyres.
Fukuzumi pitted from 6th position and negotiating the tricky track conditions, before Gunther followed suit shortly after.
The two Charouz Racing drivers gambled on remaining on dry tyres, however this risk failed, as the began to fall through the field and promoting the two BWT Arden’s further up the field.
In the end of a dry/wet thriller in extremely tricky conditions, Fukuzumi crossed the line to finish a solid 7th, banking himself a double points score from the weekend. Teammate Gunther recovered well to get back into the Top 10, gaining six positions in total and finished the race in 10th position.
The final round of the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship will take place at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi after a seven week break on the 23-25 November, where the BWT Arden team will round out the season.
Photos: FIA Formula 2 Media