Calderon recovers to 4th, Chadwick picks up points in Sepang Asian F3
In mixed weather conditions, Tatiana Calderon had a positive Asian F3 opening weekend following a remarkable recovery in the second race. Jamie Chadwick completed three races in the top-10.
The first round of the Asian Formula 3 championship went underway in Sepang, Malaysia, attracting some of the most competitive feeder series drivers around the globe.
Among them, there were two of the elite and highest ranked female racers today: the first ever woman Formula 2 driver Tatiana Calderon and inaugural W-Series champion Jamie Chadwick.
Chadwick, racing for Chinese-based squad Absolute Racing, announced her entry in the Asian winter championship in her quest to conquer crucial FIA SuperLicence points. The British 21-year old will be back to defend the W-Series crown later this year, and is likely to add one more Formula 3 season throughout the season.
Colombian Tatiana Calderon joins SevenGP after a tough Formula 2 campaign at Arden with the aim of regaining confidence and start new challenges in 2020. She was recently added to the all-female Grasser Racing lineup for the upcoming Rolex Daytona 24, where she'll join Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen and Bia Figueiredo in the first GT endurance race of her career.
Returning champion Ukyo Sasahara claimed the pole position on Friday and lined up alongside Yu Kuai in second and Joey Alders in third, who set identical laptimes.
Chadwick, at her return on the Tatuus T3-18 chassis, was 10th fastest, while Tatiana Calderon had a troubled session and was forced to start at the back.
It wasn't a smooth start for Sasahara though, who had to take the start from the pitlane after a late technical issue that left Kuai with a clear vision of the first corner. When the lights went out, the Chinese driver had a disastrous start, with Cao also losing out places in the opening corners. The biggest winners were Devlin DeFrancesco and Joey Alders, who took the lead, followed by Doohan and Mazepin.
Menacing clouds quickly brought spots of rain onto the Sepang International Circuit; in the increasingly tricky conditions, Tatiana Calderon made contact with Thomas Luedi and went off in the gravel. The SevenGP stricken car brought out the Safety Car, that closed-up the field.
Other retirements were Jake Hughes and Pietro Fittipaldi, both having difficult days.
At the restart on lap 8, DeFrancesco held the lead, but it wasn't meant to be for long: both Alders and Doohan found a way past the Canadian and demoted him to third.
20 year-old rookie Alders crossed the line to take the first victory of the season, with Doohan and DeFrancesco close behind.
Jamie Chadwick recovered to seventh, with Sasahara 8th after the pitlane start.
With Saturday at Sepang not featuring any F3 action, the second and third races were contested on a very busy Sunday. With early morning downpour, the drivers went on the grid with wet tyres due to the considerable amount of standing water on track.
Race two saw the drivers lining up based on the first race fastest laps, which meant that DeFrancesco took pole ahead of Alders, while Chadwick and Calderon had to start from 11th and 13th respectively.
At the getaway, the pole-sitter struggled for grip and Alders once again gained the lead of the race, with F2 driver Nikita Mazepin close behind. Calderon had a good start and brought herself up to 9th, with Chadwick holding P11 after the crucial first laps.
Devlin DeFrancesco quickly dropped back, as the Canadian was overtaken in rapid succession by Cao, Hughes, Kanamaru and Yu.
With the rain starting to fall again, Tatiana Calderon found more pace and closed in on DeFrancesco: the 26-year old Colombian launched a decisive move on the Absolute Racing driver and moved up to 7th.
The fight for the win heated up, with Mazepin steadily eating the gap to race 1 winner Alders. The Dutchman came under heavy pressure and had to explore different lines to defend his leadership from the attacks of the charging Russian. But when Daniel Cao joined the action at the front, Mazepin suddenly found himself in a defensive position, allowing Alders some crucial breathing space.
Calderon kept lapping competitively in the rain and passed Yu, then went on pursuit of Kanamaru. With Hughes having to pit with 12 minutes left on the clock, both Calderon and Chadwick advanced one position. In the closing stages, Tatiana engaged in an exciting battle with the BlackArts Racing driver, finally finding a way past him after the two had switched positions for a couple of laps and thus gaining P4.
Alders took a back-to-back victory from Mazepin and Cao, with Calderon completing a stunning race in fourth from 13th on the grid. Chadwick was 10th, ahead of DeFrancesco and Fittipaldi.
With the track drying up after the earlier showers, all drivers opted for slick tyres for the third and final race of the Malaysian weekend. Damp spots on the left side of the main straight proved to be a significant advantage to the drivers starting on the inside line: Jack Doohan had a perfect getaway and immediately opened up a gap, while Sasahara dropped behind Alders and Yu Kuai. Chadwick, starting from 8th on the grid, dropped to P11, while Calderon also lost one place in the opening lap and had to recover from 13th.
Nikita Mazepin, starting from the back following an issue in qualifying, charged back and moved past Chadwick on the final corner of the first lap.
Fittipaldi had a better first half of the race and brought himself up to 6th from 10th on the grid. Soon after though, the Brazilian came under pressure from Hughes and the Brit completed a clean move at turn 5. Fittipaldi saw the problems affecting his car reappearing and dropped all the way down to 11th, with both Chadwick and Calderon also taking advantage of the Pinnacle Motorsport driver's issues.
Mazepin kept charging through the field up until P5, while guest starter Sasahara gained a podium spot by overtaking DeFrancesco. With 13 minutes to go, Calderon made a move stick around the outside of Smith at turn 4, claiming P10.
In the closing stages, tyre degradation started to come into the picture and Alders, now too far behind the leader Doohan, had to defend hard from the attacks of Ukyo Sasahara.
With four minutes left, more rain drops fell on the tarmac: this caught off-guard Sasahara, who spun at turn 9. Alessio Deledda was also among the drivers struggling for grip, as the Italian had a couple of off-tracks.
On the last lap, Alders went wide, allowing DeFrancesco to dive in to claim the second place. Few seconds ahead, it was a smooth victory for Doohan - the Australian now sits second the the overall standings after the race 3 victory.
Chadwick and Calderon crossed the line in P8 and P9, to complete another solid race both in the top-10.
"A bit of a mixed weekend" - commented Jamie Chadwick. "I'm happy given the fact that we came in a little bit on the back foot, but I think there's a bit more potential out there. We got very unlucky in race two with the tyres and in race three we just lacked a bit of pace."
"Happy to get a good few points under our belt, but there's also far more on the table".
It was a more competitive weekend for Tatiana Calderon pace-wise, as the Colombian driver now looks forward to more outings in the Asian based series.
"We started with a few issues in qualifying and in the first race, sadly, ended very soon for us, but I was very happy with the pace we had in the rain and in race 3, ending P4 and P9, as we recovered a few places with really good pace." - she said.
"I'm happy and hopefully I can come back for the whole championship and fight for it."
In Tatiana's words:
"Hopefully I can come back for the whole championship and fight for it."
In Jamie's words:
"Happy to get a good few points under our belt, but there's also far more on the table."
Asian F3 coverage is made possible thanks to the cooperation with Sarah Sahadin.
Ph credits: Formula 3 Asia