Tipped as a title contender going into the season, the start to Zak O’Sullivan’s FIA Formula 3 campaign has failed to meet expectations.
The Prema driver sits eighth in the standings and 51 points off the championship lead after four rounds, with five still to go.
However he is not giving up on the title yet and takes inspiration from Zane Maloney, who had scored 19 points at this same stage last year and was 58 points from the front but went on to win three feature races to finish five points short of the title.
O’Sullivan was driving for a mostly uncompetitive Carlin team in 2022 but still took a pole, which he converted into a feature race podium, and a sprint race podium. Notwithstanding, he is aware his qualifying pace needs to improve for a turnaround as dramatic as Maloney’s to happen.
“The main issue has been qualifying pace, pace and a few mistakes in some areas,” he told Formula Scout during the most recent round at Barcelona where he claimed his second sprint race win of 2023.
“In Bahrain we had good pace, track limits on my side put us out of contention. For me in Melbourne, the pace was good all weekend. I think we were in contention for the pole and the pace in the race was good as well. This weekend, it’s not a secret, qualifying wasn’t the best.
“I think we know where to work on. The positive is the race pace is still there. It’s just starting a bit higher up is always preferable.”
At Bahrain, O’Sullivan’s fastest qualifying lap was good enough for 10th, but was deleted for exceeding track limits so he qualified 18th.
In Monaco, he missed out on making the top six in his group and therefore being able to benefit from the combined top 12 being reversed for the sprint race grid, and the same would have happened at Barcelona if Hitech GP driver Gabriele Mini’s fastest lap was not deleted for exceeding track limits and therefore lifting O’Sullivan to 12th.
Melbourne was the only weekend where O’Sullivan was Prema’s fastest driver, qualifying fifth, getting sprint race victory after MP Motorsport’s on-the-road winner Franco Colapinto was disqualified over a technical infringement, and then finishing fifth in the feature race.
“Obviously, every driver wants to beat their team-mates, but it can’t affect you too much,” said the Williams junior about not being able to consistently beat rookie team-mates Dino Beganovic and Paul Aron.
O’Sullivan wants “to hope” he is still a title contender.
“It’s a long season, you saw last year.” he said. “Maloney at this point last year was even further behind. So it’s a long season.”
“I think the points in the feature race are so varied across the top 10. One or two good weekends and straight back in the hunt. So the plan is to still push as it was for the whole season. It hasn’t been an ideal start, I’d say, but there’s no reason we can’t come back.”