Big steps forward and first Top-10 for Maite Cáceres in F1 Academy at Valencia
"We know that I lack experience in these cars, so we're building it. This was really a step forward." – At her second weekend in F1 Academy, Uruguayan Maite Cáceres showed significant progress with good qualifying pace and scored her first top ten, now aiming for even bigger steps in Barcelona.
What a difference a week can make: only seven days after a rather challenging season opener in Austria, Maite Cáceres scored her first top ten in F1 Academy and, most importantly, showed a big step forward in both qualifying and race pace in Valencia, at the tricky Circuito Ricardo Tormo.
The 20-year old Uruguayan joined Campos Racing for her first season of single seaters in Europe, having spent the last couple of years Stateside. Cáceres in fact competed in the 2022 F4 US championship and selected rounds of the USF Juniors, both at the wheel of a US-spec Ligier F4 car.
Caceres, though, was looking at opportunities to race in Europe – where she now lives and attends University – and did not miss the chance to be on the grid of the first ever F1 Academy grid in 2023, in a learning-oriented season where she will focus on learning the tracks and the car, the new gen Tatuus F4 machine used in the F1-promoted series.
The Uruguayan talent made her European debut at Circuito Ricardo Tormo, Valencia, in a one-off round of the Formula Winter Series, where she was invited last minute and without much preparation. Nevertheless, she claimed a top ten and showed good progress throughout the weekend.
The positive trend continued during the F1 Academy collective tests, where Maite significantly improved and was often in the top ten.
The first race meeting at Spielberg, though, turned out to be quite a challenging one: an accident in testing on Thursday meant that Cáceres missed all track time and, with changing weather conditions, the young driver found herself learning the track during a wet qualifying.
That difficult start inevitably hampered her whole weekend, albeit she managed to reduce the gap by several seconds throughout the three Austrian races.
Coming to Valencia, though, the aim was to restore her self confidence and battle with the pack - and that's exactly what she did.
In the first practice session, Cáceres set the eighth fastest time, 8 tenths of a second off leader Nerea Martí – in a very encouraging start for the Uruguayan. In the second session, Maite had limited running and set no representative lap time due to a few track limits infractions. Track limits were in fact the main issue of the Valencian round, especially in a qualifying hit by countless laps cancellations.
While she did lose her best lap, Cáceres still was fast enough to slot into ninth and eighth place for the two sessions – as a further proof of her notable step forward.
"Qualifying was good but it could have been better", she commented. "Really having to worry about track limits 20 minutes before the quali was really difficult for us to adapt, because we were testing all day with some track limits, and every driver thought that we could do the same in quali", she explained. "It changes a lot".
Every lap of every car was in fact analyzed via onboard cameras in qualifying, unlike the practice sessions where track limits were mainly enforced in three specific corners.
"But at the end I'm happy with P9 for race 1 and 2, and then P8 for race 3. It's really a step forward from Red Bull Ring and I'm getting my confidence back", Cáceres commented on Friday. "My best time was deleted, so it could have been P4. But I'm really hoping we can fight to be in the top 10 in this race."
In Saturday's first race, Cáceres held her positions for several laps, running well with the pack. She was then overtaken by the recovering García – who had to start from the back after the cancellation of all her times in Q1 – before losing more positions in the extremely tightly-contested midfield. Cáceres was in fact struggling with the balance of the car and, with a few seconds separating cars from eighth to bottom, she dropped to 13th.
"The first race was really tough", she summed up. "We thought we had everything set for the races, and then race 1 was really different and difficult to handle the car, so the pace was not there."
But there was soon another opportunity to make up for it, with another start in the top 10 in the 20 minute race 2. In a more confident drive, Cáceres showed good racecraft and battled again in the pack. With lap times for the top 7, Maite eventually finished tenth, ahead of drivers such as Schreiner and Pulling. It was a solid result for the Campos racer.
"Race 2 was good with a top-ten", she recalled. "We don't have points, but we're working on it."
Points in the shorter race 2 are in fact only scored by the top-eight - which is certainly Maite's next target.
"We know that I lack experience in these cars, so we're building it. This was really a step forward."
In Sunday's race 3, Cáceres fought hard once again, in a train of seven cars that also included Edgar, Gilkes, Bustamante, De Heus, Schreiner and Chong, separated by tenths of a second. Maite held her own and was in contention for a top ten throughout most of the race, ultimately crossing the finish line in P12.
"In race 3 we had good battles", Cáceres explained. "It's difficult to overtake in Valencia - that was the main issue, because we were faster than in front. But I keep my head up and I'm thinking about Barcelona and how I can improve."
"This is an academy and I'm here for it", she added, conscious of the propaedeutic nature of the series and of her focus on improving at every round. In this regard, Maite Cáceres' second weekend in F1 Academy was certainly successful.
"I know my goals and my objectives and I will work on it for Barcelona."