Analyzing Leclerc, Prema’s Bahrain Sprint Strategy
For a second straight event in Formula 2, the victor performed a superb pitstop strategy to beat their rivals.
After losing pace late in the feature, Prema Racing’s Charles Leclerc placed third, saying that they had to learn about tire usage for the sprint race. He must’ve figured it out, as he won Sunday’s sprint event after being one of just four drivers to make a clever decision to pit.
Pitstops are not mandatory in a sprint event, but the Monegasque driver produced massive lap time differences to others on track to make up 34.724 seconds of lost time changing from medium Pirelli tires to softs during the 23-lap race.
Leclerc started sixth on the grid, which was effectively fifth as polesitter Nobuharu Matsushita was forced to start in pit road after mechanical problems, and moved to third on Lap 1. After a safety car period when Arden’s Norman Nato ended his race off track with a puncture, he passed former GP3 teammate Alexander Albon for P2 once racing got back underway on Lap 4 and passed Luca Ghiotto for the lead after five more circuits.
The timing screens went purple as he extended the gap to 9.4 seconds before making a move for soft tires on Lap 15 and coming back out in 13th place.
More purple splashes would be thrown out immediately as Leclerc became the first driver into the 1m44s with a 1m44.074s which was 4.3 seconds faster than Oliver Rowland’s time with just three drivers on track managing to get below 1m47s. During this period, he made easy work of midfield challengers, including passing Trident’s Sergio Canamasas along the back straight with the use of DRS for 10th.
His lap time on lap 17 decreased to 1m45.800s, but he still was 2.448s faster than DAMS’ Oliver Rowland (first) and 2.936s above own teammate Antonio Fuoco as the Italian struggled with grip, quickly losing second place to Ghiotto at Turn 1 on the next lap as Leclerc found his way to ninth.
He quickly returned to the 1m44s with a 1m44.932s, which was now 3.301s faster than Rowland, 3.049s better than Ghiotto’s time and 4.930s faster than Fuoco before passing Johnny Cecotto for eighth and getting in points positions before going by Alexander Albon for seventh.
Finding an extra tenth saw him set a 1m44.825s, now 3.285s ahead of Rowland’s time and 2.734s above Ghiotto as the gap closed between first and second. He then took sixth away from Nyck de Vries and cut the gap to Rowland – which would have been over 20 seconds at one stage – to just 8.2s.
The gap continually decreased, just 5.5 with three circuits remaining and just 2.9 seconds on Lap 22 despite being in the mid to late 1m45s. Ghiotto passed Rowland for first with two laps to go at Turn 1, but Leclerc quickly put the gap to the top three down to just 1.1s with one circuit remaining.
He used DRS to overtake Rowland easily down the main straight and found his way past Ghiotto at Turn 4 to complete one of the best strategy calls in GP2 or F2 and make up 13 places in just nine laps.
The result means that a Prema driver scores a podium in both races for the fourth time in 12 rounds (Pierre Gasly – Spain 2016; Antonio Giovinazzi – Azerbaijan, Italy 2016). Leclerc now moves ahead of Artem Markelov in the Drivers’ Championship with 36 points, eight clear of the second-placed Russian. He also has now not failed to lead a championship table for 266 days since Albon topped the GP3 championship after the Hungarian round in July last year.
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