Charles Leclerc Shows Formula 2 Why He Should Be in Formula One
Leclerc delivered another stunning performance in F2 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Formula 2 superstar Charles Leclerc had another stunning weekend in Formula One's main feeder series at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. He looked to be on track for a double win over the race weekend, which rarely happens in F2 (or when formerly named GP2). However, one little error that led to penalty cost a win in the sprint race, having to settle for second. That penalty and a few other things like lock-ups just prove that Leclerc is really human and not some purpose built overtaking machine.
In Saturday's F2 Feature Race, Leclerc dominated from start to the abbreviated finish. Having started from pole, he was untouchable during the race. Unlike last year, when the safety car was deployed four times after crashes, this year's feature race was relatively clean. There were no major incidents until the end.
With just a few laps to go, Baku's Turn 8 caught out Sean Gelael. After he hit the wall, two other cars got tangled up with him, blocking the track.
Race control first only issued the double yellow flags for that section, but then deployed the safety car. They should have immediately red flagged the race as the track was completely blocked. Unlike Monaco, there is nowhere to set up cranes to quickly lift cars from the track. The marshalls must wait for a truck to arrive to pick up a wrecked car.
With as long of a lap as it is around the Baku street circuit, there was plenty of time to red flag the race and get most, if not all, of the cars into pit lane. One unlucky car arrived at the blocked turn a minute or so after the accident, only to find there was no way through. It wasn't until then that the race was red flagged.
But it was too late. The safety car had already picked up the rest of the field and was en route to Turn 8. When the safety car and the train for racers following pulled around turn 7, they could see that this was not going to work. The entire field had to stop on track to wait for the marshals to clear a path for them.
It looked like amateur hour for race control. Hopefully, whoever was in charge of letting this play out like it learned a valuable lesson in race management. F2 cars, like their F1 cousins, don't like to sit still with the engine running. Somehow, none of the cars stalled or blew-up from overheating.
Once they got the field situated in pit lane, it was decided that with only two laps remaining, the race would not be restarted. There was no point in restarting. One lap behind the safety car after having been sitting in the pits was not enough time to get the field sorted out and the tires up to temperature in order to have one lap of green flag running to the end.
However it was going to finish, Charles Leclerc would have won regardless. One significant anomaly that happened due to the race stopping early was Ralph Boschung finishing in eighth place. In F2, an eighth place in the feature race translates to pole for the sprint race. Boschung had not made the mandatory pit stop in the race yet. This meant that he was running well out of position in eighth as everyone else had stopped.
A driver can wait until the final lap to make their stop in F2. It's a strategy that never pays off, until this one time. Boschung was not penalized for not making a stop. Had the race not been red flagged, he would have made that pit stop before the end of the race. A little bit of luck and a hail-mary strategy from the team got Boschung some points and pole start. Not unexpectedly, Boschung didn't stay out front for the Sprint Race.
In Sunday's sprint race, Boschung was quickly passed by Norman Nato for the lead. Boschung slowly fell down the order as faster drivers worked their way passed him. Leclerc started in eighth but was bumped back to tenth in the first few corners. Surely he wouldn't win the race or even get on the podium from tenth, right?
No. Once again Leclerc delivered a masterclass performance in racecraft. Between lap three and lap ten, Leclerc sliced his way up from 10th place to third. One pass imparticular was just sublime. He got around both Boschung and Sergey Sirotkin, going from sixth to fourth in the blink of an eye. Once Leclerc was in third position, he was running more than two seconds a lap fast that Nato who was leading the race.
Leclerc caught Nato on lap 16 just as word came down that Leclerc would be assessed a ten second time penalty for failing to slow under a yellow flag. Nato let his pass on lap 17 as there was no way Leclerc was going to pull a ten-second gap in just four laps. Nato would go on to win.
Leclerc, instead of just controlling the race from the front, was forced to keep pushing as the third place car of Nicholas Latifi was just about ten seconds behind him. Leclerc needed to keep that gap at greater than ten seconds to ensure that he would finish in second place. Leclerc's driving was a little more desperate than usual, with a few lock-ups and little slides as he hustled around the tight confines of the track.
In the end, it worked and he was classified in second place. He extended his championship lead over Oliver Rowland who's gearbox let him down early in the race. If not for the penalty, Leclerc would have had a perfect weekend, with a pole and two wins. But a pole with a first and second isn't too bad either. Leclerc had dedicated his pole to his father who passed away just days before the race. In what must have been a very emotional weekend for him, he was able to achieve some amazing results. Leclerc also added a tribute to his father on the rear wing of his car, which is pictured above.
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