Charles Leclerc takes dominant win in Belgium

Following the Formula 2 Feature Race at Spa, Chris Soulsby looks at Charles Leclerc's sixth win of 2017 for Prema Racing.

Heading to Spa with a disappointing weekend in Hungary behind him, Charles Leclerc was targeting a weekend of domination in Belgium, and after claiming pole position by 0.6 seconds from his nearest challenger, looked set to do so. The Monégasque driver lined up on the first grid spot and Nicholas Latifi was to start alongside him for DAMS. An issue before the race however, meant that Latifi was unable to compete, leaving Leclerc on the front row all on his own.

Charles Leclerc takes dominant win in Belgium

After the formation lap, the lights went out and the race was quickly underway. Leclerc had a poor getaway from pole and Oliver Rowland had a strong start from third on the grid, meaning that the championship rivals charged into turn 1 side by side. With Leclerc on the inside, Rowland attempted to hang a move around the outside which ultimately ended in contact and the Briton damaging his front wing end plate.

When the yellow flags waved, the virtual safety car was quickly deployed. This was for a number of small accidents throughout the field, with Jordan King picking up a right rear puncture and Louis Deletraz damaging his front wing in a collision with Sergio Sette Camara, later hitting the Brazilian multiple times later in the lap, perhaps unaware of the damage he had sustained.

The green flag waved on lap 2 and the race was resumed. Leclerc shot off into the lead once again, extending the gap between himself and Rowland. Luca Ghiotto however, was the man on the move, passing Antonio Fuoco for third place on the restart. Nyck de Vries also followed suite, getting past Alexander Albon for seventh.

When DRS was enabled on lap 4, a flurry of overtakes followed, with the entry to Les Combes proving to be a popular overtaking spot for a number of drivers including Robert Visoiu, who passed Albon on lap 6 to move inside the top ten.

In an attempt to perform the undercut strategy on Leclerc, Rowland pitted on lap 6, ditching his softs for a set of longer lasting medium compound tyres, rejoining in 15th place with clean air. DAMS may have miscalculated this strategy call however, and within a couple of laps, Rowland encountered traffic ahead in the form of Santino Ferrucci and Norman Nato. This proved to be a costly mistake and when Leclerc pitted from the lead on lap 10, the Monégasque driver emerged in the net lead of the race ahead of Rowland.

Seeing the race win drift away from his grasp, Rowland fought back, clearing Ferrucci and Nato out on track to try and move into clear air. When Leclerc set the fastest lap on fresher medium tyres however, it became apparent that Rowland would not be able to regain the lead on pace.

Leclerc regained the lead on lap 16 after Artem Markelov and Antonio Fuoco pitted from first and second. Rejoining in sixth place, Markelov then began his charge to try and take a podium place, clearing the two Racing Engineering drivers of Nyck de Vries and Gustav Malja to move into fourth. Next up was his team mate Luca Ghiotto, and an attempted overtake from Markelov resulted in some nervous faces on the Russian Time pit wall. He later passed Ghiotto on lap 21, moving into third.

On the softer compound tyre, Markelov had the pace to challenge Oliver Rowland who was in second place. With only four laps remaining however, time was running out for the Russian to pass the ‘English Lion’. Closing and closing, Markelov caught up to the back of Rowland with only one lap remaining. Being unable to pass using DRS, Markelov tried to attack again on the entry to Pouhon but failed.

Markelov bided his time until the third sector and sat in the slipstream of Rowland through Stavelot, Courbe Paul Frere and Blanchimont, launching a diving move around the outside of Rowland into the bus stop chicane. Rowland ran deep and lost traction on the inside while Markelov cut back to get a better exit on the outside of the corner. He was then pushed off the track in one final dash to the line, but buried his foot to the floor, pipping Rowland to second place by less than one tenth of a second.

Out in front, Charles Leclerc claimed the win for Prema Racing by 26 seconds, marking his sixth win of the season. This result allowed him to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship over Rowland by 10 points. Markelov and Rowland filled out the other podium positions, although the overtake at the end of the race was under investigation.

Luca Ghiotto crossed the line in fourth followed by Fuoco in fifth, Malja in sixth, Nyck de Vries in seventh on his debut with Racing Engineering, Sergio Sette Camara in eighth, Roberto Merhi in ninth and Norman Nato in tenth.

By winning, Leclerc will start in eighth place for Sunday’s Sprint Race while Sergio Sette Camara will start from the front row after securing the reverse grid pole in the Feature Race. The pace that Leclerc displayed around Spa will be carried into tomorrow, and to see him come back through the field will be a spectacle as he looks to secure a double win this weekend.

Results from the Belgian Formula 2 Feature Race:

  1. Charles Leclerc, Prema Racing, 25 points
  2. Artem Markelov, Russian Time, 18 points
  3. Oliver Rowland, DAMS, 15 points
  4. Luca Ghiotto, Russian Time, 12 points
  5. Antonio Fuoco, Prema Racing, 10 points
  6. Gustav Malja, Racing Engineering, 8 points
  7. Nyck de Vries, Racing Engineering, 6 points
  8. Sergio Sette Camara, MP Motorsport, 4 points
  9. Roberto Merhi, Rapax, 2 points
  10. Norman Nato, Pertamina Arden Racing, 1 point
  11. Santino Ferrucci, Trident, 0 points
  12. Robert Visoiu, Campos Racing, 0 points
  13. Nabil Jeffri, Trident, 0 points
  14. Alexander Albon, ART Grand Prix, 0 points
  15. Ralph Boschung, Campos Racing, 0 points
  16. Louis Deletraz, Rapax, 0 points
  17. Sean Gelael, Pertamina Arden Racing, 0 points
  18. Nobuharu Matsushita, ART Grand Prix, 0 points
  19. Jordan King, MP Motorsport, Ret
  20. Nicholas Latifi, DAMS, DNS

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