Hitech GP team-mates Ben Barnicoat and George Russell both conquered the streets of Pau in France on Saturday, 14th May, with an incredible win apiece during the third event of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season.
While Barnicoat became the first driver this year to win back-to-back races in FIA F3 after a superb lights-to-flag victory in a wet round seven, compatriot Russell scorched to his first win of 2016 on a drying track in round eight later in the day from pole position – taking Hitech’s third straight success.
In the blue riband third race of the weekend on Sunday, 15th May, which formed the 75th Grand Prix de Pau, Russell took his second podium of the event with a great third place finish, enabling him to leap up from 11th in the championship into the series top three, just ahead of Barnicoat.
Hitech GP’s third driver Nikita Mazepin ended his first visit to a street circuit with a best of 13th place, sixth highest Rookie, in the second encounter. Frustratingly, his involvement in the headline Grand Prix de Pau on Sunday afternoon came to an end at the first corner when he had nowhere to go in avoidance of a multi-car collision directly ahead.
“What a weekend!”, said ecstatic team principal Oliver Oakes, “We knew from the previous two events our potential was not fully exploited. To come to the streets of Pau as a new team is never easy, but to go away with victories in two of the three races – a win in the dry, a win in the rain – is something I am very proud of.
“This a real team effort. The drivers performed superbly and the team worked incredibly had to be prepared for this event, the guys took everything that was thrown at them in their stride. We now have a busy few days preparing for Red Bull Ring next weekend where, of course, expectations will be high but we are fully focused on ourselves and doing the best job we can.”
For the wet seventh round, Barnicoat was the highest placed Hitech driver on the grid in second even though Russell pipped him to the quickest time in their group in qualifying. As a result of a penalty from the previous event, Russell was dropped to sixth while Mazepin started in 18th place.
Barnicoat aced the getaway and scorched off the line to open up a lead of two seconds on lap one alone. Increasing his advantage to well over five seconds prior to the emergence of the Safety Car on lap 10, at the re-start a lap later the Hitech racer pulled away again and eased to a sublime success.
Russell also made a good launch at the beginning, leaping into the top four, and he was a constant threat for the podium throughout the 24 lap contest. Sticking close behind third place during the opening laps, Russell moved to within 0.5 seconds at mid-distance but had to settle for fourth.
Russian youngster Mazepin put together a superb first lap to climb into the top 15, sixth in the Rookie class, and remained there during the first portion of the race. At the re-start, though, he was edged back to 16th and seventh in class where he remained to the chequered flag.
In round eight, starting from his first FIA F3 pole, Russell made a great start and went on to build a cushion of two seconds before the Safety Car’s first appearance on lap 15. After the re-start, he pulled away to the tune of two seconds but a late race Safety Car period again eradicated his lead.
Maintaining excellent composure, Russell scampered away at the second re-start to take a stunning win and he was also the only driver to lap in the sub 1m11 seconds bracket with the fastest lap on the final tour, a time of 1m10.911 seconds.
Barnicoat made an excellent start from ninth on the grid, slicing his way into the top six where he remained to lap 10 when climbing into fifth place. Staying there for the duration, the first year F3 racer claimed his fourth Rookie class win.
Mazepin maintained his grid position of 15th early on and as one or two rivals started to encounter problems he progressed up the order. Into 11th overall prior to the first Safety Car period, he soaked up huge pressure from Maximilian Gunther but shortly after the re-start Mazepin was pitched into a spin by the German. Dropping to 16th place, he eventually finished 13th and sixth Rookie.
For the Grand Prix de Pau on Sunday, Russell started in fifth, Barnicoat in seventh and Mazepin in 15th place. Russell made a good start to close on the top four but then managed to slice past into third place out of the first corner when two cars ahead tangled and made contact with the barriers.
Barnicoat also managed to avoid getting wiped-out in the collision, moving through to sixth, but he did sustain some front wing damage and had to pit at the end of the second tour for a new nose cone. When racing resumed after an unsurprising Safety Car period, Barnicoat held 13th place but produced some superb overtaking to climb into 11th position and third in the Rookie Class.
Russell, meanwhile, continued in third place and mounted a late charge for second with a series of scintillating fastest laps, including the quickest of the race with a time of 1m10.950 seconds, before settling for the top three when suffering a slow puncture.
George Russell (Car No.12):
“We had a very good weekend all in all, our pace throughout was fantastic and that showed in qualifying taking a double pole. Every race we moved forward which, for a street circuit, is very difficult and taking probably my most dominant win in single-seaters from pole position, setting the fastest lap by quite a margin, was fantastic. Red Bull Ring has come at the perfect time next weekend, a track I love off the back of a massive high – I can’t wait to keep up the momentum!”
Ben Barnicoat (Car No.24):
“It’s been a fantastic weekend – to move from seventh in the championship to fourth and get back-to-back wins was brilliant! I can’t thank the team enough for all their hard work and dedication and I’m so happy it is starting to pay off for them. Race one went extremely well, I had a great start from the inside of the front row and got myself into the lead – from there I just got my head down and was able to build a gap before the Safety Car. That made things harder for me as it ruined all my hard work, but once we were back racing I was able to pull out a small gap and take the win.”
Nikita Mazepin (Car No.11):
“It was a really tough weekend, my first time on a street track with very difficult conditions all weekend. It was raining for the free practices, so it was very hard to learn the track. For race one I did the best I could with my starting position and no possibilities to overtake. Race two was very good, until a car drove into me, and I couldn’t avoid the collision in race three. Overall, a good learning weekend with a lot of positives to take from it.”
Hitech GP now travels directly to Austria for the fourth event of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship season this coming weekend, 21st/22nd May, at the Red Bull Ring.
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings (after Rd9):
3rd George Russell, 79pts; 4th Ben Barnicoat, 75pts; 20th Nikita Mazepin, 1pt
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings (after Rd9):
2nd Hitech GP, 194pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings (after Rd9):
1st Ben Barnicoat, 148pts; 8th Nikita Mazepin, 48pts