Charles Leclerc grabbed the first pole position of the FIA Formula 2 Championship by running opposite to his rivals with a bold strategy, coming out early on his second set of tyres to steal a march on the field and claim the top spot this evening ahead of PREMA Racing teammate Antonio Fuoco and Nyck De Vries.
The Monegasque driver was already on provisional pole on his first set, but by just 0.067s: he rolled the dice by returning early to the circuit, running alone to set a time of 1:38.907, putting a huge chunk of time into his rivals and setting a target that was not to be challenged.
With the night dropping the temperature from this morning’s free practice of 45˚C to a more manageable 29˚ the field was released in a torrent as the lights went green, albeit with De Vries slightly delayed after stopping in the fast lane of the pits before eventually restarting. Oliver Rowland was the first man on track and the first to set a competitive time 6 minutes in, with Leclerc stealing the spot from him on the same lap, followed by Norman Nato and Artem Markelov.
At the 10 minute mark Fuoco joined his teammate on the provisional front row, missing the top spot by less than a tenth, with the whole field returning to the pits at the end of that lap. It looked as though we were set to wait for more action on track as no one appeared to be ready to go out, but Leclerc was rolling down the pitlane within two minutes to take advantage of an empty track as his rivals sat impassively and watched him.
The Ferrari Driver Academy alumni calmly circulated, getting his tyres ready for his one shot: when he was released the timesheets showed Leclerc to be purple in all 3 sectors before returning to the pits as the rest of the field scrambled out to try and cut into the lead, now stretched to almost seven tenths. As the clock rolled down the others could do nothing about his time, although De Vries made the best attempt at it by pushing Nato out of the top three with 3 minutes remaining: when Nabil Jeffri and Gustav Malja came together and the VSC came out the session was over, with Leclerc untouchable on top.
Behind Nato was Luca Ghiotto, a late improver to P5 ahead of Nobuharu Matsushita, Markelov, Rowland, Alexander Alban and Sergio Sette Camara filling the top ten, all of whom will be looking for improvements overnight if they want to challenge Leclerc in tomorrow afternoon’s feature race.