Rising stars Leclerc and Russell seal junior titles
Ferrari may have seen the F1 title slip further from their grasp after a miserable race in Japan, but back in Europe they were able to savour championship glory as Charles Leclerc, a member of their young driver academy, sealed the FIA Formula 2 crown in trademark style at the penultimate event in Jerez.
Leclerc, who alongside testing for Ferrari has driven in FP1 sessions for both Haas and Sauber, recorded his sixth win of the season for Prema in the 39-lap feature race at the Spanish track, leaving him just one victory short of Stoffel Vandoorne’s record for the most in a single season.
The Monegasque driver, who in becoming champion in his rookie year in the premier junior category emulates Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, will have the chance to make the record his own when the series (formerly known as GP2) concludes with a double-header at the season-ending 2017 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“We’ve had a great season overall,” commented Leclerc, who has now won back-to-back titles in GP3 and F2. “On the performance side we have always been very, very quick.
“Obviously I’ve had some lows during the season, a few on the racing side but most of all on the personal side obviously, after losing my father. Winning the championship is an amazing way for me to honour him.”
Ferrari weren’t the only F1 team celebrating title success in Jerez. Arch rivals Mercedes saw their highly-rated junior driver George Russell wrap up the GP3 Series crown, just hours after Hamilton had lifted the winner’s trophy at Suzuka.
The British racer, who has won four times in the category this year, completed the job by finishing second and fourth in the weekend’s two races to give him an unassailable lead over countryman Jack Aitkin in the standings with one double-header to go.
“It feels fantastic!” said Russell, who tested for Mercedes in Bahrain and Hungary earlier this year. “[Mercedes] obviously helped me a lot this season, they put their faith in me at the start of the year, and they have developed me into a better driver to get me into this position today.”
Both Leclerc and Russell are likely to get further F1 run-outs at the end-of-season test in Abu Dhabi, which takes place the week following the Grand Prix at Yas Marina.