Nicola de Marco made his first FIA Formula Two win look easy today at the historic Masaryk Circuit near Brno, Czech Republic. Getting a quick start off the line, he outsprinted the polesitter, Dean Stoneman, to take the lead into the first corner, and never looked back.
"This is a really important win for me," the 19-year-old Italian said. "It's my first in F2 but also because it's here in Brno where last year I did a mistake when I was first."
Indeed, Brno was not kind to de Marco last year: he scored a pole for the first race but had to start from the pit lane, and then spun out from the lead in the second race, ending up with only a third place to show for his efforts.
This year, though, there were no mistakes, and de Marco steadily pulled away from Stoneman in the early laps, stretching his advantage to two seconds by the midway point of the race, and 3.090 seconds at the chequered flag.
Stoneman had no answer to de Marco on the undulating Brno road course, but neither was he threatened for his second place, and he had a solid 2.703-second advantage to third-place starter Sergey Afanasiev at the finish.
In fact, in spite of the passing opportunities afforded by the Brno circuit, apart from de Marco's pass for the lead into the first corner, the rest of the top seven finished in the same order as they started.
However, the race was not quite a Formula One procession: Philipp Eng jumped Jolyon Palmer and Benjamin Bailly at the start to move from sixth to fourth into the first corner. Bailly was having none of that, though, and went back around his rival two turns later.
With Eng now focused on keeping Palmer behind him, Bailly was able to fairly motor away from the spat, and he finished the race comfortably in fourth, some two seconds adrift of Afanasiev but six seconds in front of the Palmer-Eng battle.
That fight was likely the most entertaining of the race, with Palmer trying to find a way past the Austrian in an effort to protect his championship lead. With only fractions of a second separating the two, Eng nevertheless held his ground -- and fifth place.
However, with the race winding down, Palmer finally got everything set up right on lap 13, and was able to dive on the inside of Eng into turn three to make the pass. Eng tried to retake the position two turns later, but could not find his way through.
Eng was sixth, then, two seconds behind Palmer, at the flag. Kelvin Snoeks and Will Bratt were seventh and eighth, four seconds further back, and Ricardo Teixeira and Benjamin Lariche completed the points-paying positions.
While de Marco's win vaults him from 12th to eighth in the point standings, Stoneman could be satisfied with the 18 points from his second place. With championship rival Palmer back in fifth, Stoneman was able to assume the points lead, with 199 points to Palmer's 193. Eng still holds third with 122 points, followed by Bratt with 111.
The drivers will take part in a qualifying session to set the grid for the weekend's second race tomorrow morning, with the race itself in the afternoon.