Championship Fight Develops at Halfway Mark
With almost half of the 2017 Formula 2 season gone, it looks like there could be three drivers battling for the title.
Prema Racing’s Charles Leclerc, DAMS’ Oliver Rowland, and Russian Time’s Artem Markelov stand in the top-three of the Drivers’ Championship after five of 11 rounds.
Leclerc added a fifth pole and fourth win to his collection in the Austrian feature event, moving onto 151 points, 49 ahead of Rowland and 52 clear of Markelov.
Each of these racers is falling into using different tactics as they fight to become the latest F2 champion after Luciano Bacheta in the MotorSport Vision-run category in 2012.
Leclerc’s Fast Starts
The Ferrari academy member is keeping one step ahead of his rivals at every round thanks to the four points given for pole. These alone have added an extra 20 to his lead.
Additionally, this has allowed him to win three of five feature races and take the largest number available – 25 – negating any loss to rivals in the next.
He has an average position of 1.5 in the first event and 2.33 in the sprint but has failed to complete the second twice. His total of three retirements is the most of any driver currently in the top-eight of the championship.
Leclerc did not complete the last sprint after hitting the rear right tire of teammate Antonio Fuoco with his left front at a green flag restart.
“We couldn’t have done better, every time we were on-track we were the fastest and even in race two we were very quick,” he said. “It was close at the start and we managed to avoid the stopped car but then later in the race we had contact and I couldn’t do much about it.”
Despite having four podiums from the first 10 chances, the Renault-supported racer’s scoring achievements have been noticeably steady.
He has finished three features in fourth, fifth and seventh, having an average position of fourth so far, and has been clinical when needed. The 42 points gained in sprint events in Monaco and Austria when Leclerc has failed to finish have been crucial in keeping him in the battle.
Rowland knows that he has to improve in qualifying to help hunt down the Monegasque rival. The Brit has only started in the front two rows of the grid once in Monaco in third.
“At the moment, it’s quite hard to catch him, especially with his pace in qualifying: we need to address that, and if we can start taking four points and the feature race we’re not even halfway in, so there’s no reason why we can’t turn it around,” he said in the Austrian post-race press conference. “We made a good step here in qualifying and the race again, and we’re finding stuff all the time, so fingers crossed as it’s a home race and it’s only 50 points: one bad weekend for him and a good one for us and we’re back in it, but we need to stay focussed on our job.”
Markelov’s win in the Austrian sprint is the only time he’s won two rounds in a GP2 or F2 campaign.
The Russian veteran, in his fourth year of second-tier European open-wheel racing, has top-10 finishes in every contest so far. Only Alexander Albon and Jordan King has the same reliability record.
He has just entered the fight for the championship, now just five points behind Rowland as both rivals have lost out at periods.
A gain of 43 has been made in events where Leclerc has suffered a DNF, while he is the only driver other than the leader to claim more than one fastest lap. He has set the fastest time on four occasions – adding another eight onto his total.
Markelov believes he also needs to develop in qualifying, where he has only finished in the top-five twice in Monaco and Azerbaijan, after starting Austria’s feature in 15th.
“It [the win] is actually a good boost for me for the next race, and I need to improve my qualifying compared to this race because it was a bit of a disaster, so if I get a good qualifying I can fight again for the top-three in Silverstone,” he said.
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