Andy Soucek has taken the first F2 title for 25 years – and is hoping that the formula will provide him with the perfect launch-pad for greater things.
The Spaniard, whose recent tenure in GP2 led to a legal dispute with his former team after he was unable to drive at the eleventh hour, is rewarded with eligibility for a F1 superlicence and a test with the Williams team.
Having already tested with Toyota, he says that he hopes to use the opportunity to take a step up to the top-flight open-wheel formula, and is starting a fitness regime as a result.
A third place in the first of the weekend’s races at Imola was enough to secure Soucek the title with one event left on the calendar, but he went on to win race two in commanding style.
Here’s how the weekend played out:
Practice: Jousse is early pace-setter, mixed fortunes for Brits
Julien Jousse set the quickest time during the opening free practice session after a close-fought battle with Tobias Hegewald. Both drivers put in sub-1:40 laps and were later joined by Mirko Bortolotti driving at his home circuit.
Bortolotti took third from Mikhail Aleshin just as a red flag came out for Jens HÃ¶ing stranded in a dangerous position. With the clock continuing to tick down, the session was restarted with just over one minute remaining but drivers were unable to set another quick lap.
It was a mixed session for some of F2’s British drivers. Tom Gladdis put in a star performance to set the eighth fastest time while Alex Brundle recovered from a spin but could only manage 20th fastest. Jason Moore was unable to take part in the session after fracturing two bones in his hand during an accident at Oschersleben.
In the second session Nicola De Marco produced a stunning last-minute lap to set the fastest time. Kazim Vasiliauskas led for much of the session and Milos Pavlovic also set a last-ditch lap to end up third ahead of Mikhail Aleshin. The top four drivers were separated by just 0.152s and the session ended prematurely following a big spin from Jousse.
Qualifying 1: Maiden pole for Vasiliauskas but Soucek lacks pace
Vasiliauskas took his maiden F2 pole in the first qualifying session, beating the rest of the field by more than three tenths of a second.
The Lithuanian set the fastest lap of the weekend with a 1:38.468 while Bortolotti pipped Aleshin to second place, despite complaints that he was blocked on his final run. It was the second time in as many meetings that the Red Bull duo have had a difference of opinion.
Robert Wickens pulled up behind his Red Bull colleagues to secure fourth place, with Philipp Eng in fifth. He had been second behind Vasiliauskas with only five minutes to go, but may have paid the price for aborting his final run. Soucek was sixth.
Jolyon Palmer and Jack Clarke recovered from separate off-track excursions but Tom Gladdis wasn’t so lucky – left stranded in the middle of the circuit on the exit of Tamburello as the chequered flag waved.
Race 1: Vasiliauskas wins, Soucek is champion
Vasiliauskas scored his maiden victory of the season as Soucek became the first Formula Two champion for 25 years with a third-place finish.
The Lithuanian led from start to finish after a clean getaway – despite a minor off on the first lap. He managed to rejoin just in front of second-placed Bortolotti to maintain the lead, although he came under intense pressure.
Jousse, Tobias Hegewald and De Marco all made contact as they came through the second chicane leading to a roll for Hegewald and a trip into the barriers for De Marco, leading to a safety car period. Jousse was able to continue after a visit to the pitlane.
Vasiliauskas held onto the lead at the restart and pulled away from the rest of the field to take victory by more than seven seconds. He becomes the first Lithuanian to take an international race victory in his first season of single-seater racing.
Bortolotti hung onto second but Soucek moved through the field, needing to finish ahead of Wickens. The Spaniard got his man on the back straight and then went on to pressure Bortolotti until the finish, taking his eighth podium of the season as well as the title.
He said: “It was an amazing race, possibly the best of my season so far. Now I am just going to try and win as many races as possible, and just try and enjoy it.”
Qualifying 2: Wickens adds final weekend pole to first
Wickens took his first pole since the series’ opening weekend in Valencia with a time of 1:37.401 seconds in the final minutes of the session. Red Bull locked out the front row with Bortolotti lining up alongside Wickens as Soucek secured third.
Brundle and Vasiliauskas made the early running to quickly match the previous pole time of 1:38.468 and times continued to drop until most drivers came in halfway through the 30-minute session for new tyres.
In the final minutes Soucek, Bortolotti and Wickens all topped the timesheets but it was Wickens who was able to make his fastest lap stick. A gap of more than four-tenths of a second from the leaders placed Milos Pavlovic in fourth. Vasiliaukas could do no better than fifth while Aleshin was sixth following an early throttle problem.
Eng was seventh and Hegewald eighth. Brundle was ninth ahead of Piscopo while Carlos Iaconelli held off Jack Clarke for the tenth-place spot.
Race 2: Soucek signs off with a win
Soucek celebrated his championship by leapfrogging Bortolotti and Wickens from the start to claim his fifth victory of the season.
A dramatic start saw the Spaniard run between Wickens and Bortolotti as Aleshin made his way up to fourth place before passing Wickens on the outside at the Traguardo chicane. But Aleshin pushed too hard at the next corner and spun on the exit of Tamburello.
His car was stranded on the circuit as the whole F2 field powered through – Jens HÃ¶ing was unsighted and the German ploughed into Aleshin at high speed. A safety car period followed but Pietro Gandolfi failed to see any of the marshals’ boards and he ran into the slowing Natacha Gachnang. Both drivers’ races were ended and the safety car period prolonged.
At the restart, Wickens got the jump on an ailing Bortolotti whose engine was belching smoke and oil. He pulled off but left oil on the track, which caught out several drivers behind including Brundle, Jousse and Clarke.
The leading pair traded fastest laps towards the end of the race but they both maintained position as Soucek recorded his fifth win of the season. Pavlovic was third, Hegewald fourth, Iaconelli fifth and Briton Jolyon Palmer sixth having come from 16th on the grid.
The final event of the season takes place at Barcelona from October 30.