After a thrilling start to the Formula 2 season in Bahrain, with creative tire strategy at the forefront, the championship was joined for the Spanish Grand Prix weekend by GP3 for the first time this year.
Both series use bespoke P Zero tires, with the soft and the hard available for Formula 2, and the hard only for GP3: which features a new rear construction this year designed to put the emphasis on oversteer and more closely align the car characteristics to those of Formula 2.
In the Formula 2 Feature Race, reigning GP3 champion Charles Leclerc won from pole, managing his tire strategy perfectly. Like most of the front-running drivers, the Prema driver started the race on the soft tire: around one second per lap faster than the hard.
Leclerc pitted from the lead on lap eight to switch to the hard tires, re-joining in 15th place, then gradually moved up the order as the drivers in front of him pitted. The Ferrari junior got the lead back in the closing stages, despite having no radio to communicate with his team.
The strategies were affected by a virtual and then a full safety car. DAMS driver Oliver Rowland used a different strategy by starting on the hard tire and eventually taking the lead on lap 21 (of 37) after everyone else pitted. He made his own stop on lap 28, which dropped him to seventh, and fought his way back to third at the flag: making him the highest-placed driver of those who started on the hard.
The GP2 Sprint Race on Sunday was won by Nobuharu Matsushita from the third row of the grid, after capitalizing on a couple of mistakes from drivers ahead of him, and managing his tires perfectly. Leclerc extended his championship lead by finishing fourth.
The first race of the GP3 Series was won by Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi, who took the lead from second on the grid into the first corner and now leads the standings. Despite the introduction of DRS to GP3 this year and a track that traditionally offers high degradation, the ART Grand Prix driver was able to hold onto the advantage, helped by a mechanical problem for his team-mate, to win by more than seven seconds.
Jenzer driver Arjun Maini took his maiden victory in the GP3 Sprint Race on Sunday, again taking the lead from second on the reverse grid. His team-mate Alessio Lorandi was third, sealing his second podium of the weekend, to claim the series runner-up spot.
Pirelli’s head of car racing Mario Isola said: “We had lively races in both Formula 2 and GP3 at Barcelona, with Charles Leclerc executing his strategy perfectly to take the race win on Saturday under challenging circumstances thanks to high temperatures and a safety car. In GP3, the changes we’ve made to the rear construction worked well, providing another opportunity for the champions of the future to showcase their talents on what is always a demanding track. The introduction of the DRS system, with limited opening opportunities, also worked well.”
Charles Leclerc, Formula 2 Feature Race winner, added: “We had no radio, so on the grid we changed the strategy to take the simplest one to avoid confusion. So, we started on soft tires then went to hard. It was a really hard race, with the safety car, trying to overtake and make my way up without losing time, and most of all without losing the tires because they had to last. With 15 laps to go I thought it was going to be tough, but the tires handled it really well”.
The next Formula 2 round takes place in Monaco from May 26-27, while GP3 resumes in Austria from July 8-9.