I’d only done a few days of testing an F3 car in my life, so to come away from Hockenheim with a podium in the final race, after my first weekend with the Carlin team, was brilliant.
I was grateful to get the opportunity to race an F3 car, especially at Hockenheim where I won in the GP3 Series during the summer. Honestly, before arriving at the track I didn’t have more than a few hopes and expectations, because I know how hard a championship it is, having raced against a few of the drivers earlier in my career.
'Straight away I felt really comfortable in the Carlin car.'
I led much of the first free practice session but for various reasons dropped to fourth. I found where I was missing out and then went top of the second session, so that was a good way to start.
In F3 you know some people turn their engines up a bit when it counts, so I didn’t know what to expect for qualifying. I did a 1m31.9s – much faster than I’d gone in practice – and I thought no one was going to beat that. Then my engineer said someone had done a 1m31.7s. I thought, ‘What?’ So I just sent it, and got third on the grid.
The second qualifying session decides the grid for races two and three, and by this time the track had changed quite a lot. Everyone was struggling for balance and I was happy to be second on the grid for both races – just 14 thousandths of a second from pole for race three!
I’d never done a practice start in an F3 car, and they’re tricky little things to get off the line. If I was going to do the weekend again that would be my main priority to work on, because none of my starts were good. In race one I got wheelspin and dropped to fourth, and then Anthoine Hubert made a crazy move on me, hit the kerb and went off, and sent me off with him. I fought back to eighth and then had a nasty crash. I know its driver’s bias, but the letter of the law is you’re not allowed to move in the braking zone. Hubert did, I clipped him and went flying. I admit it was a bit of a lunge, but I was not out of control.
I was worried there might be damage to the chassis, but as one of the Carlin engineers said it was quite a nice landing – more British Airways than Easyjet!
Race two was my worst start of the three. I dropped to sixth, moved up to fifth when Sergio Sette Camara got a drive-through penalty and then got fourth when Callum Ilott was excluded. It was processional, but we found something on the car that was a legacy of the crash that didn’t help, and rectified it before the final race.
And that was the highlight for me… I got my best start and was third, but I made a mistake at Turn 1 on the second lap and dropped to fifth. Then I had a big fight with Sette Camara – it was all fair, and he was defending well, but by the time I got past I’d lost a lot of time. I could see Nick Cassidy up ahead in third and I never for one moment thought I couldn’t catch him. Our pace was so good it was almost unfair – it was one of the best racing cars I ever drove and I set fastest lap as I caught him. He defended the inside line at the Mercedes Arena, so I braked late to convince him to brake late – I knew he was going to go wide so I just slowed, set up the exit and got him on acceleration.
It was fantastic to end the weekend on the podium, not just me but for the Carlin team, who are undoubtedly one of the best operations in motorsport but have had a bad season in F3. I’m hoping now to rejoin them for the Macau Grand Prix in November and we’ll talk about that, but whatever happens I’ve also got the GP3 final round in Abu Dhabi to look forward to.
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