Norisring street circuit provided an event of mixed fortunes for leading FIA Formula 3 European Championship team Hitech GP over the weekend, 25th/26th June, but the British squad was still able to celebrate podium success with George Russell in round 13 of the season.
Finishing Saturday’s opening contest fourth on the road, post-race Russell was credited with his fifth podium of the year due to a penalty for a rival. Norisring debutants Ben Barnicoat and Nikita Mazepin, meanwhile, produced strong performances with the former taking a best of fifth overall in race one, from 16th on the grid, and Mazepin just missing the coveted top 10 in all three races.
“It’s been a challenging weekend, lots of incidents and we have had problems with straight-line speed which impacted our performance”, said team principal Oliver Oakes, “We always expected Norisring to be a tough event, it’s such a unique track, but we took a podium with George, Ben’s drive in race one was fantastic and Nikita performed very well too almost getting into the points.
“Obviously, we’ll go through everything in fine detail to understand where things didn’t quite work out but the focus now is on the second half of the season and preparing as well as we can. We now go straight to Hockenheim for testing so the hard work continues there.”
Russell was the quickest of the Hitech GP drivers in qualifying for round 13 with the sixth fastest time but this became fifth on the grid for the opening contest, as a result of an engine change penalty for Callum Illott.
Making a superb start to the race, Russell leapt into the top four but due to being on the outside line into the notorious Grundig hairpin the Briton had to tuck back into fifth. Slipping to eighth during a busy first third of the race, Russell then moved into sixth at two thirds distance after an incident.
Just a few laps later, another incident elevated him to third and although nudged back to fourth at the second re-start he remained there to the finish and took the chequered flag on lap 38 just 0.7 seconds shy of the podium – before being moved up into third place post-race.
Barnicoat encountered issues with overheating in qualifying which impacted his pace, leading to an uncharacteristic 16th on the grid. Moving into the top 15 initially, on lap four he was edged back to 17th place but climbed through into 14th before the Safety Car appeared for the first time on lap 22.
Into 12th position as a result of a two car collision at the hairpin, just a lap after the re-start the second incident enabled Barnicoat to move into the points-paying top 10 and during the final portion of the contest he produced some excellent driving to scythe his way through into the top six and third in the Rookie classification – although a penalty for a rival elevated him into fifth overall.
Mazepin also impressed from a low grid position, the Russian starting at the back of the grid in 20th place and almost making it through into the coveted top 10. Running in 15th place overall prior to the first Safety Car, Mazepin gained two more places following the second incident and then carved his way into 11th position before the finish, sixth Rookie, and just 0.5 seconds shy of the top 10.
Russell was again the highest placed Hitech GP driver on the grid for round 14 on Saturday afternoon in sixth position, with Barnicoat 12th on the grid and Mazepin in 14th position. Disappointingly for Barnicoat, his involvement in the contest came to an end on lap three when he was hit by a rival and spun into the wall at the exit of the Scholler S Kurve, resulting in significant damage to his Dallara.
Unsurprisingly resulting in a Safety Car period, at the resumption of the race on lap 11 Russell held sixth position – having been in fifth at one stage on lap two – with Mazepin in 16th place after being shuffled down the order at the beginning.
Russell held station to a second Safety Car period between laps 20 and 23 but, at the re-start, he was edged back to seventh at the Grundig hairpin. Thereafter, the race became incredibly frustrating for the category race winner with a couple of moments for rival Niko Kari causing Russell problems.
Delayed on lap 24 by a big lock-up for the Finn, a further moment for Kari three laps later baulked Russell again and, as a consequence, he slipped to 10th place. Three laps from the end, though, the Hitech driver took ninth place from Kari which he held to the flag.
Mazepin again only just missed out on the points-paying top 10 by a fraction with a consistently strong drive to 11th position. Despite having to battle back from 19th place, he climbed into the top 15 before the second Safety Car period and then managed to negotiate the aftermath of a tangle at the Grundig hairpin late on to leap into the top 12 before passing Kari for 11th with three laps to go.
On Sunday morning it was Russell’s turn to experience major misfortune. Following a delayed start, due to an electrical problem with the lighting gantry, the race began behind the Safety Car initially and when racing proper got underway Russell held seventh. Embroiled in a battle with Joel Eriksson, a tangle at the final corner resulted in retirement on the spot for the Hitech driver.
Barnicoat and Mazepin held onto their starting positions of ninth and 12th and after the appearance of the Safety Car for Russell’s incident, racing was set to resume again on lap 12. Into the final turn, though, at the end of lap 11 another incident resulted in the immediate re-deployment of the Safety Car and, soon after, a red flag stoppage.
With just eight minutes remaining, the race was re-started behind the Safety Car with Barnicoat ninth and Mazepin in 11th position. After racing proper began on lap 16, Barnicoat was edged back to 10th place on the following tour but a late race incident elevated him back into ninth – post-race, though, he was excluded from the results. Mazepin, meanwhile, finished 11th and fifth in class.
George Russell (Car No.12):
“We struggled all weekend with straight-line speed and didn’t have the best qualifying. I, personally, had a poor race in race one, but we still managed to come home in third but race two was poor and we still had problems with speed. In the final race, the incident was unfortunate and just added to a very tough weekend. We just want to move on now for the rest of the season.”
Ben Barnicoat (Car No.24):
“We expected it to be tough, but not quite as tough as it was. We struggled with straight-line and it was extremely hot on Friday, which caused problems with cooling. I was happy with race one, fifth from 16th was good, but not a lot I could do in race two – I’d made a good move and the other guy made contact. Massive thank you to the team physio for his help after the accident and to the team for repairing the car for Sunday, they were up until 4am – that’s why we’re one of the best teams.”
Nikita Mazepin (Car No.11):
“It’s been a very consistent weekend for me results wise, and we did have some luck on our side in the races. We did lack a bit of performance with the car this weekend, we were just losing a couple of tenths on the straights but that meant others were able to overtake us. We need to work hard from here, but we also take the positives out of this weekend.”
Rounds 16, 17 and 18 of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season will take place three weeks from now, over the weekend 16th/17th July, at Zandvoort in The Netherlands.
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings (after Rd15):
4th George Russell, 126pts; 6th Ben Barnicoat, 96pts; 20th Nikita Mazepin, 1pt
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings (after Rd15):
2nd Hitech GP, 287pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings (after Rd15):
1st Ben Barnicoat, 206pts; 8th Nikita Mazepin, 90pts