Formula 2 action returned alongside Formula 1 for the first round of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Bahrain has often thrown up some great races in recent years with its long straights and heavy braking zones providing great overtaking opportunities.
The circuit’s aggressive track surface means tyre degradation is usually quite high leading to exciting racing.
The first F2 round of the season was no different as Guanyu Zhou seized the early initiative in the title race, taking pole and the feature race victory.
Rookies Liam Lawson and Oscar Piastri impressed throughout the weekend, while more was expected from the likes of Robert Shwartzman and Christian Lundgaard.
Three for the price of two
For the first time since the series' inception in 2005 (then GP2), Formula 2 changed its format from two races per weekend to three.
Two sprint races on a Saturday followed by a feature race on a Sunday - Bahrain was a landmark day for Formula 1’s main feeder series.
Qualifying took place on Friday to determine the grid for Sunday’s feature race as well as the first sprint race, with the top ten results from qualifying being reversed to determine the grid for it.
Sprint race two’s grid was determined by the result from race one, again, with the top ten being reversed.
With F2 and Formula 3 not being run on simultaneous weekends in 2021, more track action is only a good thing.
There were concerns going into the season where drivers might sacrifice one race deliberately to get a better start position for the second race, but such issues never arose.
Speaking of the new format, sprint race two winner Oscar Piastri said the new format still rewarded those who qualified well and extracted the maximum in each race weekend.
“I think it’s very exciting,” Piastri said. “I had a few concerns over whether it would benefit or hinder people who qualified well, but besides (Felipe) Drugovich in sprint race 1, all of the guys who qualified at the front survived race 1 and were starting at the front for the second race.
“You still get two races where you get an advantage for qualifying well, so it makes the reverse grid races feel less guilty because you have got two of them. The second race is kind of a reverse of a reverse, so technically the quicker drivers should still be at the front for that one, which is exciting.”
Sunday’s feature race remains the crème de la crème in terms of action and drama, but we’re certainly not going to complain about having an additional race on a Saturday.
Guanyu Zhou’s performance in Bahrain looked like a man who was driving with the mentality of ‘it’s now or never’.
The Chinese driver enters his third season in the series, making him one of the field’s most experienced drivers.
Zhou nicked pole by just 0.003s ahead of Christian Lundgaard and escaped a penalty for taking the chequered flag twice having accidentally entered the F1 pit lane.
Seventh in the first sprint race as followed up by third in the second one - remarkably doing the whole race on the same set of soft tyres.
Zhou then converted his pole into the feature race victory, making decisive overtakes on Piastri into Turn 1 then Richard Verschoor into Turn 4 in the closing laps.
Consistency is always key to putting together a credible title challenge as Zhou was one of just two drivers to score in all three races - Carlin’s Jehan Daruvala being the other.
An impressive first weekend of the season for the Alpine F1 junior.
Liam Lawson and Oscar Piastri adapted to life in F2 faster than most as both drivers impressed on their first weekends.
Lawson took the win in race one, going from third to first place on the opening lap.
From then on the Kiwi controlled the pace from the front to claim an impressive win on his F2 debut.
Speaking of his maiden F2 win, Lawson wrote in his F2 column: “I would say that the good point is definitely the first race. The sprint race one win was pretty epic for us. We didn’t expect to win so early on either.
“Having a good start made it possible and I was able to control the race from there. I knew that as long as I didn’t make any mistakes, it would be pretty straightforward.”
Piastri - who is the reigning Formula 3 champion - claimed a sensational win in the second sprint race after stopping under the mid-race Safety Car for soft tyres.
While he did profit from Juri Vips’ unfortunate mechanical issue, Piastri’s win was deserved and a continuation of the impressive pace he showed in race one, where he pressured more experienced Prema teammate Robert Shwartzman for fourth.
Leaving Bahrain, Lawson sits second in the standings, while Piastri is in fourth after failing to score in the feature race following contact with Dan Ticktum.
Going into the all-new F2 season, Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman was the arguable favourite to win the drivers’ title.
The Russian enjoyed an competitive first season in the series, ending it as the winningest driver on his way to fourth-place overall in the standings.
Qualifying started poorly for Shwartzman as his session ended prematurely after the car safety procedure in his Prema was caused by him pressing the brake and throttle at the same time, leaving him well down the order.
11th to fifth on the opening lap of the first race of the weekend marked an impressive recovery, although he was pressured immensely by rookie teammate Piastri in the closing laps.
Contact with Ticktum on the opening lap of the second sprint race ended his race early, while the feature race started with another incident as he crashed into the back of Roy Nissany into Turn 4 on Lap 1.
Shwartzman’s pace was ominous in the closing laps of the feature race though, recovering from 16th under the Safety Car to finish seventh.
It was a very scrappy weekend for the Prema driver and already he has a 25-point gap to make up on points leader Zhou.
With the next round being Monaco in F2, it’s unlikely the form guide from Bahrain will carry over into the principality.
Adapting to life on a street circuit will be especially important given that F2 will race on two more street venues in Baku in June and Jeddah in December for the first time.
Zhou leads the way, but claiming he is the favourite for the title at this early stage is an impossible call given the unpredictable nature of F2.
Who impressed you most during the first F2 weekend of the season? Let us know in the comments below