Artem Markelov won the first FIA Formula 2 feature race after an intense three way-battle that lasted all race long. The Russian Time driver kept his cool in the heat of the Sakhir International Circuit and finished the race in first place ahead of Norman Nato and Charles Leclerc.

Markelov laid the foundation for his race win in the first laps: He had an excellent start and dashed up from seventh to third place. Leclerc did not have the fastest getaway from pole position but was able to remain in the lead. Nyck de Vries, who had been promoted to the front row due a three place grid penalty for second-placed Antonio Fuoco, had a very slow start and was soon passed by Nato. The Frenchman had started from fourth place, but was able to gain enough positions to challenge and eventually overtake Leclerc for the lead in the third lap.

The trio of Nato, Leclerc, and Markelov remained close together while the field stabilised and all settled into their own rhythms to conserve their tyres. Leclerc was able to attack and pass Nato in lap 8; however, the Monegasque rookie could not pull away and remained under pressure from his rivals behind.

The first drivers began to suffer from tyre degradation around lap 10. Oliver Rowland pushed and passed first the struggling Nobuharu Matsushita for P7, and found his way past Jordan King was well. Alexander Albon, who had started in ninth place but dropped back in the early laps, fought teeth and claw to move back into the points-scoring positions. While trying to overtake Nicholas Latifi, there was contact between the pair and Latifi was left with front wing damage and forced to pit early.

Meanwhile, Nato came under pressure from Markelov. This allowed Leclerc to create a gap larger than one second so that Nato, at a speed disadvantage without the use of DRS, soon fell victim to the Russian Time driver. Further back, more battles raged as Albon continued to slice his way up to eighth place past Matsushita and Johnny Cecotto Jr.

In lap 15 Nato was the first among the leading drivers to pit, with Leclerc following suit one lap later. Leclerc emerged from the pits right in front of his rival, and the more experienced Frenchman made short work of the rookie on colder tyres.  Markelov kept running and pitted only three laps later, however, he rejoined the track far behind the duo of Nato and Leclerc. De Vries was able to keep his fourth place throughout the pit stop phase but he was running too far behind the leaders to be of any danger.  Nato managed to pull away from Leclerc and cemented his lead with a gap of around three seconds.

In the final stage of the race, battles continued to rage and positions were exchanged back and forth inside the top ten as some drivers started to struggle with tyre wear. Fourth-placed Nyck de Vries began to struggle with tyre wear as well and lost out to Rowland and King.

At the front, Leclerc was able to match Nato’s pace at first; however, the Monegasque forced his tyres too much and was passed by the rapidly approaching Markelov with two laps left to run. On fresher tyres, the Russian overtook easily and set off to hunt down the race leader as well. Markelov was indeed able to pass Nato during the final lap and crossed the finish line as the first winner of the new F2 season. Leclerc, while have the potential for a victory in his debut race, had to settle for third place behind Nato. King made a stunning effort after having started outside the top ten and passed Rowland for fourth place during the final lap. Albon’s efforts were crowned by points as well as the Thai driver crossed the finish line in sixth place ahead off Luca Ghiotto. Matsushita snatched eighth place and reverse grid pole position for tomorrow’s sprint race from de Vries on the last lap. Antonio Fuoco was also able get past the struggling de Vries so that the Dutchman finished the race in tenth place.

Read more from Renate Jungert