Robert Wickens showed dominant form in Formula Two competition in Valencia today, starting with his second pole position of the weekend, and then following it up with a dominant victory in the first of two races this weekend.
"It was picture perfect," smiled Wickens after his race victory -- the first since Philippe Streiff took the laurels at Brands Hatch in 1984. "My car was very consistent and driveable and we made some changes before the race that went well."
The young Canadian had qualified first for today's race by the thinnest of margins yesterday, but he made it look easier in today's second qualifying session, beating Andy Soucek to the pole with a time of 1:27.488.
"I was really pleased with my first run (of the qualifying session)," Wickens explained. "It was an old tyre run so to set a 1:27.7 was pretty satisfying."
Traffic is always a hazard late in qualifying, but this time yellow flags made things worse, forcing Wickens to cruise around on his new tires for two laps before his final hot lap. "We made some changes and that seemed to help for my second stint. The conditions weren't ideal for my fastest lap, but it was good enough to take pole."
Soucek had looked good for the pole position until Wickens' final lap, but it was not to be. 0.125 seconds separated Wickens and Soucek at the end, consigning the Spaniard to the outside position on the front row.
"I think we have real good pace for the race," Soucek reflected. "We've done some race simulations in testing and I think that will help."
Mirko Bortolotti took third, 0.184 seconds adrift, closely followed by Nicola de Marco. Philipp Eng and Mikhail Aleshin will start from the third row of the grid.
But while the competition was strong in qualifying, the anticipation was for the first F2 start in 25 years. Streiff, the last race winner and a veteran of 53 F1 races, was also on hand to witness the resurgence of the series -- and to mentor his countryman, Julien Jousse.
"This is a return to the good old days," said Streiff. "Hopefully Formula Two will again be the gateway for young drivers to get into Formula One."
Once the lights went out for the standing start, though, it was all Wickens again, the young ace pulling away with confidence in his Red Bull-Lukoil-painted car. Soucek was through from his second-row starting position past front-row starter Tobias Hegewald, followed by Carlos Iaconelli, with Hegewald in fourth.
Wiegand and Soucek pulled away rapidly, and within half a dozen laps Wickens had a two-second advantage over Soucek, who had built a similar gap to the third-placed Iaconelli. By lap 14, Wickens' lead was up to four seconds.
At that point, though, Soucek's day came to an end, the Spaniard slowing down at Turn 14. As Iaconelli and Hegewald arrived at the corner, the latter could not see Soucek's stricken car, and ran into the back of it, taking both of them out of the race.
The arrival of the safety car and the ensuing restart eliminated Wickens' lead, but he calmly drove off into the distance again at the restart, eventually taking the chequered flag with an advantage of 3.870 seconds over Iaconelli.
"To be perfectly honest I would have preferred the safety car to not come out, because I had quite a healthy gap and was happy with where I was," Wickens recounted the events. "I got a good restart though!"
Iaconelli was certainly not upset with a second place, though. "In the beginning I struggled with my brake balance, but I just tried to push hard and stay on track. It was quite difficult at times. I didn't know who was behind me when Andy went off, but I managed to avoid him and from there I just tried to guide the car home."
Kazim Vasiliauskas was impressive in his first F2 race -- and, in fact, his first race in cars -- the 18-year-old Lithuanian jumping from ninth to fifth by the first corner. He drove steadily throughout hte race, and then took advantage of Soucek's and Hegewald's incident to claim the final podium position, 1.371 seconds adrift of Iaconelli.
"My start was good and on the first lap I managed to pass some drivers on the inside and outside, and tried to chase down Hegewald," Vasiliauskas explained. "Then in the middle of the race I had some luck when Hegewald and Soucek had an accident, but I was fast as well."
Mikhail Aleshin, in the second of the Red Bull-Lukoil cars, was fourth after a lengthy defence of his position against Philipp Eng, who ended up spinning out on final lap, dropping back to 12th and out of the points.
Jousse, then, claimed fifth, which he had earlier lost to Eng. He was followed by Mirko Bortolotti, Henry Surtees and Alex Brundle.
"It's phenomenal to get the first win," said Wickens. "It's a big boost in confidence - everyone goes into the first race wanting to win, so for me to do it is a great way to start the championship."
The challenge is now on for Wickens to make it a perfect weekend, with two wins from two poles. But if Soucek and company have anything to say about it, the Canadian will have to work hard for another victory in tomorrow afternoon's second race.