By Ryan Tveter, FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver
The FIA F3 season kicked off this past weekend at Paul Ricard in France, and I’m happy to report that we scored some solid points on the way to my best FIA F3 finish to date despite some major challenges.
Things got off to a great start in testing on Thursday, where I posted the fourth-quickest time in the morning. Then in Friday’s free practice, I posted the second-fastest time in a rainy session. Unfortunately a small error on a very slippery track towards the end of FP1 resulted in a light touch with the barrier and a slightly bent suspension, meaning that we had to head back to the awning and miss the still rainy FP2 to prepare for Q1.
Despite the small setback we went into Q1 feeling very strong, but it soon became clear that we were struggling to keep up with the changing weather conditions and demanding track. As a team we struggled through Q1, Q2 and Race 1. The car was great off the line and I managed to pick up six places on the first lap of Race 1, but we couldn’t quite keep the pace of the others and I finished P15 from P17, having been as high as P12. It was clear we needed to “reboot” as a team so we wouldn’t go into Races 2 and 3 with the same issues.
People may assume that drivers in mega-competitive series like FIA F3 don’t cooperate and support each other but of course we do, especially when the race weekend is at stake. Three of the four and a half hours between Race 1 and Race 2 were spent with all four drivers and our engineers working together to sort out what was holding back our championship-winning team. It was the first time that Carlin had been to Paul Ricard in FIA F3, with the F312 chassis, and on the shorter layout, so we didn’t really have much previous data to rely on. At least two of the teams at the front had taken a number of private days last year and during winter testing in “surrogate” cars at Paul Ricard preseason to nail their aero and setups for the circuit, etc. before the opener. (That’s within the regs, but outside of most team’s and drivers’ budgets.)
Unfortunately our team didn’t have that advantage, but we put our heads down together to get to the bottom of the issues we were having, and thanks to the amazing engineers, mechanics, and great collaboration on everyone’s part we all agreed to make some changes before Race 2. It worked, because despite starting towards the back, three of us finished in the points.
When it came to Race 2, I had a very strong start and was able to vault up a few places and past my teammates, avoiding the first-corner incident to gain 11 places on the first lap.
All in all it was a very strong weekend in terms of racing. There were some amazing, clean battles with really great sportsmanship and race craft on everyone’s part. I think maybe the FIA mandatory preseason drivers’ training and certification wasn’t a bad idea after all.
The last-lap safety car restart shootout on a dampening circuit was probably my most hectic and intense lap of racing to date. We crossed the finish line side by side. I was .004 seconds ahead of the guy behind me, and we all managed not to lose our cars on a very slippery track with slick tires. Given the conditions when the final safety car came out with only a few minutes remaining, honestly I was hoping the race would end under the safety car. I wanted to consolidate my hard-earned sixth position, but with 0:00 plus one lap on the clock we had one crazy lap to the finish. Thankfully it all worked out and although I lost a position after getting squeezed onto a wet curb with only a few corners to go, to come home seventh from 17th on the grid was a good result.
It was great to get some good points on the board in the championship and also record my highest finish to date in FIA F3. Also, three Carlin cars were in the points in Race 2. The team and I are already working very hard to make gains for a consistently strong package at the second round at Budapest, and I look forward to reporting back then!