Leclerc clinches GP3 title despite crashing out in Abu Dhabi opener

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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!”