Silverstone-based FIA Formula 3 European Championship team Hitech GP made yet another visit to the podium during the eighth race meeting of the season at the Nurburgring in Germany over the weekend, 10th/11th September, with George Russell taking his eighth rostrum finish of 2016.
Finishing third in round 22 on Saturday morning, the British driver then had the disappointment of retirement from round 23, as a result of brake issues, but he hit back with seventh in the final encounter on Sunday to conclude the weekend a single point shy of third in the championship.
Compatriot Ben Barnicoat posted a best finish of ninth place in round 22, fourth in the Rookie Class, after a compromised weekend. The same was true for Nikita Mazepin, the Russian youngster going on to take a best of 14th overall and eighth in class in race two – although setting the third fastest lap in the second contest was the highlight of his event.
“We’re pleased to have taken another podium but, overall, it wasn’t the weekend any of us wanted”, reflected Hitech GP team principal Oliver Oakes, “Things just didn’t come together as we would have liked, and race two obviously wasn’t great with George and Ben retiring, so now we’re all focused on preparing the best we can for Imola in three weeks to be back where we should be.”
Qualifying fourth fastest for the opening race of the weekend, round 22, Russell made a good start to run tight behind the top three and on lap two mounted a serious attempt to unsettle Maximilian Gunther as the Hitech GP driver strived to break into the top three.
Thereafter, the race settled into a fairly processional rhythm but on lap 15 a technical issue for Nick Cassidy resulted in a momentary loss of pace, enabling Russell to slice past into third which he held to the chequered flag on lap 26, consolidating third in the championship at that point.
Barnicoat, from 13th on the grid, put together a typically strong first lap to gain several places and climb into ninth position with some impressive overtaking. Initially challenging Niko Kari for eighth, and third in the Rookie battle, late on the Briton had to turn his attention to the threat from behind but he maintained ninth overall and fourth in class to the finish.
From 14th on the grid, Mazepin was edged back a couple of places on the first tour and spent the entirety of the 26 lapper in 16th spot – ninth Rookie. Close behind Mikkel Jensen during the early going, just a few tenths adrift, overtaking opportunities were scant leading Mazepin to stay in position.
Race two of the weekend on Saturday afternoon was, unfortunately, one to forget for Hitech with Barnicoat and Russell both forced into retirement early on. Lining-up third on the grid, having qualified a mere 0.1 seconds shy of pole position, Russell was edged wide at Turn One which compromised his momentum and so he was edged back to fourth place.
Barnicoat, meanwhile, made a good launch from 15th position but into the chicane contact in the pack flipped the right-hand side of his car into the air and the Briton was then a passenger – his Dallara making contact with a couple of other cars. One of those was that of team-mate Mazepin but, even though he was pitched into a spin, the Russian was able to recover into the race.
Despite being able to crawl back to the pits, Barnicoat had to retire from the contest as a result of the significant damage to his car. Soon after, Russell headed for pitlane too at the end of the second tour and, incredibly, he also had to pull out of the race due to a brake issue.
In the sole remaining Hitech GP car, Mazepin held 13th overall and seventh in the Rookie class as the Safety Car circulated following the opening lap dramas. After the re-start on lap six he was edged back a place and stayed there to the finish, taking 14th overall and eighth in class. Notably, though, he proved what might have been possible with the third fastest lap of the contest.
Starting in seventh spot for round 24, Russell made a clean launch from the line but was initially nudged back to eighth at Turn Two on the outside, before fighting back and regaining seventh shortly after. Staying well within touching distance of the top six, Russell heavily pressured Joel Eriksson but ultimately had to settle for his top seven slot.
From 15th on the grid, Barnicoat again made up important ground at the start to rocket into the top 12 and although edged back to 13th place at the beginning of lap two he moved into the top 12 a lap later. Latching onto the back of a five car train battling over the points paying top 10, Barnicoat first took 11th place on lap 19 and then broke into the top 10, fourth in class, a lap later.
Mazepin started the final race of the weekend from 17th on the grid and after moving up a place on lap three, he maintained position in 16th spot to the conclusion on lap 26. In terms of the Rookie class, the youngster ended the encounter in ninth place.
George Russell (Car No.12):
“It’s obviously good to have another podium from the first race but I was really disappointed with race two. We knew it would be difficult as we had an issue with the gearbox, so ran an emergency mode, but then I had to box from P4 with brake problems so we lost a lot of points. It’s Imola next and we’ll go there aiming to do the best we can, do the best preparation, and see what happens.”
Ben Barnicoat (Car No.24):
“We struggled with speed from the word go really, we had some balance issues and missed a bit in qualifying. Race one wasn’t too bad, from 13th to ninth place was pretty good, and the incident in race two was just unfortunate to be honest – it was a case of three into one not going. We got more points in race three, not what we wanted but you have to take the rough with the smooth.”
Nikita Mazepin (Car No.11):
“After being ill before Zandvoort (the Masters of F3], I came to this weekend unprepared as I was on the limit with recovering in time. Overall, I would say we had some positives, especially being third fastest in race two, that was great. We move on to Imola now hoping for something better.”
Imola in Italy will host the penultimate race meeting of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season three weeks from now, over the weekend 1st/2nd October.
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings (after Rd24):
4th George Russell, 215pts; 8th Ben Barnicoat, 120pts; 19th Nikita Mazepin, 5pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings (after Rd24):
2nd Hitech GP, 444pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings (after Rd24):
4th Ben Barnicoat, 294pts; 9th Nikita Mazepin, 132pts