Interviews by Sergio Álvarez.

Sochi is weird. Not as Austin perhaps but there or thereabouts. It’s a conundrum.

The location is nice – but fairly removed from Moscow or St Petersburg, meaning that only locals are likely to show up and watch. The track itself ain’t bad – but ain’t great either. Scenery is a bit like socialist Miami – never heard of such a thing. Turn 1 is not really a turn, having to stare at off camber corners everywhere is rather annoying. Maybe Kimi torpedoing Bottas all those years ago is my fondest memory of Sochi, can’t think of much else. Honestly, what are we doing here?

Luckily, we’re in the Black Sea resort for the FIA F2/F3 combo. And already on Friday we got ourselves a champ! Nobody was doubting Dennis Hauger’s claim to the title since many a race ago and he did it in style, by finishing on the podium from P4 on the inverted grid in Race 1 (after an underwhelming performance in the qualifying for the main race, P9 would you believe it), won by our fave American racer, Logan Sargeant.

P1. Sargeant, P2. Hauger, P3. Martins.

“I can send you the setup later!”

Dennis Hauger

Dennis, what changes did you make to the car between the qualy and the race?

Hauger: “Yeah, I can send you the setup later! I mean, we weren’t the strongest in qualifying I think overall as a team and the track changed quite a lot from FP to qualy so it was a bit unexpected – that it was changing that much. It was a bit hard to make any big changes before that but heading into the race, we know we have good race pace and we just have to adjust to the track temperature and the track grip. And then we were quite confident going into this race so it was just a matter of staying calm and going in from there.”

We simply had to torture our newly crowned champ with tough questions, here’s two.

If you don’t reach F1 in the future, where would you like to compete in that case?

Hauger: “As a Red Bull junior, probably I’m gonna say Red Bull (Racing)! Yeah, I dunno. That’s where I’ve been since the start of my formula career. I have to say that.”

“I probably would’ve gone for it again.”

Dennis Hauger

Do you have any regrets about 2021 despite the outstanding season?

Hauger: “I mean, maybe Race 2 in Barcelona. I dunno. I probably would’ve gone for it again. But otherwise, to be honest, I think I learned quite a bit from it as well and took it with me to the rest of the season. That’s clicked something in my head in terms of getting that consistency during the season so… To be honest, I’m happy it happened.”

It was at Sochi, coincidentally, that we found out about changes to F2/F3 race weekend formats in 2021 – drivers, teams and championship bosses having grown increasingly tired of “what do you do in two months between events” or “do you have any time at all to tweet motivational tweets between Saturday races” endless stream of questions from the impatient journos.

This is what the press release told us.

Formula 3 will race alongside Formula 2 from 2022, following a season of racing at separate events that have comprised one Free Practice, one Qualifying session, and three races in 2021. From next year each round of both Championships will include one Free Practice, one Qualifying session and two races. The number of events for both F2 and F3, which will all take place alongside Formula 1, will be announced in due course. Additionally, for both Championships, the Qualifying results will decide the Starting grid of the Sunday race. The starting grid of the Saturday race will be determined by reversing the Top 10 of Friday’s F2 Qualifying results and by reversing the Top 12 of Friday’s F3 Qualifying results.

But what about stakeholders? How much concern did you get from the stakeholders about current weekend format?

“It’s a moment where in terms of numbers, in terms of drivers, in terms of drivers’ quality we are in a very good shape in Formula 3 and Formula 2.”

Stefano Domenicali

Said Bruno Michel, FIA Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 CEO: “We of course took that into consideration. Number one, the fact that our main stakeholders are I would say F1 and the FIA were showing quite strong will to have again F2 and F3 together, and I think it was very important. And also we had some various feedbacks from the teams; some teams said that they could save some costs and some other teams said that it was not so obvious because they did not really mutualize personnel betwell the two categories. We also heard the drivers and some drivers were very positive, some others were a little bit more confused so yes, we took into consideration all this information to decide what we were gonna do for this (upcoming) season.”

While Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of Formula 1 added: “Well, I think that it’s in the great moment that you have to think what you can do better. It’s a moment where in terms of numbers, in terms of drivers, in terms of drivers’ quality we are in a very good shape in Formula 3 and Formula 2. And that was also the thinking behind the fact that we want to go back to keep the possibility, as I said before, in the weekend and the majority of them to have the both series together.”

Presser before the storm: top 3 driver quotes from F2 qualy

P1. Piastri, P2. Daruvala, P3. Pourchaire.

It might not have been an overly dramatic qualy in F2 this time out (compared to F1’s monumental battle of the generations in Sochi!), however it had its momens. Sergio was there to find out more.

After the rain comes sun and after the sun comes rain, do you guys think your data you had collected would be of any use at all for the actual race on Saturday and Sunday?

“With so much rain it’ll wash the rubber off the track so it’ll be a very green track again. I think generally that leads to a bit more tyre degradation.”

Oscar Piastri

Daruvala: “Yeah, I think it’s always hard to, like, get too much data from FP for the races but I think tomorrow looks like it’s dry so obviously that’ll be helpful and today I don’t really know. It could even dry out for the race, obviously it’s not ideal missing one race this weekend. But we can’t really help the weather, I think we just have to make the most of it and see what we can do.”

Pourchaire: “I agree with what Jehan said. I think we will have to adapt to what we have in terms of conditions because we don’t know yet whether it’s going to be a dry race or wet race today and tomorrow also. It’s going to be difficult but drivers will have to adapt really fast and we’ll see.”

Piastri: “I think yesterday’s running will definitely help, certainly for me and Théo as this is our first time here so all the data we could get yesterday was useful. And yeah, mixed conditions for today, ironically after the day we’ve had it’s actually sunny now so who knows, our race could be dry. Tomorrow I don’t really know what whether it’ll be dry again but obviously with so much rain it’ll wash the rubber off the track so it’ll be a very green track again. I think generally that leads to a bit more tyre degradation. We’ll see. I think today surely can throw anything at us so we’ll see what we get.”

Théo, have you met with Pirelli boys after yesterday’s mistake with one of your sets of tyres, have they said the hardest word? There was a mighty cock-up, for those of you who don’t know.

Pourchaire: “Yeah, to be honest, I didn’t receive any apologies or something like that. For sure there was a mistake from Pirelli. We had a big problem with the first set, a lot of vibrations. I almost hesitated to drive because that can be dangerous to drive with vibrations at more than 300 kph, ok I wanted to do the potty (I hope I got that transcribed correctly, I understand TP meant ‘code brown’). On the second set there was no issue so I did a good lap, I mean P3 is good, a bit far from the pole. That was not good (from Pirelli), at that level you cannot have a set of tyres like that. It’s not acceptable.”

Ouch, un grand ouch!

F2, SR1, Saturday

P1. Ticktum, P2. Vips, P3. Shwartzman.

Apart from SC, VSC and championship leaders doing a bit of Hakkinen/Irvine 1999 thing (throwing away almost certain points), I did not detect a lot of action. That’s the nature of this track. I guess. The biggest kick you can get out of watching a train of cars in challenging conditions is to think how hard the drivers are having to work in the cockpit to keep the car on the black stuff.

Anyway, let’s find out what our top 3 finishers had to say about racing in the dark.

Gents, after the results of this race, do you feel optimistic about title chances? How realistic is it, as an outside shot?

Ticktum: “We’ve both had pretty bad luck so far this season so hopefully if they… maybe the luck will swing my way, we’ll see.”

Vips: “Yeah.”

Jüri Vips & Dan Ticktum

Ticktum: “Ah, realistic? No! Not really. I mean, I’d have to have a very, very – I’d have to have a flawless rest of the season, basically. If I was gonna have the title, luck would have to be constantly in my favour. And I’d have to have, you know, another couple of wins and Oscar would have to struggle a bit which of course is a possibility but… I’m not sort of thinking about it too much any more really. I’m a bit of a way behind but there’s still a chance, but realistically it’s a small one.”

Vips: “Yeah, I would agree with Dan. It’s quite small chance, to be honest. Especially with the recent run of form we’ve had. I try to still obviously stay optimistic because it’s not over until it’s over and I won an F4 title back in the day in the way where the odds were really against me, but I still won. We’d have to have, like Dan said, a ridiculous first of all Feature Race tomorrow and then the last two events. I would say you have to be very optimistic to believe that.”

Ticktum: “We’ve both had pretty bad luck so far this season so hopefully if they… maybe the luck will swing my way, we’ll see.”

Vips: “Yeah.”

Shwartzman: “Well, to be honest, I’ll be a bit more optimistic or maybe a bit naive, I still believe we have pretty decent chance to win. I dunno how many points I’m behind now, obviously Oscar is starting from pole tomorrow. But anything can happen. I’m still looking focused and looking forward to do a good start and good race tomorrow, get some good points. Then do really good last two rounds and I think it’s doable. I think if everything goes well, we can bring that challenge to the final race in Abu Dhabi and then we’ll see if we can manage it.”

“I think I’m an incredibly goal-orientated guy. If I haven’t got a goal, I’m the laziest person ever. But if I have got a goal, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn every morning to make sure that it happens.”

Dan Ticktum

Dan, you come throgh as a straightforward guy who can call a spade a spade, would you like to become a TV commentator after you hang up your helmet? Jr Palmer is having an outrageous success on F1 TV, by the way. A GP2 champ and a former Carlin driver himself by serendipity.

Ticktum: “Ah, I’m sure a lot of people would like me to become a commentator. Yeah, we’ll see, you know. I think I’m an incredibly goal-orientated guy. If I haven’t got a goal, I’m the laziest person ever. But if I have got a goal, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn every morning to make sure that it happens so. But yeah, I’m sure there’ll be lots of opportunities, I just think maybe commentating, especially if I decide to pull out of motorsport, in the near future, commentating straight away will be quite tough, just watching F1 cars going round will be not easy. I mean, we’ll see. Maybe that’s a future job of mine. I’d like to be a TV presenter, like a Top Gear presenter. I’d love to do that. I love road cars, I’m like an encyclopedia for them so we’ll see.”

F2, FR, Sunday

P1. Piastri, P2. Pourchaire, P3. Daruvala.

Gents, did the option tyre last as expected or on the contrary – did you have to pit earlier than planned? At least your tyres weren’t as square as Pourchaire’s at one point during the Russian GP.

Piastri: “I think it lasted about how we expected. The degradation wasn’t massive, more of a gradual drop-off, then I was struggling a bit for the last lap or two and Théo was catching me but I think the deg was pretty much how we expected, for me anyway.”

Pourchaire: “Yeah, the (tyre) deg(radation) was not really high. On the first stint, the options, I was really fast. At the end of it better than Oscar, but I mean, it was normal deg, we expected that, more or less. Nothing special.”

Daruvala: “I think it wasn’t too bad. I definitely struggled a bit more than guys around me on the options. Just with the rears, I was not glad to get off them but I think we boxed at the right time so 8 or 9 laps is probably what we expected going into the race as well.”

Théo, do you think you could have done more to get those tyres up to temp and avoid being overtaken by Oscar after pit stops phase?

Pourchaire: “No, you can’t do anything because we don’t have any tyre blankets or things like that. We just go out of the pits with completely cold tyres and Oscar did a complete lap to warm the tyres. I just tried to survive but it was impossible. I knew it was impossible! I saw in my mirrors Oscar was coming down the main straight but yeah, it was impossible. P2 was the maximum today.”

F3, Race 3, Sunday.

P1. Doohan, P2. Vesti, P3. Novalak.

“As drivers we are crazy. We will do anything to win.”

Frederik Vesti

Guys, congrats. Fred, what would you have done in Jack’s situation – would you obey team orders? Go to the official F3 website to read all about Jack’s situation. Hint: Clément is faster than you.

Vesti: “Well, that’s a difficult quetion. That really depends on… in F3, we are racing drivers and we are young drivers, and we are not currently in F1. Our goal is to become a world champion in F1 and honestly every single race here is a competition for one, maybe two seats in the future. So I think the team championships are important and you also need to respect all the people working in your team, but at the same time as drivers we are crazy. We will do anything to win. So I definitely understand if Jack has been pushing for that victory.”

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