Following the racing world being on pause for the first half of 2020, Marcus’ season finally got underway in Austria this weekend as he made his debut in FIA Formula 2. Taking to the seat for the first of three consecutive race weekends, Marcus hit the ground running, turning heads as he tackled the pinnacle of junior series.
His mind never far away from the track, with an extended off-season, Marcus certainly put the training in as he prepared for the step up to FIA Formula 2 championship for 2020. The hard work paid off from the first turn of his ART Grand Prix car, posting some rapid laps to finish 3rd during free practice on Friday afternoon.
Heading into qualifying, the Kiwi racer soon proved his pace as the first laps hit the board, placing himself as the time to beat from early on in the session. With some red flags halting the session, he was right back on track in an effort to improve his time. However with most of the field separated by less than a second, the tiny margins found Marcus qualify in 13th place.
“We had the speed, our potential was front row, but unfortunately qualifying just didn’t go our way”
Confident in the team’s pace, he turned his focus to the opening race of the season, eyes set on claiming as many points as possible.
The gamble pays off
Shooting off the line, Marcus gained positions to keep his nose clean in P11 as the cars roared through the Styrian hills on Saturday morning. With plenty to play for, the team made the risky decision to pit for the switch to the harder tyres on only Lap 8. The first to make the move, Marcus had to strike the even balance of capitalising his advantage, whilst looking after the tyres.
Almost immediately he posted the fastest lap, the gamble paying off to rocket himself to 4th on the road, his tyres showing no signs of wearing out. But with the race really hotting up, the Kiwi racer found himself under pressure from Shwartzman behind. As mechanical problems hit the race leader, Marcus’ talents and strategy afforded him prime position for a podium.
With the safety car making an appearance in the closing stages of the race, pulses were racing and excitement was fever pitch as the restart provided a thrilling twist to the final few laps. Powering into the final corner as the safety car swept into the pits, Marcus pulled back from some slight oversteer to maintain his position, but his rival was hot on his heels. But when Schumacher went skating across the gravel, the ART racer was elevated to 2nd on the road, calm and confident in his ability and the condition of his tyres, he just had to push to the flag.
Head-to-head with Shwartzman, in a replay to their battles at the circuit in Formula 3, Marcus fought off every advancement the Russian attempted in a masterclass of defence.
Sweeping over the line in style, the talented Kiwi made a sensational debut to the top tier of junior racing, finishing as top rookie in what was a clean 1-2-3 for the Ferrari Driver Academy.
"It was a good feeling to finally cross the finish line. The last stint definitely was not the easiest for a few reasons. Obviously, we boxed quite early to try and get out of the traffic. Yesterday we qualified out of position and we did predict that we'd have a pace advantage on those around us. We took a bit of a risk and it paid off in terms of strategy.”
From storming starts to just bad luck
Back on track on Sunday morning, Marcus started from 7th on the reverse grid. Impressing commentators and fans alike, he stormed off the line in style as the pack headed uphill to Turn 1. Elevating himself with a series of inspired moves and superior pace to claim 3rd place in as many corners. With a fiery racing spirit, the Ferrari-backed driver immediately pressured 2nd place, pulling a gap to the chasing pack. With safety cars much a feature of this race, any chance of attack was halted, until racing got back underway on lap 5.
Seizing every gap, Marcus was right in the mirrors of Deletraz for 2nd place, chancing his hand around the outside, but wisely gave his rival the space to move, slipping in right on his tail once more. With another safety car bunching up the field, it was a challenge to both attack and defend as the pack was release once more. Circling the the 4.318km track, never allowing the gap to slip further than a second, disaster suddenly struck. The engine cutting out he slowed to a halt, cutting short what was to be another thrilling chase for the intrepid rookie.
Despite disappointment, Marcus proved himself a real contender with a strong showing in only his first weekend and the the wheel of the powerful FIA Formula 2 machinery.
Marcus credits his team, following his success in Saturday’s race:
“A big thank you to ART. It's a good way to start because obviously we had very limited testing time this year in Bahrain, so every single lap that we do, the rookies, we're going to improve. It's a good way to start the season for sure.”
He looks ahead to the second round of the championship in a few days time, as the Red Bull Ring offers up another exciting chance to fight at the front.