If it wasn’t already apparent that Charles Leclerc is destined to graduate to Formula 1, then the Monegasque driver’s run to victory in Saturday’s Feature Race at Jerez will surely underscore his credentials. The PREMA Racing driver secured a dominant Formula 2 Championship title at the season’s penultimate round in Jerez.
Running a helmet design in memory of his father who passed away suddenly earlier this year, Leclerc converted a record eighth pole position of the season into victory.
Running an Option/Prime tyre strategy, Leclerc pulled away from the field to the tune of a second a lap before pitting at the end of Lap 11.
His main title rival, DAMS driver Oliver Rowland, progressed from fourth position and closed to within six seconds of the championship leader after the pit stop cycle as Leclerc navigated his way past drivers who were yet to pit.
The gap was further cut to four seconds and a late Safety Car period – triggered by a Turn 1 collision between Santino Ferrucci and Nobuharu Matsushita – bunched the pack up and set the race up for a thrilling sprint to the finish line.
Rowland had to outscore Leclerc to keep his slim championship hopes alive, but the leader withstood the pressure at the restart and bolted away once more while Rowland was forced to navigate his way past the lapped Sean Gelael and Louis Delétraz who were not shown the blue flags.
The leading duo struggled with increasingly wearing tyres, with Leclerc in particular looking vulnerable after a lock-up at Turn 1. A later slide at Turn 5 on the final lap gave Rowland one last sniff of an upset victory, but Leclerc was able to hold on and crossed the finish line just 0.2 seconds clear of the Englishman.
His sixth win of the season gave the series rookie an unassailable lead in the championship, clinching an emotional title.
Adding to PREMA celebrations was a fine drive to third place by Antonio Fuoco, who overcame a poor qualifying performance by running an alternate Prime/Option strategy to climb up the order. The Italian’s long opening stint and the Safety Car interruption gave him an added advantage on fresh rubber at the end of the race, allowing him to close right up to the back of the dicing Leclerc and Rowland.
The trio came under threat by Rowland’s DAMS teammate Nicholas Latifi, who also used the same strategy as Fuoco to great effect. Behind the leading four came Artem Markelov and Jordan King, the latter also running a Prime/Option strategy.
The biggest victim of the Safety Car was Luca Ghiotto, who looked on course to complete the podium until the full-course caution nullified his advantage and left him a sitting duck to the chasing cars behind. The Italian driver tumbled to finish seventh in the final laps.
Formula 2 debutante Álex Palou took an impressive eighth place on debut for Campos Racing to give the squad a rare points’ finish, with the result also giving the Spanish youngster a pole position start for Sunday’s Sprint Race. Nabil Jeffri finished ninth to earn his first points’ finish of the season ahead of Sérgio Sette Câmara.
Sunday’s 28-lap Sprint Race will begin at 14:00 local time.
|2017 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Spain (II) – Feature Race Final Classification (39 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Charles Leclerc||PREMA Racing||39||1:01:31.999|
|2.||Oliver Rowland||DAMS||39||+ 0.230|
|3.||Antonio Fuoco||PREMA Racing||39||+ 0.917|
|4.||Nicholas Latifi||DAMS||39||+ 1.236|
|5.||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||39||+ 2.685|
|6.||Jordan King||MP Motorsport||39||+ 6.744|
|7.||Luca Ghiotto||Russian Time||39||+ 8.017|
|8.||Álex Palou||Campos Racing||39||+ 8.262|
|9.||Nabil Jeffri||Trident||39||+ 14.483|
|10.||Sergio Sette Câmara||MP Motorsport||39||+ 16.226|
|11.||Norman Nato||Pertamina Arden||39||+ 16.256|
|12.||Alexander Albon||ART Grand Prix||39||+ 17.122|
|13.||Nyck de Vries||Racing Engineering||39||+ 17.657|
|14.||Gustav Malja||Racing Engineering||39||+ 24.855|
|15.||Rene Binder||Rapax||39||+ 26.942|
|16.||Sean Gelael||Pertamina Arden||38||+ 1 lap|
|17.||Louis Delétraz||Rapax||38||+ 1 lap|
|18.||Santino Ferrucci||Trident||38||+ 1 lap|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nobuharu Matsushita||ART Grand Prix||31||Collision|
|DNF.||Ralph Boschung||Campos Racing||27||Collision|
Image via FIA Formula 2 Championship