What can I say? It was a sensational victory for Prema Racing’s Charles Leclerc in the 23-lap Sprint Race around the Sakhir International Circuit to cap off the first round of the Formula 2 season. The reigning GP3 Series Champion employed a brave strategy by choosing to go for a one-stop race as opposed to the traditional no-stop nature of Sprint Races. Starting the race on the prime Medium compound tires, Leclerc fought his way up to the lead from an initial starting position of sixth. He then pushed for pace to build a sizable lead up front before diving into pit lane to switch to the faster Soft compound rubber on Lap 15.
On commentary, Davide Valsecchi understandably expressed doubt to Prema Racing’s pit strategy, and I was also scratching my head while trying to think if Leclerc’s audacious plan would propel him to win. Leclerc, a Ferrari Academy driver, emerged in 14th place after his pit stop and had nine or so laps to climb back up the ladder, rung by rung. Enjoying more traction with fresher tires than virtually every other driver, he made measured overtakes one by one as he kept setting lap times faster than anybody else in the field.
Up front, Luca Ghiotto of Russian Time and Oliver Rowland of DAMS battled for the lead for most of the race but since both of them went for the traditional no-stop strategy, they were already struggling for grip near the end of the race, just as Leclerc was surging with tremendous pace advantage behind them. Just as the final lap was about to start, Leclerc easily sailed past Rowland on the main straight to take second place. Four corners later, Ghiotto would lock up his tires, opening the door wide open for Leclerc’s race-winning pass.
Prema decided on a risky, “racy” strategy, and credits to Charles Leclerc for making it work brilliantly. It was a tough task to overtake thirteen cars within about seven laps but he pulled through with a gritty performance.
Now that Prema gained success from a speedy one-stop strategy on a Sprint Race, could this very well set a precedent for the rest of the Formula 2 season? I wonder if teams will start to incorporate pit stops more often in the shorter-distance Sprint Races.