Young Arthur Leclerc left his rivals in the dust in today’s first F2 virtual race at the Bahrain International Circuit. Behind the wheel of the PREMA Racing car, the Monegasque sensation claimed both pole position, and both fastest laps, resulting in a perfect score of 48 points. A first in F2!
The 16-lap feature race began at sunset with Leclerc on pole position while DAMS’ Oliver Rowland completed the front row. At the start, the Monegasque driver stayed ahead of the pack and out of trouble ahead of Rowland whilst Jack Aitken moved up to 3rd. Leclerc was quick to open the gap to Rowland, earning him the fastest lap along the way.
On Lap 5, Callum Ilott had closed in on Aitken, ready to pounce for P3, but the Campos man kept his cool and defended his position well. On Lap 6, Leclerc dove into the pits along with the front runners to dispose of the Soft Pirelli tyres and switch to the Medium compound. Ilott opted to pit a lap later and managed to come back on track ahead of Aitken, with Leclerc back into the lead, 3.5s in front of Rowland. On warmer tyres, Aitken went for the move on Ilott and reclaimed 3rd position after small contact.
Halfway through the race, Leclerc had stretched the gap to Rowland by six seconds, setting another fastest lap. Further down the pack, Liam Lawson (Campos) managed to get passed Ilott and closed in on teammate Aitken for P3. On Lap 11, in the DRS zone down the main straight, Aitken was unable to fend off Lawson’s move. To add salt to his wounds, Aitken was also passed by Ilott on the following lap at Turn 1.
At the chequered flag, Leclerc crossed the finish line 6.3s ahead of Rowland after a dominant performance. Lawson was third in front of Aitken, Louis Delétraz, Nato, Felipe Drugovich, Antonio Fuoco and Lirim Zendeli.
With very little time to regroup, the 5-laps Sprint Race began. Drugovich started on reverse pole, but it was Nato who took the lead into Turn 1 as Delétraz tried his luck into the inside but had to give way to the Frenchman eventually. Ilott slotted in third ahead of Leclerc who sliced had his way through the field from P8 on the grid.
There was action a-plenty with the drivers eager to make positions as quickly as possible in the short race distance. On Lap 2, they went 4-wide into Turn 1 with Rowland moving up to 6th ahead of Fuoco, and Luca Ghiotto passed his countryman after the latter made a small mistake which sent him to the back of the pack.
At the front, Nato enjoyed a 1.1s lead to Delétraz who was under pressure from Ilott. Leclerc watched their fight from behind, also ready to make a move. When Ilott ran a bit too wide, the PREMA racer moved up to third and immediately put pressure on Delétraz.
On Lap 4, Nato received a two second time penalty for exceeding track limits. This meant that the fight between Delétraz and Leclerc was not for second place, but for the win.
On the final lap, Leclerc overtook Delétraz into Turn 1 and pushed hard to take his second win on the track. Nato remained however 0.2s ahead of the Monegasque and took the flag first, but Leclerc inherited the win after the penalty was applied. Delétraz took 2nd while Nato classified 3rd ahead of Rowland, Frederik Vesti, Ilott, Ghiotto, and Lawson.
Leclerc who also set the fastest lap in the sprint race concluded his F2 virtual debut with the maximum of points (48). Rowland scored 26 as Delétraz took 20. Lawson and Ilott both scored 16.
There will be more action next Sunday as the second round of the F2 Virtual Racing will take place on the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona.