Home Featured How Maloney turned around his tricky FIA F3 start into a title attack

How Maloney turned around his tricky FIA F3 start into a title attack

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photos: Formula Motorsport Limited

Three wins from the last three feature races, second place in the FIA F3 standings and then making his F2 debut means Zane Maloney has concluded his 2022 on a high. But that does not tell the whole story

Halfway through his rookie FIA Formula 3 Championship campaign, the Trident driver sat out of the top 10 with a 64-point deficit to the championship leader. However, he never gave up and eventually came five points short of claiming the title, wondering what could have happened if the last race had been run full distance.

The championship runner-up joined the Formula Scout Podcast and discussed the ins and outs of a season where speed was always there, but results were not. He explained his approach to difficult moments, what made him so fast and team union, as well as several other topics.

Listen to the full episode below, or find it on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and read on for more of the interview:

“We ended as vice-champions, so in the end it was a very good year,” Maloney started. “When I look back, there’s lots of moments that could have been improved on, and especially at the beginning of the year, maybe a bit of inexperience and a bit of me misjudging certain situations caused us to lose many points, many podiums, many wins.

“It was a great season in the end. How it ended was amazing, the last three, four, five rounds even, but the first four rounds were a bit of a disaster. When I look back, those first four rounds could have been much better from my side.”

The Barbadian failed to score points in eight out of 18 races this season, six of them in the first half of the year. Before Austria’s feature race, he only had 16 points to his name. However, he believes that putting the focus on those missed opportunities now the season has ended could hurt him in the future.

“I think it’s quite detrimental to look back with frustration,” he said. “I can say that because we did end up vice-champions. Second out of 30 is a decent result. Obviously we wanted to be champion, like everyone on the grid, but I’m very happy with how the season ended.

“The main point and the main thing to do is to carry that over into next year. If I was to look back at the beginning with frustration, then all the momentum would be lost, and I don’t want to do that. In one way you want to look back frustrated and imagine what could have happened and if you had done a better job in that part of the season, but I’m more looking at the last part of the season and how the team did such a great job and how I was able to go out there and do such a great job as well, and move that into next year.”

Hoping for more in 2023, Maloney also affirmed that he had been positively surprised with the pace shown in his FIA F3 rookie season, and especially over one lap.

“In Formula Regional, I was really quick in the races, really good in the overtaking side of things, but my qualifying was struggling a bit. So, looking back at this year, it was almost, I wouldn’t say the opposite, but the qualifying was amazing. We were always in the top three except for maybe two rounds.”

Maloney was seventh on his qualifying debut at Bahrain, 12th at Barcelona and eighth at the Red Bull Ring, but his other top-three results meant he had the best average starting position from qualifying results.

“When I look back there, it was more than expected, but of course maybe a little bit of bad luck with the retirement in Bahrain, and also the Red Bull Ring retirement. Other than that, my racing at the beginning of the year could have been a bit stronger and maybe focusing more on finishing in the points rather than winning, but that’s what I’ve learned going into 2023.

“On one side of things, I’m a driver that is aggressive and gets on it straight away when we come to the weekend. I think that does help the format,” Maloney explained about the reasons behind his speed.

“This is how the format is with F3, Formula 2, whereas with FRegional there were two practice sessions, so it gives a bit of time for everyone to get up to speed. So I think the qualifying was really good a bit to do with that, getting on it straight away. We only had like three laps before quali, so maybe a bit of that.

“With ADD Management, Pat, my trainer back home, we were doing a lot of work on getting fitter, mentally getting more prepared, and also with the team. Not really on-track training, but karting, at the factory looking through so many different stuff and focusing on the detail. That allowed me to arrive at every event ready to qualify even before practice.

“I think the main difference is the preparation before each weekend. I was almost, like I said, able to qualify before I practiced, which you are always in a great position when that’s the case. I put that down to everyone around me and how good of a job the team did.”

With only nine championship rounds, there is little room for mistakes and the pressure to deliver in the limited track time is really high in FIA F3. Being able to properly deal with it can make the difference on track, and Maloney knows that.

“The mental side of things is very important. There is a lot of pressure on all of us, but that’s the same for everyone and whoever can prepare best and be in the best mindset for qualifying, for the races, weekend-in, weekend-out will do the best.

“I know for me I have certain things that allow me to do good things and certain things that maybe if I do before the weekend, I don’t do as good, which I recognize that. As a person, I do need a lot of sleep, so maybe some others don’t need so much, but I need a lot going into the day before quali. Once I get that, to be honest, I know that when I wake up and I feel good, I’m going to be in a good place,” he revealed.

“A big thing this year, and also for everyone, is even on the bad days getting a good result. At the beginning of the year, that’s what I failed to do and that’s why I didn’t win the championship. I think even on my bad days at the end of the year we were still qualifying in the top three.

“I need to continue to improve on that, and in these types of formats and these types of championships, of course you need to be fast and need to be with a good team and do a good job, but the biggest thing throughout the championship is doing good on your bad days. That’s what I’m looking to improve on even more.”

Notwithstanding, bad results are part of a driver’s journey and there are times where a tiny mistake can lead to catastrophic consequences. At Imola, Maloney threw away a maiden win by spinning out of the lead behind the safety car and having to retire. Nevertheless, those situations are not the most difficult to get over according to the Trident driver.

“In the moment, Imola was probably the toughest few minutes I’ve had in my racing career. For me, the tough moments… Imola wasn’t really a tough moment. Of course it was a tough moment and I felt really bad, and it was such a stupid mistake, but I was leading the race, I had the pace, and if I didn’t make that mistake, I was going on to win that race.

“So, two, three, four days after is not as tough as coming away from a weekend where you didn’t have the pace and you finish P8, P9. Because when you finish P8, P9, not having the pace, you’re scratching your head a bit, and not really knowing how to gain back the pace and the performance. Whereas in Imola I was able to leave knowing that I had the pace, I was leading the race and I can do it again.

“It was tough each moment this year that went wrong, but I think what helped and what allowed us to continue to strive for the wins and to get them eventually was knowing that we had the pace and knowing that we were fighting at the front every time something didn’t go wrong, and even when things did go wrong, we were fighting at the front. It was just about being at the front at the end. That was really the only thing that needed to change this year, which we finally turned it around.

“From a driver’s side, it’s a lot better to have the pace and not get the result than to not get the result and not have peace. It’s easier [when the issue can be easily identified]. In the moment, it’s a lot tougher because especially Imola what happened was just not needed, and me thinking and looking forward too much and trying to get too much of a jump at the restart.

“It’s tougher in the moment, but as the days go on, you never lose the confidence,” he explained. “And especially this year, I was able to know that going into the next weekend I will be at the front if I do a good job. It’s all about learning from those mistakes and looking forward to the next race and training as hard as possible to do a better job.”

Misfortune was followed by success in the season’s second half, and Maloney came from a long way back to rise up to second in the standings. The season had a bizarre ending at Monza with a red-flagged feature race, and had it restarted it’s feasible that ART Grand Prix’s champion Victor Martins may have had his five-point margin eradicated.

“How the championship ended wasn’t how anyone wanted it to end, so that was really the only thing negative playing on my mind,” Maloney said. “Not that I didn’t win the championship, but that the chance was cut short. That was the only thing, but of course the three wins in a row were amazing and it showed that we never gave up and we continued to strive for more. I left Monza with a good feeling and more confident than ever and ready to any time I get back out to start off from where I ended. That’s the main thing that I need to do or start off even better than I ended.

“The last three feature races, the sweetest part about it was I had the pace and was controlling the races that I was out front. At Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort, getting past Victor towards the end, showed that we never gave up in the races and always had the pace. That was a really strong point,” Maloney, who also had words of praise and gratitude for his team, said.

“Trident were amazing from the first day that I was with them. Giacomo [Ricci, team principal] is one of the funniest and nicest guys I’ve ever met. It was great working with him from the very first day. Usually, it’s difficult to get team managers that are so involved as Giacomo was, and that’s really what pushed the team on.

“Having Giacomo and all the engineers so in line with each other, with the drivers, it’s very rare to get. We were all aligned as a team, even with my team-mates, and that was what allowed us to do such a great job. Of course I had my bad luck and my mistakes, Roman [Stanek] had his bad luck and his mistakes, and Jonny [Edgar] had his sickness at the start of the year. So, when we look back, we lost many, many, many points for different reasons, but what counted is how we ended the season. Trident did an amazing job, and my engineer Umberto [Visintini], we were all aligned together there. It was a great year.

“I was new to the championship, new to the team. The team didn’t know me before this year, so it was key to get to know each other straight away. Umberto quickly realised what I needed as a driver in the car. He made changes and straight away it worked. Since then, we had the baseline and were quick straight away. That’s the main thing, to get aligned from the get-go.

“I had the confidence, probably not for the first time in my career, but it’s very difficult to go out on track as a driver into qualifying and 100% know that the car is going to be capable for pole. To be honest, that’s what I had all year, so before every qualifying session, even if we were P15 in practice, no one went crazy and everyone knew that going into qualifying they had the driver in the car that could get pole, and I knew that I had the car behind me to get pole. That’s the biggest thing, to have the confidence in the team and they had the confidence in me, and then that’s the results that you get.”

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