Hitech GP encountered an outing of high frustration at Zandvoort in The Netherlands over the weekend, 16th/17th July, with the British team having to settle for a best finish of fifth, courtesy of George Russell, during the sixth event of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season.
Qualifying didn’t work out as the British squad intended, especially for Ben Barnicoat when a leaking brake line ruled him out of the first run, and with overtaking at the Dutch track at an absolute premium, the largely processional races were pretty much decided by the grid-determining sessions.
Russell concluded the weekend fifth in the championship, having finished seventh, fifth and then ninth in the three races, with Barnicoat holding onto sixth in the overall championship with a best result of eighth in the second contest on Saturday afternoon after a very strong drive.
Team-mate Nikita Mazepin, fresh from his high-profile Formula One testing debut with the Sahara Force India F1 Team at Silverstone in the UK last week, raced to an excellent outright top 10 result in race two but a highly unfortunate time penalty dropped the Russian to 15th place.
“It’s not been the best weekend for us, it just didn’t come together in qualifying and with such processional races the guys couldn’t have done much more than they did”, said Hitech GP team principal Oliver Oakes, “On the positive side, we took away some reasonable points but we’re all looking for much more and to be back fighting for the podium at Spa in a couple of weeks.”
Russell qualified third fastest for round 16 but, due to a penalty carry over from the previous event, he started seventh. Making a good launch but with no opportunities to make up places, he held position and remained there for the 23 lap duration. Only five seconds covered second place to seventh at the flag, with Russell just 0.6 seconds behind Niko Kari at the finish.
Mazepin slipped from 14th place to 17th spot on the first lap and raced well to remain there to the conclusion, despite huge pressure from team-mate Barnicoat. The Briton, who had to begin race one at the back of the 20 car grid due to the brake issue in qualifying, gained places off the line but after being edged onto the grass on the run to the first corner his progress was impeded.
By the start of lap four, Barnicoat was into 18th position and close behind Mazepin but the Russian youngster didn’t put a wheel wrong with the white, red and blue Hitech GP car large in his mirrors. At the finish, 17th and 18th for the pair also equated to seventh and eighth in the Rookie class.
Much like race one, Saturday afternoon’s contest was devoid of any major action with the start proving to be the key moment. Barnicoat, lining-up 11th on the grid, made a great launch off the line and managed to brilliantly negotiate his way into the top eight through Tarzan.
Getting alongside Russell into the right-hander on the outside line, at the exit Barnicoat was able to move to the head of a Hitech train with Russell in ninth and Mazepin where he started in 10th spot. With very little to choose between the team-mates in terms of lap time, the three Dallara-Mercedes cars circulated in close company but around mid-distance Mazepin began to slip away slightly.
Russell applied significant pressure to Barnicoat throughout but at the flag on lap 23 he had to settle for ninth behind his team-mate, who was the fourth highest placed rookie. Mazepin, meanwhile, took the finish in 10th overall and fifth in the rookie class but he missed out on his second outright points score of the campaign due to a five second time penalty for being out of position at the start.
In the end, Mazepin was classified in 15th position overall and eighth in class. Notably, all three Hitech drivers were incredibly evenly matched with Mazepin’s best lap time of the race just 0.070 seconds shy of Russell’s best effort and little more than a tenth of a second adrift of Barnicoat’s.
The final race of the weekend, on Sunday afternoon, began with Russell fifth on the grid, Barnicoat ninth and Mazepin in 12th position. Russell had a look at trying to go around the outside in a bid for fourth at Turn One but had to stay fifth on the exit and thereafter, as was the way all weekend, the order remained static and very processional to the finish on lap 23.
Similarly, Barnicoat had to settle for ninth, fourth in class, despite looking very quick early on as he swarmed all over the back of Ralf Aron’s car. With overtaking opportunities non-existent, the British driver tried everything but in the end finished where he started like team-mate Russell.
Slipping back several places on the opening lap, Mazepin dropped to 17th position and he too spent the entire 23 lap encounter in the same position. The Russian also ended the race eighth in the Rookie class.
George Russell (Car No.12):
“It was what we expected really this weekend – Zandvoort is probably one of the best tracks to drive over a single lap in qualifying but in the races, after Turn One on lap one, that’s it and there’s pretty much nothing you can do. It’s a bit of a shame, where you start is where you finish really in F3 here but we’ve taken some solid points and still have 12 races to go to see what we can do.”
Ben Barnicoat (Car No.24):
“Zandvoort is a great track to drive, but not so good for the racing – it was follow the leader really. Qualifying didn’t work out, the problem before Q1 put us on the back foot for Q2 as well, but we came away with some good points in races two and three. I had a very good start in race two, went around the outside at Turn One into eighth, and race three was as strong as it could be really.”
Nikita Mazepin (Car No.11):
“This weekend was another new challenge for me and the track was fantastic to drive, but the races were very tough with overtaking almost impossible. I was very happy with my performance in race two, it was a real shame about the penalty but we showed the pace was there to be in the points on merit. That’s a big positive for us to take to the next round.”
Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium will host rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season just under a fortnight from now with the seventh event of the campaign taking place between Thursday, 28th July, and Saturday, 30th July.
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings (after Rd18):
5th George Russell, 144pts; 6th Ben Barnicoat, 102pts; 20th Nikita Mazepin, 1pt
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings (after Rd18):
2nd Hitech GP, 329pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings (after Rd18):
3rd Ben Barnicoat, 234pts; 9th Nikita Mazepin, 104pt