How traffic and a late red flag made F3’s Austria Qualifying about being lucky rather than good

Qualifying for Round 5 of the FIA Formula 3 Championship ended two minutes early when the red flag came out for Zdeněk Chovanec’s stricken Charouz at Turn 1 of the Red Bull Ring. The session was not restarted, preventing drivers who were stuck in traffic earlier from setting quick times on their second runs.

By Michael McClure

At the midpoint of the session, ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins led from Prema Racing’s Ollie Bearman, but Hitech Grand Prix’s Isack Hadjar jumped from 13th to first with three and a half minutes to go. Hadjar was at the front of the queue of cars exiting the pit lane for their second runs, so he was ahead of the traffic jam that occurred as drivers fanned out across the Red Bull Ring’s undulating straights to warm up their tyres.

That crowding was one of several strategic factors that drivers had to consider during the session, and avoiding it became all the more important when the red flag flew and the announcement came that the session would not restart. Suddenly, those drivers who were unable to set clean laps during their second runs, whether because of traffic or track limits violations, were deprived of the opportunity entirely.

Speaking in the post-Qualifying press conference on Friday, Hadjar, Martins and Bearman, the top three in the session, told F1 Feeder Series about what gave them the edge.

The importance of luck

Hadjar, the winner of the Sprint Race last weekend in Silverstone, was buried in the midfield after his first run. But for the second run, Hadjar was the second driver of 30 to emerge from the pit lane, giving him a crucial advantage in track position. Helped by a brief tow from David Vidales, the Red Bull junior leapt up to first on the timesheets, setting him up for pole position at his sponsor’s namesake venue.

Hadjar’s place at the front of the queue even enabled him to improve his lap time to a 1:19.759, more than two-tenths faster than anyone else’s, before the red flag came out. Hadjar conceded that the timing of the red flag benefitted him, but the strong pace he showed was down to more than just chance.

 “I think luck was the main factor today. I think you can’t really predict anything. You really depend on so many factors. It’s quite crazy, so I think today I was lucky.

“But I have to say that when you have clean air [and] your tyres are there, you need to put a lap together, and I think that’s where also you make the difference. It was a tough track to spend a Qualifying session, but there is Monza again at the end of the year. It’s going to be even crazier, so yeah, not looking forward to going [to] Monza,” Hadjar said with a wry smile about Round 9 at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, where traffic jams in Qualifying are a notorious problem.

When you have clean air [and] your tyres are there, you need to put a lap together

Isack Hadjar (Hitech Grand Prix)

Poor track position

Among the front-runners, one big loser from the second runs was Martins, who will line up alongside countryman Hadjar in the Feature Race. Martins remained towards the back of the queue of cars, costing him a chance to improve his time when the red flag came out.

“I think today, the key for sure was the track position – how you managed the situation, how you get the tyres in the window and also put the lap together, and as Isack said, a bit of luck,” Martins said.

“On my side I was a bit unfortunate with the red flag, but we couldn’t do anything because I was at the back of the field. [There’s] a bit of everything. Every time when you get the pole, it’s every detail that counts, and they need to be all placed. … Today, what I’ve missed is a bit of luck, for example.”

Bearman, who was stuck in the middle of the queue during his warm-up laps, also dropped a place after Hadjar’s improvement. He echoed Martins’ sentiments about lacking fortune in his response to F1 Feeder Series.

“Luck was pretty much not on our side, I guess. But I think it was really important to get the lap in the first run as well. For both of us, the lap from the first run was the one that stood, so it was really important to just do a clean lap and not do track limits or anything. Then obviously, the red flag could have not come out, but that was it, really.”

The lap from the first run was the one that stood, so it was really important to just do a clean lap and not do track limits or anything

Ollie Bearman (Prema Racing)

The ‘mess’ that an early ending avoided

Race direction promptly decided not to restart the session once the red flag came out with two minutes on the clock. The timings would have been tight: Hadjar’s fastest lap was just under 1m20s, so an outlap at full speed, taking into account the pit-lane speed limit, would have left the first driver in the queue with little more than 30 seconds on the clock. But the slower speed of outlaps, the need to warm up tyres, and drivers’ demonstrated desire for gaps and tows would have made it virtually impossible for all cars to cross the line in time to set another fast lap.

F1 Feeder Series asked the drivers if they would have wanted the session to resume to give them a chance to set one final flying lap. Having seen and experienced the traffic towards the end of the session, Hadjar, Bearman and Martins all expressed relief that the premature ending averted what they expected to be pure disorder.

“I think it would have been a mess, even worse. Plus, I was on pole, so I was happy the session ended like that!” Hadjar said.

“Prema was the first team in the pit exit, so I think we should have restarted!” Bearman joked. “To be honest, I think it’s fair that they didn’t restart because I think none of us would have actually made it to the chequered flag, or at least not all of us, which would have been a bit unfair.”

Martins laughed and nodded along to Hadjar’s comments about how the session would have devolved into a ‘mess’. But on his turn to speak, the Alpine junior mentioned that he might have had a different assessment of the situation while in the cockpit.

“Yesterday, it would have been a mess, but when you are in the car and you know you have the pace, you think about the impossible. And you say to yourself, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do it anyway. This is possible.’ But I’m sure it’s a good thing to not have restarted the [Qualifying].”

When you are in the car and you know you have the pace, you think about the impossible.

Victor Martins (ART Grand Prix)

Saturday’s Sprint Race – for which Bearman, Martins and Hadjar will line up 10th, 11th and 12th respectively – begins at 10:35 local time. Martins’ Alpine Academy stable-mate Caio Collet will start on pole, with ART’s Juan Manuel Correa alongside.

Header photo credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

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