In classic Spa-Francorchamps fashion, the weather threw another double six on Saturday morning as the first Formula 3 race of the weekend was affected by a tremendous downpour that delayed the start by over an hour. But when the shortened race finally got underway amidst slightly calming rain, it was Campos Racing’s Lorenzo Columbo that claimed his first win in FIA Formula 3 ahead of the Hitech Grand Prix duo of Jak Crawford and Roman Stanek, with the former scoring his first podium in the series.
By Matt Jeffray
“Unfortunately, the win in Hungary got taken away, but firstly the conditions were really tricky with the weather always changing here in Spa”, Columbo told selected media including F1 Feeder Series. “The first half of the season has been really tough for the whole team after losing Adrien Campos. We kept the motivation high because we knew we would struggle in the first half, but since Hungary we found a good pace in the car and we’re even leading in the wet, so it means we’re analysing the data properly.”
Columbo led away from his pole position when the race eventually got underway on lap four and the Italian built up an impressive cushion of over three seconds after just the first tour and would eventually cross the line to take the win with a margin of over 12 seconds to 16-year-old Jack Crawford, who showed discipline and damage limitation in bringing home a podium for Hitech. But Columbo doesn’t think that it was the improved visibility alone that aided him to the chequered flag.
“I think having visibility in the wet is the most important thing, especially at the beginning of the race when everyone is so close. I also think there is something more, like how to prepare the tyres under safety car procedures and how to make them work for the first few laps.
“Nobody’s prepared because after qualifying yesterday it’s already a big surprise for everyone. The massive work we’ve done since yesterday to understand the data and get the tyre in the right temperature to help them work faster, so I think we did a really good job on the driver analysis.
“Sector one was pretty wet, with lots of spray. I told my engineer that we’re a bit on the edge to start because we’re not even going full speed and we’re already sliding on the straights. During the race I think it got better and it was drying lap by lap, so I think it went in the right direction with the forecast.”
Jak Crawford was also ecstatic with his maiden podium and first points finish since race one at Monaco after a string of tough results for the Red Bull backed driver and admits that the team are now working in a good way to help him into the second half of the season. He also admits that the better visibility at the front of the field played a big factor in maintaining a good race pace
“Obviously it means a lot getting my first podium in F3. We’ve had many chances to stand on the podium this year but haven’t quite managed to get it, but after the break and a reset we’ll be hoping for a better second half of the season.
“It gives me a lot of confidence. Obviously, my last few rounds haven’t been the best, and being in the top twelve and taking advantage of the reverse grid gives me the confidence to be on the podium, so we’ll see how it goes this afternoon.
“The visibility wasn’t too bad. I’m sure the mid-pack had it a lot worse than I did, but Lorenzo was so quick in the beginning. He was able to get the tyres going a lot quicker, so the visibility wasn’t so bad after he pulled away.
“I think now as a team we’re a lot more focused to get better results.”
Stanek shows good speed
A driver currently riding on a high is Czech Republic’s Roman Stanek, with the Hitech driver scoring his second podium finish in consecutive weekends. Stanek was happy with the result and enjoyed the improved pace from the car, as well as commenting on the tricky conditions and what to look out for in the second race this evening, especially if the conditions remain the same.
“It makes me really happy. I wasn’t sure if we had a good speed in the rain, but it showed in qualifying that we had the speed to be in the top five or ten. I’m happy we did a P3 here considering the last race in Budapest wasn’t so great.
“I felt really comfortable with the car. The setup was right, but we were just missing something with the tyres in the beginning to Lorenzo. I’m sure we can fix that for race two this afternoon so it should be all good.
“I’ve learnt not to over-push the car. It’s quite important to focus on corner exit, especially turn one and turn fifteen. I’ll be starting P10 which isn’t great because of the visibility, but that’s life and we’ll push!”
Collet on a charge
The big action in the field was the battle on the fringes of the points, with the MP Motorsport’s drivers of Caio Collet and Victor Martins showing great pace to storm through the field. But it was Collet that raised heart rates throughout the paddock with a gutsy move on the exit of Raidillon to pass David Schumacher and Frederik Vesti as the drivers went down Kemmel straight, before eventually passing Jonathan Hoggard for fourth into Les Combes.
The Brazilian would eventually receive a 5-second penalty for the move, and would eventually be relegated to ninth place at the chequered flag, as well as receiving 1 point on his license for being released in an unsafe manner in the pitlane before the race began.
In the championship fight, almost all the pretenders for the crown finished outside of the top eight except Frederik Vesti, who claimed a valuable eight points in fourth place to move up to third in championship and now 64 points behind Dennis Hauger at the summit. Jack Doohan’s pole setting lap in qualifying yesterday put the Australian back in twelfth place for this morning’s race, and that’s exactly where the Trident driver finished, meaning he’ll be starting race two this afternoon from pole position.
Further down the field, Prema’s Dennis Hauger finished in fourteenth and will start a staggering 13 places behind Doohan in race two and will do well to reduce the damage caused to his sizeable 59-point championship lead.
Race 2 will be at 16:55 BST (17:55 CEST) on Saturday.
Race 3 will be at 09:40 BST (10:40 CEST) on Sunday.
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