Charles Leclerc has dominated this afternoon’s feature race at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, winning from pole but having to work hard all race long after a safety car threw everyone’s strategies out the window to win from Luca Ghiotto on the same strategy and Oliver Rowland on the alternate tyre choice.
The race commenced under scorching conditions, with half the grid starting on primes and half on options, indicating just how close the decision was to prove. The Monegasque driver had a decent start but fellow front row starter Ghiotto’s was better, with Leclerc having to work hard to hold back the fast charging Italian through the opening sector, with Alexander Albon making the most of a tremendous start to slot into P3, ahead of Nyck De Vries, Jordan King and Rowland.
Albon went one better on lap 4 with Ghiotto’s tyres already wearing out: King was the first driver into the pits when they opened on lap 6, with race leader Leclerc and Nobuharu Matsushita in next time around and Ghiotto on lap 8, handing Albon the lead on track ahead of Rowland, who had found a way by De Vries and was looking for more. But a VSC to remove Sergio Canamasas’ car turned into a safety car next time through, and suddenly the strategy calls were all out the window, with Leclerc the first of the stoppers in P12 and the gap to the front now shredded.
The race was live once more on lap 13, and Leclerc was already blazing a trail through his rivals, so close ahead on track and with substantially older tyres, with Ghiotto thinking about tyre wear and unable to stay with him. The prime-tyred drivers at the front had to push as hard as possible in the hope that any gap they build, plus late fresh rubber, could re-energise their fight for the win. Rowland wasn’t waiting for anyone, dispatching Albon for the lead on lap 21, and all eyes were on the timing screens to monitor the gaps up and down the field.
One by one they had to peel into the garage, and Leclerc was there to pick up their positions: Rowland eventually returned the race lead back to the Monegasque driver when he pitted on lap 29, the last man to do so, but the gap back to Ghiotto was slowing shrinking as tyre wear came into its own.
But Leclerc was not to be denied, driving just within the car’s limits all the way to the flag as he celebrated his first feature win ahead of Ghiotto, who managed his car well all race long, and Rowland, who sliced through the field after his pitstop for another podium finish. Matsushita took solace in P4, just ahead of teammate Albon, with Nicholas Latifi mugging Gustav Malja for 6th on the final lap ahead of Artem Markelov, who will be tomorrow’s polesitter, King and Ralph Boschung.