Leclerc column: Strong Austria weekend not tarnished by crash

A fifth pole and a fourth win of the F2 season were enough to leave Motorsport.com columnist Charles Leclerc satisfied with the Austria weekend, even though he retired from the sprint race.

Leclerc column: Strong Austria weekend not tarnished by crash
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam. and Jordan King, MP Motorsport
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam. and Jordan King, MP Motorsport
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Winner Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Listen to this article

Despite the Austria round ending with an unfortunate crash in the sprint, I feel really good about the weekend anyway.

It's a shame myself and the Prema team came up short of some important points in the second race, but the pace was very good throughout, so it was a lot more positive than negative.

The crash we couldn't do anything about and now we need to move on, especially as we've still extended the lead in the standings further.

In general, the campaign's going very well for now, but I'm not really thinking about the championship yet. I do look at the standings and I'm obviously happy about the gap, but we need to keep focused, working and maximising opportunities because the others are improving.

Pole number five

Polesitter Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Polesitter Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

I was confident I should do okay at Red Bull Ring because it's a track I really get on with. There's just something about it – there's every type of corner so it's very complete, but it's also quite small, a bit reminiscent of my karting days because the lap is not so long.

We topped practice and qualifying by a reasonable margin although there was stern competition for pole, especially from Sergio Sette Camara. We could see that he was very quick, especially in the first two sectors.

I had an edge in sector three, but if Sergio managed to finish his best lap, the gap could've been a lot smaller – and maybe he could've been ahead.

But he was then penalised and it was my teammate Antonio Fuoco lining up on the front row with me instead.

Seeing him up there was not a really a surprise – we were expecting it. The season hadn't gone his way until now but he's a very good driver.

Close finish

Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

In practice and qualifying, we saw that tyre degradation was really high and we were concerned about the option tyre – the supersoft. As such, we took the decision to start on the prime compound, so as to avoid running supersofts early on with high fuel and having to manage massive degradation.

We kept the lead at the start of the first race, but we weren't sure how many laps we could do on the set that we had. I knew I had to go long, so I tried to take it as easy as I could early on, despite pressure from the drivers behind me.

On lap 12 or 13, my engineer told me what laptimes Oliver Rowland was doing - he stopped a few laps earlier as he was going option-prime. So then I tried to push and make the same laptimes as him – and the pace was very, very good at that point.

The primes didn't degrade that much even closer to the end of the race, so maybe we pitted a lap early. And definitely we didn't expect Oliver – and his teammate Nicholas Latifi, running the same strategy – to come back as quick as they did.

DAMS have been strong in the races since the beginning of the season and their strategy was maybe better for this race. Plus, their two drivers have GP2 experience and they probably did a better job than me at managing tyres, which is something I still feel I need to work on.

So, in the end, we were dropping off massively on the options, but luckily there was no extra lap and I took the chequered flag. I think one lap more and it could have been Nicholas' race.

Crashing after near-miss

Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam. and Jordan King, MP Motorsport
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam. and Jordan King, MP Motorsport

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

In race two, I had a really, really good start – I think my best of the season from zero to 100. I was just behind Antonio and, as soon as he moved to the right, I saw a stalled car ahead.

I didn't have any time to think about it, but enough time to avoid it. It was very very close and the crash could've been quite bad, so, in moments like these, it does really feel that all the reflex training we do at Ferrari is paying off.

It cost us a couple of spots because the other line had a clear run, but it wasn't a huge disaster and we were in a good position.

There was a safety car, after which I got a good restart, passing Jordan King with slipstream at Turn 3 and closing in on Oliver and Antonio.

Antonio tried to pass Oliver around the outside of Turn 4, which, to be honest, is a corner where you don't normally try a round-the-outside overtake. So Oliver didn't really leave space – I think he didn't expect it – and Antonio, surprised, had to brake straight away.

I got a really good exit out of the corner so was right behind, and there was no time to react and avoid him. To retire was unfortunate because the race was run on primes and our pace on primes was very good, good enough to at least have a go at the podium.

After seeing the images of the whole situation, I think it was more a racing incident than anything. I don't think Antonio was at fault to have tried – it's just a shame we were in the wrong place in the wrong time, but that happens sometimes.

Title run still on right track

Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam
Charles Leclerc, PREMA Powerteam

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

Next up is Silverstone, another track that I really like. I won there in my first weekend in F3 and the GP3 round here went very well for me, too. And the fast corners should make it a very exciting track to drive in a Formula 2 car.

We can aim to catch up the points we lost on Sunday in Austria in Silverstone, although I am happy with my current advantage.

At the beginning of the year, my goal was to win this series because that's how I approach every category I come into. I knew it would be extremely difficult because it's a tough championship, where experience with the Pirelli tyres is so beneficial.

So the goal, it hasn't changed compared to the start of the year. At this point, it feels a lot more possible – but there's still a long way to go.

shares
comments
Fuoco and Rowland at odds over Austria incident
Previous article

Fuoco and Rowland at odds over Austria incident

Next article

F3 title contender Ilott to make F2 debut

F3 title contender Ilott to make F2 debut
Ranking the 10 best drivers from F1's junior series in 2022 Prime

Ranking the 10 best drivers from F1's junior series in 2022

The ladder to F1 never gets any less slippery. But a strong cast of Formula 3 and Formula 2 aces proved sure of foot as they continued their climbs in 2022

FIA F2
Dec 24, 2022
The next steps for Pourchaire after an F2 title miss Prime

The next steps for Pourchaire after an F2 title miss

Theo Pourchaire entered the 2022 Formula 2 season a firm favourite for the title after remaining with ART Grand Prix for a second season. But an unexpected charge from Felipe Drugovich and MP Motorsport meant the Frenchman was forced to settle for second. What went wrong for the Sauber protege, and where does he go from here?

FIA F2
Nov 17, 2022
The remarkable career turnaround of Enzo Fittipaldi Prime

The remarkable career turnaround of Enzo Fittipaldi

Sixth in the F2 standings heading into this month's final round, but within touching distance of third, Enzo Fittipaldi has quietly put together a strong first full season in the Formula 1 support series, recovering well from the scary Jeddah start crash that cut his 2021 campaign short. It marks a turn in fortunes for the Brazilian who thought he'd bid hopes of a career in Europe goodbye two years ago.

FIA F2
Nov 5, 2022
What the future holds for two Red Bull juniors fighting in the F2 battleground Prime

What the future holds for two Red Bull juniors fighting in the F2 battleground

Despite having two talented drivers, albeit at very different stages of their careers, Prema Racing has had mixed fortunes in FIA Formula 2 this year. Both drivers told Motorsport.com how they rate their seasons so far – and their next steps beyond 2022

FIA F2
Aug 24, 2022
Logan Sargeant: Carrying America's F1 hopes on his shoulders Prime

Logan Sargeant: Carrying America's F1 hopes on his shoulders

Two feature race wins in as many rounds have helped Logan Sargeant to emerge as the closest challenger to runaway Formula 2 points leader Felipe Drugovich. The Williams F1 junior couldn't have timed his rise better, with interest in grand prix racing on the rise in his US homeland, and he could be his country's best shot at getting a driver on the grid for the first time since 2015.

FIA F2
Jul 16, 2022
What racing in Australiar the future of F1's junior series Prime

What racing in Australiar the future of F1's junior series

The announcement that FIA Formula 2 and 3 would race alongside the Australian Grand Prix from 2023 came as a surprise, not only to fans but to the series’ teams too. But with Formula 1’s boom in popularity bringing more fans to the championships, team principals are relishing the opportunity

FIA F2
Jun 28, 2022
The other Doohan charting his way to motorsport success Prime

The other Doohan charting his way to motorsport success

Heading into FIA Formula 2 this season, there was a lot of pressure on Jack Doohan. The 2021 F3 runner-up joined a new team for his next challenge, as well as signing up to the Alpine Academy. He told Motorsport.com how he’s tackling the step up - with some help from his motorcycle legend father

FIA F2
Jun 16, 2022
How Drugovich plans on becoming Brazil's first F1 driver since 2017 Prime

How Drugovich plans on becoming Brazil's first F1 driver since 2017

With a chaotic but “pretty much perfect” FIA Formula 2 weekend in Saudi Arabia behind him, Felipe Drugovich now leads the drivers’ standings in his third crack at the series. The Brazilian driver reveals how he ended up back on the grid after what he thought would be his last year in the series, and shares his F1 aspirations.

FIA F2
Apr 1, 2022