By Ryan Tveter, FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver
The recently repaved Hungaroring made for some exciting racing this past weekend in Budapest. The fastest time from the weekend was just over 2 seconds quicker than the pole time set by Esteban Ocon in 2014, the last time the FIA F3 series visited the circuit. From the beginning of the test day on Wednesday the track continued to get better and better as more and more Hankook rubber was laid down on the freshly surfaced tarmac. This culminated with the best track conditions at the end of free practice 2, where I finished P7 and had the fastest Carlin car with a 1:33.9.
As soon as other series went out — from Formula V8 3.5 on Michelins, to the World Touring Car Championship on Yokohamas and Kia Lotos Cup on a different Hankook compound — the balance and grip levels changed massively into the first qualifying session, the second qualifying session, and through the first race. The mix in rubber really caused a lot of issues with the tire and car balance for everyone before the track conditions stabilized a bit more for Race 2 and things became more level among the teams.
All the different kinds of rubber being laid down by other series over the weekend definitely added to the excitement, and we realized early that the races would be all about preserving the tires, something that came to be one of our strong suits. Some fared better than others. The championship leader going into Round 2 didn’t finish Race 1 due to his tires degrading more quickly than he expected.
Track limits were a particular concern for the officials. Many drivers’ laps were deleted by the officials in practice and qualifying as penalties for violating the track limits. I escaped unscathed until the second qualifying session, when a couple of my laps were deleted for the tiniest infringements. After looking at the onboard video afterwards it’s questionable whether they were actually off, but the officials’ decisions cannot be questioned. My best laps weren’t deleted, but as a team we struggled slightly for the right balance to maximize the tires and I ended up P11 in the first qualifying session and P13 and P10 in the second qualifying session for Races 2 and 3.
Race 1 was going fantastically well and I was making some strong progress through the field. We were also looking very strong compared to some others on the tire degradation front. Unfortunately a lockup after overtaking another driver for eighth position forced me to cut across the chicane, so I gave the position back. After that, I was forced wide by a teammate a few corners later, the train went by, and I fell down to 13th. I fought back to finish 11th, but that mistake really cost a potential top five or even a podium as the leaders really struggled with their tires, so I was pretty frustrated to finish just outside the points.
Race 2 again got off to a good start, but from then on it was almost impossible to overtake and everyone’s tires seemed to wear at a very similar rate. I made it up to 11th after the first corner and from then on was stuck in the train and could never get close enough to make a proper move. I checked out from the guys behind me (Piquet and Eriksonn, who finished on the podium in the first race), but Barnicoat, Ilott, Stroll and I were all stuck in the train behind Jensen. After saving my tires most of the race uninterrupted by safety cars or anything, I gave it a last effort and could get very close to Barnicoat, but again not close enough for a move, so I had to settle for 11th again.
After a lot of positives, sadly from that point the weekend turned for the worse and I’m currently zero for two on third races so far this season after the steering issue we had in Paul Ricard. An engine problem prevented me from making the start in the rain on Sunday for Race 3. It was really too bad. I love racing in the rain, and had a points-starting position at P10. An engine change, however, would have meant a 10-grid-place penalty for three races, so we had to opt to forfeit just one race instead of three, especially with the Grand Prix on the streets of Pau next round, where it is extremely difficult to overtake.
All in all we had a solid weekend for the two races I ran. The quality of racing was really top notch during the races. (There were some off-track conflicts that I wasn’t involved in, but that’s another story.) I feel our team made strong progress in many areas.
So until next time, see you on the streets of Pau May 13-15!
Image: Thomas Suer/FIA Formula 3 European Championship