Formula 2 rookie Charles Leclerc won the first F2 sprint race of the new era with a phenomenal drive, making a one-stop work and taking the lead from Luca Ghiotto on the final lap of the race.
The Frenchman decided to make a pit stop mid-race, giving him fresher tyres, but forcing him to pass eleven cars en route to victory, finishing ahead of Ghiotto and Oliver Rowland who made up the other podium positions.
Leclerc managed to lap a second quicker than his rivals up front before his stop, cementing his dominant drive, stretching out an eight-second lead. But Prema opted for “plan b” which included a single pitstop due to extreme track temperatures of 38C.
This left Briton’s Oliver Rowland in the lead of the race with Ghiotto in close pursuit. The DAMS driver, along with most of the field, opted for a lights-to-flag strategy, proving to be a mistake as Leclerc’s one-stop proved to be the superior strategy.
Meanwhile, Leclerc was flying, but down in twelfth place had a lot of places to make up. But the French driver managed to slice through the field as his competitors began to struggle on their tyres. Leclerc had climbed to fifth with three laps to go and was still over two seconds per lap quicker than Ghiotto, who had momentarily taken the lead from Rowland.
Nicholas Latifi came home in fourth for DAMS, the Canadian driver had a late battle with Jordan King, the Brit ultimately lost out but still managed bring his MP Motorsport car home in fifth place.
Race 2 was a disaster before it even began for Matsushita. The Japanese driver was left stranded in the pit lane with technical issues. That meant Luca Ghiotto inherited pole ahead of Alexander Albon.
Luca Ghiotto managed to retain the lead from the pole he inherited from Nobuharu Matsushita. All drivers got around the first lap well, other than Norman Nato, who lost his chance to build on his second place by crashing out on lap one. That brought out the safety car.
Hot, dry and windy conditions graced the circuit as the unremitting desert sun cooked the asphalt, making some teams contemplating a pit stop in the traditional sprint race. Race 1’s winner Artem Markelov was asked to pit under the safety car at the end of the second lap, but the Russian driver decided to overrule his Russian Time team’s call.
However, at the end of lap nine, Markelov did pit for medium tyres with a more aggressive strategy in mind. He finished down in eighth position.
From seventh on the grid, Markelov stormed up to challenge Rowland for third on lap seven, putting him in contention to take a double victory.
Up front, Ghiotto and Leclerc diced for the lead of the race. Ghiotto was unable to hold the lead as Ferrari protege Leclerc took the lead.
Jordan King made a good start, the Brit managing to make up places on the first lap. But it was Charles Leclerc who was the big mover early on, from starting fifth, the Prema driver made it up to second by lap four of 23, overtaking a struggling Albon who lost a place to Rowland soon after.