SMOLYAR TAKES SECOND F3 WIN FROM SIXTH IN LE CASTELLET THRILLER
In one of the greatest Formula 3 races in recent memory, ART Grand Prix’s Alex Smolyar clinched a dramatic Race 1 victory at Le Castellet from a starting position of sixth, beating out MP Motorsport’s Victor Martins, who was up from 10th himself.
In third, reverse polesitter Calan Williams recovered from losing the race lead to take not only his first points in F3 but his first podium as well.
The podium trio were three of five different race leaders, with Logan Sargeant spending a brief period in P1, before dropping back to fourth, while Ayumu Iwasa also enjoyed a spell at the front, before a 5s time penalty relegated him to eighth.
Rivalling the top two for drive of the day was PREMA Racing’s Arthur Leclerc, the Monegasque recovering from his Qualifying retirement to climb from 30th to 12th, earning himself reverse grid pole for Race 2.
AS IT HAPPENED
Starting from pole in F3 for the first time in his career, Williams had said that he was aiming for a clear head when the lights went out, and it seemed as if the Australian had achieved it, hauling his Jenzer off the line and into the lead at Turn 1.
Attempting to make Williams think was Sargeant, who followed in tow having made light work of David Schumacher off the line for second. The Trident racer dropping back to sixth, with Iwasa, Juan Manuel Correa and Smolyar also all getting past the stuttering Trident.
A brief Virtual Safety Car was required at the end of the first lap as Johnathan Hoggard was forced into a disappointing retirement on his debut, pulling over onto the side of the track and clambering out of his Jenzer.
Clement Novalak matched the top five by getting past Schumacher when racing resumed, while Martins made a move on the third Trident of Jack Doohan for P8. The home hero then picked off Schumacher a lap later.
At the front, Williams had been unable to pull away from Sargeant, who remained within DRS range of the Jenzer. There was a wide moment for the Charouz in the final sector, which very nearly allowed Iwasa through from third. Composing himself, the American used the mistake as motivation to finally get past Williams for the lead.
Iwasa had retained momentum from his early attempt on Sargeant and followed the Charouz past Williams to take second at Turn 11.
Making it second time lucky, the Hitech Grand Prix driver made a daring move on Sargeant for the lead, diving past the Charouz and into first. Though, there were question marks over the legitimacy of the overtake, with the Hitech placed under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
Behind them, Smolyar and Martins were continuing their charge to the podium, both of them picking off Correa for fourth and fifth. It took two attempts, but Smolyar eventually muscled his way through to third, wrestling the final podium place off Williams. Meanwhile, Novalak had stolen sixth from Correa, as his teammate Schumacher fell out of the top 12.
An astonishing final few laps saw the race completely turn on its head, begun by the sudden struggle of Sargeant, who fell to P5. That was followed by a stunning lunge from Smolyar on Iwasa for the lead, who was then smacked with a 5s time penalty for his earlier move on Sargeant. The Hitech dropping to P8 once it was applied.
But Smolyar held the lead for just two frenetic laps, Martins completing overtakes nine and 10 to become Race 1’s fifth different leader. Yet, it was far from over. Smolyar would not be denied and regained the lead on a dramatic final lap.
Williams reclaimed a place on the podium due to Iwasa’s penalty, which also promoted Sargeant, Novalak, Correa and Doohan. PREMA duo Hauger and Caldwell were up to ninth and 10th, while Jak Crawford had nabbed 11th, after starting P16.
Completing the most overtakes overall was the third PREMA of Arthur Leclerc. The Monegasque had been forced to retire from Qualifying and started from the back of the grid, but finished the day in 12th after a brilliant drive.
THE KEY QUOTE – ALEX SMOLYAR (ART GRAND PRIX)
“A second win for me this season and a mega race from sixth to P1. It was a great battle with Victor (Martins) for P1 on the last lap. Definitely a really good race, I was not expecting the race to be like this, but I had a lot of fun.
“Hopefully Race 2 will be as fun as this one. My team did a really good job to make a great car and I hope we can also fight for some points in Race 2.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Hauger retains his grip of the Drivers’ Championship for now, tied on 36 points with Martins, but ahead of countback. Novalak sits third with 34 points, with Caldwell on 33 and Smolyar on 32.
In the Teams’ Championship, PREMA are first on 69 points with ART Grand Prix second with 62 and Trident third on 61. MP Motorsport are fourth with 56 and Charouz Racing System fifth with 18.
LECLERC DOMINATES FROM LIGHTS-TO-FLAG IN LE CASTELLET FOR MAIDEN F3 WIN
F3 - Round 2/ Le Castellet - Race 2 report
An overtake-laden Race 1 for Arthur Leclerc was followed up by a controlled run from lights-to-flag in Race 2, with the PREMA Racing driver taking his first victory in Formula 3 from reverse grid pole at Paul Ricard.
PREMA enjoyed a one-two finish with Dennis Hauger in second, although Olli Caldwell was unable to hold onto third as MP Motorsport’s Victor Martins nabbed the final podium spot on the penultimate lap, after starting from 11th.
A Qualifying retirement on Friday looked to have dashed Leclerc’s hopes of a win in Round 2, but he put on a sensational performance in Race 1 to leap from 30th to 12th, earning himself reverse grid pole. The Monegasque will have been thankful for a much calmer second race, looking untroubled throughout the 20 laps to win by more than 4s over Hauger.
AS IT HAPPENED
Lining up under dark clouds in France, there was despair for Jak Crawford when the lights went out, the Hitech Grand Prix driver stalling and getting stuck on the starting grid. The American had a front row seat for reverse polesitter Leclerc’s getaway, as the Ferrari junior pulled off without a hitch and held the lead.
Leclerc’s PREMA teammates were battling for second behind him, but Hauger wasn’t able to make a move on Caldwell stick between Turns 1 and 2.
Promoted to fourth off the line, Ayumu Iwasa wasn’t able to retain the position for long, dropping down to sixth behind Jack Doohan and Martins, the latter up an incredible six places from P11. Clément Novalak clambered ahead of the Hitech shortly after for sixth, while Race 1 winner Alex Smolyar was up to eighth from P12.
Caio Collet wasn’t enjoying the same success as his MP Motorsport teammate. Finishing outside of the points in Race 1, the Brazilian was forced to retire from the pits in Race 2, after stalling at the start of the race.
But Martins was far from finished, the Frenchman edging ahead of Doohan for fourth, as Hauger began to reel in Caldwell in the fight for second. Lucky for PREMA, Hauger’s eventual overtake was a clean one, with the Italian team retaining hopes of a 1-2-3 finish.
There were a couple of scuffles further back, as Kaylen Frederick and Jonny Edgar came together, before Rafael Villagomez and Ido Cohen clashed as well. The latter was handed a 10s-time penalty for causing the collision, before later retiring.
Smolyar and Calan Williams both made it past Iwasa for seventh and eighth in the closing laps, dropping the Hitech racer down to P9 at the flag. In 10th, Vesti was able to hold off David Schumacher and Logan Sargeant for the final points’ position.
Out in front, Leclerc was enjoying a controlled run to the chequered flag, finishing the race with a 4.2s advantage over Hauger, the Norwegian seemingly happy to settle for second behind his teammate.
Caldwell’s podium, and PREMA’s 1-2-3, was very much under threat, though. The Briton had been drawn into a battle with the continually brilliant Martins, who was more than happy to break up the PREMA train. Diving down the inside of Caldwell and into third, the Frenchman made it two podiums in as many races, gaining his 18th position of the weekend so far.
THE KEY QUOTE – ARTHUR LECLERC (PREMA RACING)
“I am really happy, it was a great race and really special to win in front of both F1 and my family and friends as well. It was a really special win, especially because this is so close to my home.
“I didn’t expect this at all this morning when I was starting from P30, but we did it and I am really happy about today.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VIEW
Hauger and Martins are now tied on 48 points at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, although the PREMA driver is ahead on countback. Caldwell has fallen to third with 41 points, with Novalak fourth on 39 and Smolyar fifth on 36.
In the Teams’ title battle, PREMA remain first with 104 points, ahead of Trident on 72. MP are third with 68 and ART fourth with 67. Charouz Racing System are fifth with 18.