Breaking Down Markelov’s Strategy to Victory in Bahrain
Artem Markelov put his name down in history as the first winner of the rebranded FIA Formula 2 championship, capturing the Bahrain feature race in style.
It was the Russian’s first victory since winning the feature race in Monaco last year in GP2, but unlike those confusing circumstances after a virtual safety car period, this was down to work from himself and his team to work a flawless pit stop and maintain grip for the final laps of the race.
The Russian driver performed a one-stop strategy to move from an early third up to first. He started seventh on the grid but quickly moved to fourth and found a way past Rapax’s Nyck de Vries into Turn 1 on Lap 1 before chasing down Charles Leclerc and Norman Nato.
This order turned around after a pit stop sequence mid-race. Leclerc started from pole and wrestled back first from Nato on Lap 8 after losing it for five laps and decided to be
the second of the frontrunners switching from medium Pirellis to softs on Lap 15, one lap after the Frenchman.
Rookie Leclerc admitted after the race that this was an error and he should have stayed on his initial set of tires for longer to help defend late on.
“In the prime tires we were quite confident and I moved back on Norman before pulling a gap on him,” he said. “When I started to have a little bit of degradation I called the pitstop but it was a little bit too early. We paid the price in the final part of the race. At the end of the second stint we struggled a lot but I managed the situation. I think we have to learn from today to have a better run tomorrow.”
Markelov stayed out for two further laps and initially looked to be losing vital time and falling out of contention for victory as Nato passed Leclerc for the lead, moving 8.6 seconds behind Leclerc into third. He was around three or four seconds slower out on track before he went to pit road, with Nato going on to set fastest laps and Markelov moving 11 seconds behind the leader on Lap 20.
Leclerc’s pit stop had even been the fastest of the trio, spending a combined time of 34.371s on pit road, 0.468s faster than Markelov and 0.976s above Nato’s time.
It was within the final ten laps that the Russian made his move to attack. He cut the gap to just over 10 seconds behind on Lap 24 as he took the fastest lap of the race at that point, a 1m46.038s and appeared to start to use his new rubber’s grip later than his competitors. This would give him a great amount of performance with no capacity for error with just a few laps remaining.
The risk of running longer and hoping no other circumstances such as a virtual safety car or safety car period cutting his time to get to the lead would be rewarded as the gap steadily decreased before dramatically falling in the final five laps. Leclerc fell into lapping in the 1m49s, with Markelov almost 2.2s faster after taking 1.3 from the gap on Lap 27. Markelov found another 3.2s despite only lapping in the low 1m47s on the following lap before passing before taking DRS down the start-finish straight on Lap 29.
His next piece of work was to catch Nato, lapping 2.6s faster on Lap 29 with a time of 1m46.973s, as Leclerc fell into the 1m51s. The Russian put the gap down to just 0.6s allowing him to get a good view of the Arden gearbox in front and develop a move around the inside of turn 4 to take the lead with just over a lap to go.
Markelov’s advantage in the final two laps was so large that he won with a 7.8s gap over Nato and 13.7s clear of Leclerc in one of his best displays to date in the second tier of European open-wheel motorsport.
The previous lap times stood out in his driving and handed him an extra two points for the having the fastest lap of the top-10. This puts him on 27 points after the first race of the year and on top of a championship for the first time since the end of the Baku weekend in GP2 last June.
Russian Time’s streak of winning a race in every season they have competed in GP2 or F2 has also now been extended, with the team now doing so for five straight years.
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