Oliver Rowland Wins Thrilling Formula 2 Feature Race in Monaco
A perfectly timed pit stop got him to the front, and a perfect drive sealed the win.
At the start of the first Formula 2 race of the weekend at Monaco, Charles Leclerc led the championship with 77 points, 30 more than Oliver Rowland in second place. Leclerc would be starting from pole and Rowland from third. Between them in the second on the grid would be Alexander Albon. The race got under way and the top three got through the first corner at Sainte-Dévote in their grid order. They quickly starting pulling away from the field.
As usually happens, a few drivers in the pack thought that diving down the inside of the hairpin would be a good idea. It's not. Thankfully, this is the slowest portion of any track they'll race on, so all of the contact only resulted in one front wing being lost.
On lap 8, Nicholas Latifi blew his engine and came to a halt just inside the start of the tunnel, bring out the safety car. This is by far the worst place to have your car stop. There is no crane to grab the car and the other drivers can't see your car until they enter the tunnel. It took a small army of about 15 track marshals to get the car on a cart and push it up hill a bit to the first available opening.
While this was happening, a good number of the drivers took their mandatory pit stop. Albon pitted with them with the hopes that he could jump to the lead when Leclerc stopped for tires. Albon rejoined in seventh place. For this work, he would need to stay within 30 seconds behind Leclerc and would need the race to stay green.
Once Latifi's car was safely off track, the race was green again. Leclerc knew of Albon's plan and started to do his best to undermine it. He pulled a two second gap on second place in the first lap after the safety car.
Leclerc was opening his gap by almost a second a lap over Rowland. Albon was stuck in traffic and was loosing more time than that, but was still in the window he needed to be in. On lap 22, everything got turned upside down.
Robert Visoiu tried an ambitious pass on the inside of Louis Deletraz at Mirabeau. They came together and both hit the guardrail. Deletraz got going again, but Visoiu's car was stranded on track, bringing out a second safety car.
Anticipating the safety car, Leclerc was called into the pits just before it was released. Nine times out of ten, this is the smart move. This was that tenth time. Rowland had already gone past the pit exit by the time the safety car hit the track. Leclerc managed to rejoin the race in 12th. Rowland was able to get around the track, pit, and keep the lead before having to get behind the safety car.
A few others were able to do the same. When the order was sorted out, Rowland truly held first, with Artem Markelov in second. Albon's early pit stop netted him the lead, but he did end up in fourth place after all this.
Once Leclerc was back on track, things just got worse. His left front wheel was vibrating as if the wheel nut wasn't on all the way. He was forced to pit again, just as the race was going green. Sadly, when he rejoined in last place, the vibration was there. Into the pits yet again for him, where the team confirmed damage to the suspension. His day was done.
The television feed caught LeClerc sitting between stacks of tires in the pits with his head between his knees. In minutes he went from dominating his home race to out of the points to retired. This also means he'll be starting the sprint race from near the back of the grid.
Someone else who had a particularly bad day at the office was Sergio Sette Camara. He started 20th and last, but had worked his way up to tenth and into the points. At some point, he was heard on the radio complaining about understeer to his race engineer. The reply he received: "Stop crying and race!"
When Sette Camara made his pit stop on lap 35, massive clouds of brake dust billowed off the wheels as they were removed. A few minutes later, he was hoping out and the car was retired. We'd love to hear what was said in the post-race talks with he and his engineer.
After taking the lead, Rowland drove a flawless race to victory. He kept Markelov just far enough behind while making sure he didn't drive the life out of his tires. It might seem that he got a little lucky with how everyone shuffled after the second safety car, but his team made the right call not to bring him in right away.
The sprint race is next for the F2 drivers. Leclrec has pulled off a miracle in one of these earlier in the season. It'll be a bigger ask to do it again, but he'll need to try. After his DNF, Leclerc still has 77 points. Rowland's win put him up to just three behind with 74. Rowland is poised to take the lead in the championship if Leclerc doesn't score.