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LECLERC TAKES TITLE – ON A SCOOTER

A thrilling 18-lap GP3 feature race saw Charles Leclerc become the series’ seventh champion – without even making it to the finish line at Yas Marina Circuit.

A thrilling 18-lap GP3 feature race saw Charles Leclerc become the series’ seventh champion – without even making it to the finish line at Yas Marina Circuit.

ART’s 19-year-old Monaco driver returned to pit lane on a trackside scooter after contact with DAMS driver Sentino Ferrucci nudged him off-track at Turn 11 on lap 14, but he already knew he had the championship in his grasp by then.

Trailing by 29 points when they arrived in Abu Dhabi, Leclerc’s ART teammate and title rival Alexander Albon had done everything right – pole position and four points, a good get-away to lead comfortably, Leclerc stranded down the field in sixth – until it all began to unravel with eight laps gone.

That’s when the Safety Car came out, neutralizing the race after Colombian Tatiana Calderon had lost control of her Arden at Turn 1. Though the field spent just one lap at controlled pace, running behind the Safety Car allowed Arden’s Jack Aitken to reduce Albon’s lead to just half a second.

The Scottish-Korean driver pounced immediately for the lead, only to be investigated for gaining an advantage by going off-track. Albon went past him again, Aitken fought back into Turn 11, and Albon made the decision that cost him any chance of the title.

Lunging down the inside when there was really nowhere to go, the #3 ART flew over the kerb, crossed the track and crashed out of both races – the one at Yas Marina Circuit and the one for the 2016 championship. And still the action went on…

As Dutchman Nyck de Vries calmly steered yet another ART car into the race lead, Leclerc made a poor decision of his own: thinking a podium finish would go nicely with the crown, he attacked Connecticut driver Ferrucci into Turn 11 and came off second-best.

But the two contenders’ failure to finish means Leclerc retained his 25-point advantage and, with a maximum of only 17 points available in Sunday’s 14-lap sprint, Albon cannot bridge the gap.

De Vries came home for his second win of the season, after sprint race success at Monza, ahead of Arden’s Jake Dennis, a two-time winner himself this year, while the battle for the final podium place raged on till the end.

Ferrucci ran wide, hit the throttle to rejoin the track ahead of the recovering Aitken but was forced to give back the place and Aitken claimed third spot as only 16 cars out of the original 22 made it to the finish. The last was Trident’s Antonio Fuoco, who was the one driver in with an outside chance of stealing the title but has so far endured a miserable Abu Dhabi weekend.

He remains third overall on 157 points, ahead of Dennis on 139, Aitken on 134, and De Vries on 133. Aitken also secured the two points for fastest lap with a 2:01.350, a lap average of 164.766 km/h, on lap 2 as the drivers made Pirelli’s Supersoft tyres count in the early stages of the race.

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