Charles Leclerc Goes From 19th to 4th In Hungarian Formula 2 Feature Race
Oliver Rowland wins, but barely makes a dent in Leclerc's championship lead.
Charles Leclerc had taken pole for the Formula 2 Hungarian Grand Prix feature race but had his qualifying time thrown out for a technical violation. The stewards for that shims in the differential were made from a material that did not comply with the regulations. His team said that he gained no advantage from this, but due to the error, he would be starting at the back of the grid.
After a few other drivers received penalties, Leclerc was moved from 20th up to 19th, which is not much of an improvement. Starting from pole would be Oliver Rowland, who is second to Leclerc in the championship. Artem Markelov, who is third in the championship, would start from second on the grid. This is a huge opportunity for Rowland and Markelov to make up ground on Leclerc's championship lead. This race would also be a huge test of Leclerc's skill. Leclerc started on the medium tires and will be on a different strategy than his rivals on the front row who were on the soft tires.
At the start of the race, Markelov took the lead in the first turn from Rowland. At the back of the grid, Leclerc came storming through, passing six cars in the first two turns and two more before the end of the first lap. That moved him from 19th to 11th.
By lap seven, Leclerc had settled into a rhythm in 11th, saving his tires, knowing that almost everyone in front of him would be pitting very soon.
As the leaders started to make their stops, Leclerc was getting help up by Alexander Albon. The pair found themselves running first and second. After a few laps of setting him up, Leclerc made the move stick on lap 15 by going around the outside of Albon in turn two. By this point, Rowland had gotten around Markelov for the effective race lead.
Rowland began to slice his way through the field, catching Leclerc on lap 22, just as Leclerc was pulling off into to the pits. Leclerc would emerge in 13th place with 13 laps to go. This was all sounding very familiar. A few laps later, the entire complexion of the race changed.
Leclerc was in 11th, following behind Robert Visoiu and Sergio Canamasas. As they approached turn one, Leclerc could clearly see what was happening and backed off a little. He had a front row seat to Canamasas diving down the inside of the turn and running right into Visoiu. This knocked them both out of the race, elevating Leclerc to ninth place, and brought out the safety car.
The race got went back to green on lap 28. With the leaders in sight and wanting to waste no more time, Leclerc passed three cars in turn one on the restart. This put him in sixth place. At the front, Rowland was being hounded by Markelov and Nicholas Latifi. Rowland had lost his edge and was in danger of losing the lead.
On lap 34, Markelov tried to pass Rowland for the lead going down the front straight. He ended up in the pit exit lane, and it all went to hell for him after that. Technically, he was in the lead for about a second, albeit sliding backward across the track.
Right after this happened, Leclerc was able to pass Nobuharu Matsushita going through the outside of turn two right be before the safety car came out. That safety car deployment would effectively end the race as there were only two laps remaining. With the last second pass and Markelov's retirement, Leclerc, who started in 19th, finished in 4th. Not a bad day at the office.
Rowland now has 146 points to Leclerc's 200. Markelov earned none for the race and is now 79 points behind. His DNF today is effectively the end of his chances at the championship. It's not impossible, just highly improbable for Markelov to make up all those points. Rowland's hopes still remain alive, though he'll have to keep winning to keep in the game.
Formula 2 will run their second race of the weekend tomorrow. Leclerc will be starting from fifth and Rowland eighth. With Leclerc looking to extend his lead and Rowland looking to hang on, it should be a great race.