Marcus Armstrong took a maiden FIA Formula 2 victory in the series’ first ever race on the new Jeddah circuit, beating Hitech pair Liam Lawson and Juri Vips.
After taking the lead away from Lawson just after the start, DAMS driver Armstrong remained in front until the finish, despite pressure from his fellow Kiwi after a late safety car period.
Championship leader Oscar Piastri came home ninth for Prema in the reversed-grid sprint race, while many of his title rivals hit trouble.
At the start, polesitter Lawson was challenged by Armstrong and then ran off the track at the first chicane, allowing the latter to sweep by on the exit.
The safety car was deployed before the end of the opening lap after Gulherme Samaia (Charouz) was tapped into a spin by debutant Olli Caldwell (Campos), before collecting the hapless Marino Sato (Trident) into turn five. Samaia and Sato were out on the spot, while Caldwell pitted for a new front wing.
There was more drama when racing resumed, as Piastri’s nearest title rival Guanyu Zhou tried to wrestle sixth from Christian Lundgaard, but spun to the back of the field after the ART driver closed the door, and then pitted for a new front wing.
The incident triggered the brief virtual safety car period, with Armstrong controlling matters at the resumption ahead of Lawson until a late safety car period bunched things up.
A three-lap dash to the chequered flag followed once the safety car was withdrawn, with Armstrong initially pulling clear. But Lawson used his DRS to close in on the final lap and, despite having to take a defensive line into the final corner, Ferrari Academy driver Armstrong held on to take victory by half a second.
Vips passed Ralph Boschung for third approaching the halfway stage of the race, and remained there until the end, with Virtuosi’s Felipe Drugovich finishing fourth after also finding a way by the Campos driver.
Prema’s Robert Shwartzman – who came into the race third in the standings – also came out on top in a battle with the struggling Boschung to move into fifth, but then received a five-second time penalty for an earlier off-track overtake on ART’s Theo Pourchaire.
Pourchaire suffered a blow to his remote title hopes after spinning and crashing out at the high speed turn 22 in the closing stages, causing the late safety car period.
Jehan Daruvala fended off Carlin team-mate Dan Ticktum at the restart, and then pulled off one of the moves off the season by passing both Lundgaard and Piastri in one corner as the pair squabbled over sixth. He then moved up to fifth at the finish due to the 5s penalty for Shwartzman. However, Daruvala was handed a 5s penalty afterwards for leaving the track in his batttle with Ticktum, demoting him to 10th, bizarrely earning him pole for Saturday night’s second reversed-grid sprint race.
Shwartzman was reinstated in fifth as a result, despite serving his own penalty. Having been unable to pass Lundgaard for seventh, Piastri was pipped to eighth on the final lap by Ticktum, who had made up ground from 12th on the grid, while Bent Viscaal was tenth for Trident – and all were promoted by one position after Daruvala’s penalty.
Boschung eventually came home 15th, while Zhou was 17th after his early incident. Jack Doohan was 11th on his F2 debut for MP Motorsport, while fellow newcomers Clement Novalak (MP), Logan Sergeant (HWA) and Caldwell finished 14th, 16th and 18th respectively.
Featured image credit: fiaformula2.com