F3 Bahrain: Martins sweeps to victory as Leclerc charges through the field

Victor Martins took victory in the first Formula 3 feature race of the year in Bahrain, while Prema’s Arthur Leclerc stormed through the field from well outside the points to finish on the podium.

The race began with Franco Colapinto and Van Amersfoort on a debut pole, with Roman Stanek alongside for Trident and Martins in third. The top three held position at lights out, but Leclerc made up five places at the launch to go from thirteenth to eighth.

Behind the top three however, the first corner quickly became chaotic as Zane Maloney in fourth suddenly lost drive and became an obstacle for the chasing pack. Oliver Bearman and Caio Collet were two of the drivers who had to run wide to avoid the Trident, and when Collet rejoined the track he broke his right front suspension and was forced to retire. Francesco Pizzi was also caught up in the incident and retired as well.

The safety car was deployed while the stricken cars at Turn 1 were recovered. When the race got underway again on lap 5 Colapinto went weaving down the main straight to break the tow for Stanek behind. But instead of challenging for the lead Stanek found himself under attack from Martins, who stole past the Trident into second at the first corner.

Franco Colapinto, Van Amersfoort (Dan Istitene, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Stanek then had to defend again from Alex Smolyar in fourth. As Stanek ran Smolyar to the edge of the track to hold third place, Smolyar made contact with Stanek’s rear right tyre and triggered a puncture for the Trident.

With Smolyar dropping to the back of the field, Leclerc moved up to seventh place. That then became fifth on lap 7 as he despatched first Isack Hadjar and then David Vidales. Leclerc soon found himself on the rear of the podium battle as Smolyar was passed for third by Juan Manuel Correa. On lap 10 Leclerc picked off Smolyar for fourth, then a lap later he passed Correa as well to move up into third place.

Smolyar continued to come under pressure from the cars behind. But when Hadjar made a move on him for fifth place they made contact similar to Smolyar’s incident with Stanek, and Hadjar also came off with a rear right puncture that dropped him out of the points.

Meanwhile at the front of the field, Martins was shadowing Colapinto with only half a second between the two. By lap 14 Martins brought that down to two tenths, but had to wait until the start of the following lap to make a move. After first trying the outside of Turn 1, Martins took advantage of Colapinto running deep into the following corner to cut back through and take the lead down to Turn 4.

Arthur Leclerc, Prema (Clive Mason, Getty Images / FIA F3)

By the time Martins assumed the lead, Leclerc had managed to slash his five-second gap to the front and was running just half a second behind Colapinto. On lap 18 Leclerc then made a late dive on the brakes to the inside of Turn 1, and snatched second place away from the Van Amersfoort.

Colapinto’s race began to unfold in the final stages after that. With Gregoire Saucy pressuring him for third place and his tyres seeming to fall away from him, Colapinto picked up several warnings for exceeding track limits which eventually became a five-second time penalty. Colapinto was able to hold off Saucy on the road, but the penalty dropped him down to fifth and moved Saucy up to third to complete the podium.

Correa followed Saucy home to make it three ARTs in the top four, and Leclerc’s Prema teammates Bearman and Jak Crawford finished sixth and seventh behind Colapinto. Smolyar was in the points until the very end of the race when floor damage dropped him down the field, meaning that Vidales, William Alatalo and Kaylen Frederick rounded out the final points positions.

(Dan Istitene. Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

The results of the feature race mean Martins leads the championship after Round 1 with 25 points, with Arthur Leclerc a point behind in second and Oliver Bearman in third on 17 points. ART lead the teams’ standings with 54 points, followed by Prema on 47.

Formula 3 returns on 22–24th April at Imola in support of the Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

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