Charles Leclerc took an emotional Feature race victory around the Baku Street Circuit on Saturday, with the race ending under a red flag after a crash for Sean Gelael blocked the track at the much-maligned turn eight.
Gelael ran wide on entry and swiped the barriers, with the Pertamina Arden driver ending up sideways across the track, with Sergey Sirotkin also hitting the barrier as he attempted to avoid the Indonesian.
Both Gustav Malja and Nobuharu Matsushita were stuck behind the two in the wall, and subsequently as was Luca Ghiotto, but officials were left with no choice but to red flag the race, and with time almost having run out, it was decided to end the race.
Leclerc had led away from pole position but fellow front row starter Matsushita fell down to fifth behind Nicholas Latifi, Nyck de Vries and Antonio Fuoco, but before the end of the first lap the safety car was deployed due to a turn two crash for Johnny Cecotto Jr.
Cecotto had stalled at the start and had been pushed back into the pit lane where his Rapax mechanics got him going again, but the Venezuelan ran wide with cold tyres and cold brakes and hit the barriers, ending his afternoon in embarrassing fashion.
On the restart, which Leclerc judged to perfection, de Vries worked his way up into second place as he deposed Latifi into turn one, while both Matsushita and Artem Markelov passed Fuoco into the same turn.
Unfortunately for Fuoco, his race ended early as, after leaving the pit lane following his mandatory pit stop, he was passed into turn three by Sergio Canamasas before hitting the rear of the Trident driver at turn four, with the Trident driver lucky to continue, although his rear wing was damaged.
Fuoco’s car jumped into the air but the damage caused ensured his day was run, and the Italian’s disappointing graduation into Formula 2 continued. Whereas his Prema Racing team-mate Leclerc heads the championship standings, Fuoco has just two points in the opening seven races of the season.
A virtual safety car was required when Nabil Jeffri crashed out of the race at turn ten after running wide, but the full safety car was required three laps later when Louis Delétraz crashed out at turn two, with the Racing Engineering driver struggling with brake temperature before ending his race in the wall.
When the second safety car was deployed, Ghiotto was leading despite the Italian having started at the back of the field following a crash during qualifying, with the Russian Time driver having started on the harder compound of tyre at the start. Unfortunately he fell to the back of the grid when he made his mandatory pit stop, ending his points scoring run.
Matsushita lost out on a potential podium finish when he ran wide at turn one and dropped from fourth to fifteenth, with the Japanese racer’s incident promoting Oliver Rowland to fourth behind de Vries in second and Latifi in third.
Markelov concluded the race in fifth for Russian Time ahead of the battling Norman Nato and Jordan King, with the former Racing Engineering team-mates – now racing for Pertamina Arden and MP Motorsport respectively – finding themselves battling for position for virtually the whole afternoon.
Rowland was handed a post-race ten-second time penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags, dropping him down to seventh, promoting Markelov to fourth ahead of Nato and King.
Despite stopping on track on the same lap as Gelael had his incident, Ralph Boschung secured eighth place and reverse grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint race for Campos Racing, thanks to the result of the race being taken from the last completed lap – lap 24 – while Canamasas and Sirotkin being classified inside the points.
Sergio Sette Câmara, Gelael and Robert Visoiu would have all finished ahead of Sirotkin on the road, but all three were penalised for failing to slow sufficiently under yellow flags, meaning the Russian took the final point on offer as a result as he replaces the injured Alexander Albon at ART Grand Prix this weekend.
But no-one was able to touch Leclerc, who on the week he sadly lost his father, he was able to honour him in the best possible manner to extend his advantage at the top of the championship to twenty-eight points over Rowland.
Baku Street Circuit Feature Race Result
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