Russell Denied Dominant Baku FIA Formula 2 Race Victory
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula One Reserve Driver George Russell, dominated the FIA Formula 2 Feature Race, before a late Safety Car incident denied him victory in Baku.
Russell qualified 3rd on the grid for the Feature Race at Azerbaijan, after a frantic qualifying session on Friday afternoon. The race started with drama, as front row starter Lando Norris stalled on the warm-up lap. This promoted Russell technically up to 2nd, albeit still having to start from his 3rd place grid slot.
As the lights went out, Russell made a great getaway - squeezing inbetween pole sitter Alexander Albon and the pitwall to move himself into the lead of the race. The pair of them battled for the opening lap, with Albon retaking the lead at Turn 4.
Russell shadowed Albon until third placed man, Luca Ghiotto span into the barrier at Turn 16, bringing out the first Safety Car.
The race got back underway on lap 6, with Albon leading the pack down the 2km main straight. Russell got a great slipstream but decided against making a bold move with cold tyres and brakes. Once again Russell shadowed his DAMS rival for the remainder of the lap, before diving into the pits, as the race distance had reached the start of the 'pitstop window' to change tyres.
Russell swapped the super-soft Pirelli rubber he started the race on, for the Medium compound tyres in a clean pitstop. Race leader Albon pitted the next lap, but Russell made the most of his fresh tyres, teamed with Albon having to be held in the pitlane and moved up into the net lead of the race after 'undercutting' his rival.
Russell then set about building his advantage on the chasing pack. The ART Grand Prix driver established a healthy lead, managing the race out front with a comfortable advantage. Russell was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, to create a 6 second gap to Prema Racing's Nyck de Vries behind in second position.
The gap Russell had built however was wiped out, when Campos Racing's Roy Nissany crashed at Turn 6, bringing out the Safety Car once again - with Russell heading the pack.
On lap 20, the race restarted. Russell made a good restart down the back straight, trying to break the tow from his rivals behind. As they reached the turn one braking zone, de Vries locked his front brakes, overshot the first corner and required Russell to take avoiding action - almost crashing into the long time race leader. This left Russell stranded in the run-off area, with his victory hopes destroyed.
Russell managed to get himself going again, albeit now a long way off the chasing pack due to his rival's lunge into the first corner on cold brakes. The Mercedes-AMG F1 Reserve was still pumping in the fastest laps out of everyone on track - he was the only driver to get inside the 1m56s bracket, showing the pace he had in reserve to win the race in normal circumstances.
A late race engine failure for Russian Time's Artem Markelov promoted Russell to 12th position, where he finished at the flag.
Due to Russell not finishing in the top ten however, he was unable to take the points for the fastest lap of the race - compounding a luckless race for the Briton, despite dominating the race for so long.
George Russell “I’m extremely disappointed, but we were considerably faster than everybody else. I did everything I could have done, the team did everything they could have done, and we lost the victory for something out of our control.
We lost 27 points today, but it’s all up for grabs again tomorrow. We’ve got the pace to win, so let’s stay out of trouble and see what we can do.”
The FIA Formula 2 Sprint Race takes place on Sunday 29th April at 13:10 (GMT +4). Russell will start the race from 12th on the grid, with the race live on Sky Sports F1 HD.