Arthur Leclerc has made a winning FIA Formula 2 debut, before he’s even had a chance to start his 2020 Formula Regional programme, beating far more experienced drivers. This is all down to the effects of the pandemic that has been with us for around two months now, leading drivers and organisers to search for some sort of entertainment for the fans through the means of virtual racing. Also racing was Leclerc’s fellow FDA (Ferrari Driver Academy) student Callum Ilott, who finished fourth and then sixth in the two races.
A known track. Leclerc and Ilott, whose championships like all others are currently on hold, were competing for their respective teams in the Sakhir Virtual Race, run at the only track that the Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers had driven on for real this year, at the pre-season tests in Bahrain for these F1 feeder series. Ilott was entered in the colours of his actual team, UNI-Virtuosi Racing, whereas Leclerc was called in at the last minute, as the regular drivers for the Prema Powerteam Formula 2 squad were unable to take part.
Feature Race. Therefore Arthur got behind the wheel of the number 9 car raced last year by fellow Academy student Mick Schumacher, as the 2019 game is the platform for this series. His debut got off to a great start as he comfortably took pole position. The Monegasque then made a perfect getaway to lead the race, quickly pulling away from Oliver Rowland (DAMS). Callum Ilott started seventh and did well to move up two places to be fifth at the end of the opening lap, before engaging Jack Aitken (Campos Racing) in battle that would continue after the obligatory pit stop. Ilott, who came in on lap 6, as did Leclerc, was passed by Aitken on lap 9 and then dropped behind the other Campos Racing car of Liam Lawson. However, Callum did a better job of managing his tyres to re-pass Aitken, who had also been passed by Lawson, to finish fourth.
Sprint Race. In the short five lap race, Ilott immediately moved up two places to go third behind Louis Deletraz (Sauber Junior Team by Charouz Racing) and Leclerc made up three places, soon going up to fourth, by passing Aitken. Shortly after that, Callum spun while fighting with Deletraz, which dropped him down the order to seventh, sixth in the final standings, so that Leclerc was now in a podium position. On the final lap, race leader Norman Nato (DAMS) was given a two second penalty, which meant the Monegasque only had to think of passing Deletraz, but he didn’t even have to bother with that as the Swiss driver got his braking wrong at the first turn, letting Arthur by. It seems the youngster has learned a lot from his elder brother Charles. Formula 2 will be back on track in a week’s time, using the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit.