Leclerc clinches GP3 title despite crashing out in Abu Dhabi opener

© GP3 Series

Charles Leclerc has won the GP3 Series title with one race to spare despite crashing out of the weekend opener in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Leclerc entered the final round of the year at the Yas Marina Circuit with a 29-point lead over ART Grand Prix teammate Alexander Albon. Albon took pole on Friday to cut Leclerc’s advantage to 25, with the series leader only qualifying fifth.

Albon retained his advantage through the early part of the race, opening up a lead of around four seconds before a safety car period wiped away his advantage.

On the restart, Albon came under pressure from British youngster Jack Aitken, with the two going wheel-to-wheel in a tight battle for the lead.

Albon rode over the curbs trying to fend off Aitken, only to lose control and end up hitting the Arden driver, sending both off the track.

Aitken was able to continue in fifth place, but Albon was forced to retire, ending his title hopes and making Leclerc champion on the spot.

McLaren junior Nyck de Vries took over the lead of the race ahead of Jake Dennis, while American racer Santino Ferrucci found himself coming under pressure from Leclerc for the final podium position.

Knowing that the title was already won, Leclerc decided to try and pass Ferrucci with an opportunistic move, but proceeded to make contact and sustain damage that forced him to retire.

“They told me that I was champion no matter what so I was allowed to take risks to try and finish on the podium,” Leclerc said after the race.

“I would have never taken that risk had Alex still been in the race. But since I knew I was already champion I decided to go for it.”

Ferrucci ultimately lost out in the race for the podium to the recovering Aitken, receiving a 10-second time penalty in the process for forcing the Briton off-track at one point. The Haas development driver was eventually classified ninth.

For Leclerc, the disappointment of failing to finish the race was overshadowed by his title victory, coming at the end of a big year for the Ferrari junior driver that also saw him enjoy his first F1 tests.

“It sounds really nice. It feels so good,” Leclerc said.

“It’s such a relief for me and the team. We’ve worked so hard for this result. They’ve done an amazing job all season to provide me and my teammates with the best car.

“It has been a great year. They made me grow a lot as a driver as well. That helped me to win the Series. It feels so good!”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.