Home Featured What did the F2 and F3 paddock make of their first trip down under?

What did the F2 and F3 paddock make of their first trip down under?

by Ida Wood

Photos: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Melbourne only announced F2 and F3 on its grand prix support bill for one year, but the event promoter intends for the feeder series to be a returning fixture after extending its F1 contract to 2035

The Formula 2 and Formula 3 championships made history earlier this month as they raced in Australia for the first time, and in a city that has since been declared as the biggest in the country.

It was the furthest away either series – in their current forms and previous iterations – had ever raced from their European heartlands and it is intended not to be a one-off trip as the promoter of the Melbourne-based Australian Grand Prix is eager for two of the biggest series in junior single-seater racing to occupy the support paddock in years to come.

So what did the competitors in F2 and F3 make of their maiden trip down under? First to hit the track were the F3 drivers, whose practice session took place early on the Friday morning, then F2 followed almost straight after before both series held their qualifying a few hours apart in the afternoon. Red flag-inducing crashes as drivers got to grips with the Albert Park circuit meant mileage was restricted, particularly in F2 practice and F3 qualifying, then heavy rain hit late in the day when F2 qualifying was on and made the semi-street track even more challenging.

Post-qualifying reaction

It wasn’t just the top qualifiers who shared their thoughts, with others also talking about the challenge of the track and the conditions the support series were taking to it in.

“Driving on this track is a lot of fun, especially in qualifying,” said Prema’s Paul Aron, who was sixth fastest in F3 qualifying. “The track improved a lot from practice after F1, you can really feel the grip improvement.”

His team-mate Zak O’Sullivan, who qualified one place ahead of him, hypothesised why the support series action featured several session-stopping incidents.

“I think because it’s a street circuit, but half the track isn’t street circuit, the walls aren’t so close so it kind of gives you a bit of confidence to push, especially in sector two. And then you get to one and three where the walls are super close,” he said.

“So yeah, I can see how it happens [having costly mistakes]. And I think for a lot of drivers, including myself, it’s the first time on any variant of a street circuit.”

Their team boss Rene Rosin said “everyone in the team” relished the opportunity of “a new experience in a new location”, and the fact that its imperious form in F3 (and F2) in the past would count for nothing because of the new venue levelling the playing field across the paddocks.

DAMS’ F2 poleman Ayumu Iwasa said of the Albert Park circuit: “It’s really amazing. It’s really difficult to put it all together in one lap, that’s what I felt in practice and qualifying. It’s really technical, and I’m feeling that it’s really difficult to improve the performance from the car side, and driving side as well. But it’s making more fun to enjoy the race weekend.”

Theo Pourchaire agreed with Martins’ description of the track. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I love the country, I love the city, and the track is amazing too. The weather, I’m not very, very happy about it. But it’s fun to drive on the dry, and on the wet conditions. An amazing track, and hopefully F2 can come back here in the future.”

His ART Grand Prix team-mate Victor Martins added: “It’s super good. On the dry it was really nice, going really close to the the walls. Also it doesn’t forgive for a mistake. We have seen many, many mistakes from drivers, so it feels like a bit like Zandvoort where you need to push but if you go a bit over the limit, you do a mistake or you crash the car like I did for example. But really nice, really, really fast.

Maloney, Martins and Bearman aproaching turn nine

“I love the fast section with the DRS going to turns nine and 10. I think driving in a big city like that is really enjoyable.”

When it came to the racing, which had even more unknowns when it came to the best overtaking spots and grip off-line (exacerbated by the rain washing away rubber that had been laid down), but the F3 drivers were positively surprised with how much overtaking action they could have and praised the “super powerful” DRS for “really fun racing”.

F2 suffered the misfortune of having rain hit the track again during their sprint race on Saturday, but the impact of that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the track for many drivers.

“I love the track here,” said Hitech GP’s sprint race runner-up Jak Crawford to Formula Scout.

“It has such a nice flow through sectors one and three. Sector two has just one corner, but even there it’s quite fun. I’d say my favourite section is probably turns nine and 10. I love the high speed, and it’s a bit difficult with the compression in the corner, so it adds a bit of a challenge to it.

Campos Racing’s Kush Maini finished third, and added: “Super enjoyable track to drive. Very tough to get right. I think with all the braking zones kind of not straight, you’ve got to keep your focus to the race and not dump the wheel in the grass.

“It’s a different challenge we’ve had through the first two races. I think my favourite corner would probably be the same as Jak. I think it’s just, especially in practice when we were pushing maximum, very tricky to get right.”

It’s that kind of challenge that has made the F2 and F3 drivers as enthusiastic about a return to Melbourne as the event promoter, and that key section of track between turns eight and what is now 10 (but used to be turn 12) was actually reprofiled in 2021 to make it faster.

Iwasa and Pourchaire

“Very, very challenging track,” summarised Pourchaire. “Not a lot of grip on it, and we had wet conditions, dry conditions, track was damp as well. So we had everything. We had a bit of wind, we had no wind. This track was very tough. A mentally difficult weekend, but I didn’t do any big mistakes, I’m happy. This track I would love to go to drive again there next year.”

While Pourchaire may only get that opportunity in 2024 if he’s in a Formula 1 seat, with a fourth season in F2 unlikely if he doesn’t win the title this year, many of his rivals will be looking forward to having a second crack at Melbourne in around 12 months’ time.