Theo Pourchaire scored a crushing triumph in the opening Formula 2 feature race of the season at Sakhir.
The Frenchman made a great start from pole to gain a clear lead immediately while his ART Grand team-mate Victor Martins was slow away from the inside of the front row.
That allowed Van Amersfoort Racing’s Richard Verschoor to move up to second, but Campos Racing’s Kush Maini climbed from sixth to snatch the position from the Dutchman at Turn 1.
Martins and Frederik Vesti almost came to blows behind on the run to Turn 4, with Vesti then out-braking himself and collecting Verschoor, who was spun around. Chaos ensued as the cars behind tried to take avoiding action, with Martins and Trident’s Roman Stanek colliding, the pair joining Prema driver Vesti in retiring with damage.
Several drivers benefitted from the melee, with Saturday’s sprint race winner Ralph Boschung climbing seven places to third, Prema’s Ollie Bearman moving up from 12th to fourth, with Ayuma Iwasa fifth ahead of Enzo Fittipaldi, who gained seven spots.
After a brief safety car period the race resumed on lap four, with Boschung pouncing immediately on team-mate Maini to snatch second at Turn 1. On the soft compound tyre, Boschung then remained in the wheel tracks of leader Pourchaire, who was on the hard tyre, the pair pulling 7 seconds clear of Maini over the next few laps.
Bearman, Iwasa and Fittipali were the first to head for the pits on lap 12, with Pourchaire and Maini coming in a lap later, the latter rejoining behind Bearman. Boschung led until lap 15 before switching to the hard tyre, rejoining in a net second behind Pourchaire while the still-to-stop Verschoor moved to the front.
Pourchaire then passed Verschoor to regain the outright lead, while Arthur Leclerc pulled a feisty move into Turn 1 for a net third on Bearman, who soon lost out to Maini as well.
Once Verschoor made his mandatory stop, Pourchaire led Boschung by 11s. He then further extended that gap, eventually coming home a massive 19.6 seconds clear of the Swiss driver, who scored his second podium finish of the weekend.
The battle for the final podium spot was a close affair, with Maini profiting from a mistake from Leclerc at Turn 10 to move into third. Leclerc, who later complained of brake issues, then almost rear-ended Maini at Turn 1 and lost further positions to Bearman and Iwasa after taking avoiding action.
Rodin Carlin’s Zane Maloney charged up the order from 18th on the grid, passing team-mate Fittipaldi, Iwasa and Bearman in the second half of the race to run fourth. The Barbadian then eradicated a several-second deficit to Maini to snatch third in the closing stages.
Maini came home fourth, while Verschoor was another on the move late on, recovering from his first-lap spin to finish fifth. Iwasa and Bearman were involved in a titanic scrap for fifth at one stage, but both would lose out in the final laps, with Iwasa fading to eighth, while Bearman went off track twice and tumbled to 14th.
Leclerc found some late momentum after his earlier braking difficulties to salvage sixth ahead of Hitech’s Isack Hadjar, with Fittipaldi and VAR’s Juan Manuel Correa rounding out the top 10. Dennis Hauger was another to retire early on after pulling into the pits with an issue.
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