Robert Shwartzman benefitted from an alternate strategy to win from 11th on the grid for Prema in a thrilling FIA Formula 2 feature race at Budapest.
The Ferrari junior was one of four drivers to start on medium tyres and, after pitting with 10 laps to go, used the grip advantage of his fresh soft tyres to charge from fourth to first and win by 15.5 seconds, extending his championship advantage in the process.
Nikita Mazepin finished second after a similar late charge, using the same strategy as Shwartzman, to claim a podium finish for Hitech, while Mick Schumacher took his first podium of the season for Prema despite slipping from first to third in the closing stages on older medium tyres.
There was plenty of action right from the beginning of the race. Callum Ilott made a great start from pole to lead into turn one for Virtuosi, while DAMS driver Dan Ticktum and Schumacher both passed front row starter Luca Ghiotto in the Hitech.
Ticktum had great momentum out of the first corner, challenging Ilott for the lead around the outside of turn two, but couldn’t make the move stick.
The safety car was deployed on lap two after Roy Nissany appeared to brake way too late for the first corner, locking up and collecting Trident team-mate Marino Sato from a long way back, putting both cars out.
When the race resumed two laps later there was further carnage resulting in a second safety car period after Christian Lundgaard hit the back of Ghiotto whilst contesting fourth place.
As Lundgaard attempted to crawl back to the pits with a puncture, ART team-mate Marcus Armstrong – already carrying front wing damage from a first lap incident – collided with Artem Markelov as he tried to avoid Lundgaard, sending Markelov into the barriers. Both ART cars rejoined after pitting for repairs, but would both subsequently retire.
Ilott continued to lead when racing got back underway on lap seven, but Ticktum immediately pitted from second place to change from soft to medium tyres.
Ilott responded by pitting on the next lap, rejoining in 15th ahead of Ticktum. Ghiotto then did the same, rejoining in between Ilott and Ticktum.
Schumacher led the race for four laps before pitting, also switching from soft to medium tyres and, although he managed to rejoin ahead of Ilott, his cold tyres resulted in him losing position to the Virtuosi driver into turn two.
Shwartzman now led the race from Mazepin, Felipe Drugovich (MP Motorsport) and Yehan Deruvala (Carlin), all who had yet to pit having started on medium tyres, with Ilott and Schumacher – the leading drivers to have already pitted – running in fifth and sixth.
On lap 16, Schumacher took fifth away from Ilott while behind Ticktum started to struggle massively on his medium tyres, losing places to Ghiotto, Guanyu Zhou (Virtuosi) and Louis Deletraz (Charouz) over the course of a few laps before then running off the track at turn one.
The front four all pitted in the closing stages to change from medium tyres to fresh softs, with Shwartzman pitting from the lead with 10 laps to go. He rejoined in third, but a lock-up into turn one saw him lose a place to Ghiotto.
He soon regained his composure though, using his fresh tyres to great effect to pick off Ghiotto and second-placed Ilott within the space of a few corners.
With a huge pace advantage of over three seconds per lap, Shwartzman hunted down Prema team-mate Schumacher for the lead within a lap, making the move with seven laps to go, before easily pulling away at the front.
Schumacher was again defenceless on his worn tyres when Mazepin caught him for second with two laps remaining, having already disposed of Zhou, Ilott and Ghiotto on his fresh softs.
Ghiotto, who had passed the struggling Ilott also, finished fourth, with Drugovich and Daruvala also finishing strongly on soft tyres to take fifth and sixth.
Deletraz took seventh, with Ilott slipping back to eighth as his medium tyres gave up, but will start Sunday’s sprint race from pole position.
Ticktum, with similar issues to Ilott, hung on to ninth, with Zhou finishing tenth.
Race result (37 laps)
|5||Felipe Drugovich||MP Motorsport||+36.241s|
|10||Luca Ghiotto||Hitech GP||+52.176s|
|12||Nobuharu Matsushita||MP Motorsport||+81.317s|
|15||Guilherme Samaia||Campos||+ 1 lap|
|16||Yuki Tsunoda||Carlin||+ 1 lap|
|17||Sean Gelael||DAMS||+ 1 lap|
Feature image credit: @PREMA_Team official twitter