Charles Leclerc has extended his Formula 2 lead with a classy drive in Azerbaijan. Oliver Rowland, Leclerc’s closest rival in the title race, was fourth after a great recovery drive in what was another wild race around the streets of Baku.
Championship leader, Charles Leclerc, made it four pole positions from four in yesterday’s qualifying session and picked up the four bonus points on offer. After an eventful time in qualifying, the likes of Jordan King, Sergey Sirotkin and Luca Ghiotto all started well outside the Top 10 and were expected to move up the grid.
When the lights went out and the race began, Leclerc lead away as has become normal this season. Latifi was past Nobuharu Matsushita into Turn 1 as the latter endured an awful getaway and was down to fifth from the front row. Johnny Cecotto qualified a very respectable seventh but he undid all of his good work at the start. The Venezuelan stalled his car on the line and when he did get going, slammed into the barriers at Turn 2.
This briefly brought out the Safety Car and gave Nick de Vries a chance to get up to second place. The Dutchman out-braked Latifi and went around the outside of the Canadian at Turn 1 in what was a fantastic manoeuvre.
With 6 laps of 29 gone, most of the grid began to pit for tyres and struggled to get heat into them on their out laps, many resorting to weaving on the straights. Antonio Fuoco struggled more than most, though, being passed by Sergio Canamasas into Turn 3 and then misjudging his braking point into 4, slamming into the back of the Spaniard as a result.
By Lap 10, Luca Ghiotto, who started last now led the race after starting on the harder medium tyres. Leclerc had made his way up to second by passing Ralph Boschung but had a big gap to close to the leader. The last two crashes didn’t bring out the Safety Car but Louis Deletraz did on Lap 12. The Swiss driver clipped the kerbing to heavily at Turn 2 and slammed into the barriers on the outside of the corner.
When the race got underway again, Ghiotto held off Leclerc for a few laps despite being on slow and older rubber but the Italian had to pit on Lap 19. Further back, Oliver Rowland had made up a number of positions after the restart and by Lap 21 was up to fourth from tenth. Leclerc relentlessly built up a lead to Nick de Vries and at the end of Lap 23 it up to 2.7 seconds. Just when the race was threatening to quiet down, though, it heated up once more in the land of fire.
Sergio Canamasas locked up horribly into Turn 3 and crashed at Turn 7 shortly after he got going again. In an unrelated incident, Sean Galael, crunched into the barriers at the extremely tight Turn 8 and took Sergey Sirotkin with him. After initial hesitation from the stewards, the red flags were brought out and the race result called 5 laps early at the conclusion of Lap 24.
After a double retirement at the previous round in his homeland of Monaco, it looked as if the championship would not be a slam-dunk but Leclerc has fought back in magnificent style. Pole, fastest lap and the win, superb from the Monegasque. Nick de Vries claimed an excellent second after his win last time out in Monaco and Nicholas Latifi completed the podium with third. Oliver Rowland finished in fourth after an excellent recovery drive. Ralph Boschung, on an alternative strategy, will start from reverse-grid pole after crossing the line in eighth and both Canamasas and Sirotkin earn points despite crashing out of the race.
If today is anything to go by, we’re in for a special race tomorrow.
P2: de Vries +3.4s
P3: Latifi +6.3s
P4: Rowland +9.0s
P5: Markelov +11.6s
P6: Nato +17.0s
P7: King +18.5s
P8: Boschung +21.3s
P9: Canamasas +22.8s
P10: Sirotkin +24.0s
P11: Malja +24.8s
P12: Matsushita +25.6s
P13: Sette Camara* +29.6s
P14: Gelael* +33.1s
P15: Visoiu* +33.3s
P16: Ghiotto +49.2s
Ret: Delatraz (Accident, 11 laps)
Ret: Jeffri (Accident, 10 laps)
Ret: Fuoco (Collision, 6 laps)
Ret: Cecotto (Accident, 0 laps)
*Sette-Camara, Visoiu and Galael all picked up 10-second penalties for ignoring yellow flags.
Fastest Lap: Leclerc – 1:54.025