Despite bad luck, plenty of positives for Victoria Blokhina in Italian F4 debut
Even if the third Imola race didn't go to plan, the first weekend of the Italian Formula 4 at Imola presented plenty of positives for the two ladies of the series – with Victoria Blokhina making her debut in the most competitive F4 championship in the world.
At the start of the new Italian F4 championship in Imola there were some highly competitive returning names, as well as several promising rookies – making their debut in what is widely regarded as one of the world's top single-seater junior championships. With entry lists fluctuating between the 30 and 40 cars every race meeting, Italian F4 is a crucial step in the careers of the racing stars of the future – and the place where to be for the most ambitious karting drivers moving their first steps in formula cars. Among the 33 starters at Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari, we found 16-year-old Victoria Blokhina, at her first full season in formula cars. Blokhina has raced in high-level karting competitions in the past three years, mostly in the WSK series. Switching from the OK-Junior to the OK category in late 2020, the young lady contested the WSK Super Master Series and and Euro Series, as well as entered the Karting European Championship. She was part of the second edition of the "FIA Girls on Track - Rising Stars" programme – which then promoted the second female driver to a Ferrari Driver Academy contract – and she was selected among the final four finalists in the contest, advancing to the training camp in Maranello last November. After completing a few testing days in the former Tatuus F4 car last year, Blokhina made her single-seater debut during the winter, when she entered the F4 UAE championship. It was her first time at the wheel of the Tatuus T421, the new F4 generation that would be employed all around Europe this year. “For me the transition was easier, because I like this new car more", Victoria told us. "In the first test in the UAE I was top-15”. Blokhina, in fact, entered 4 rounds, with a top-20 at her debut at Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi. Having joined new team PHM Racing, Victoria is targeting a learning-oriented season in the Italian championship. In her first qualifying of the season, Victoria struggled in Q1, but had an impressive Q2 when, in really difficult track conditions, she qualified ninth and eleventh for the second and third races of the weekend. In mixed weather, Blokhina was able to call the right tyre and went out on wets, claiming a remarkable result at her debut. “Q1 wasn't good but the second one was. Most drivers went out on slicks and we opted for the wets, which was the right choice", she explained. While she had completed some testing mileage at Imola, the changing weather meant she had to start from scratch again. “We had two test days in dry conditions – I've never driven here on the wet, so it was a bit different and difficult to improve in these conditions", she recalled. In the first race on Saturday, she was the protagonist of a brilliant recovery, moving up from 30th to 17th. In such a packed and competitive field, finishing in the midfield for a rookie is something that doesn't go unnoticed. “The first race was really difficult; starting from 30th position it was very hard to move higher up" – Blokhina said, always with her humble approach. "I was a bit lucky, some drivers went off track and I gained places. I overtook three cars, and ultimately I was 17th – which is not so bad for me.”
A further opportunity came with Race 2 on Sunday morning, as the young driver lined up in the top-ten. After a good start, she battled hard in the midfield and was collecting some valuable experience, when she tangled with another driver and was pushed off track at Tamburello, getting some air time as her car jumped over the sausage kerb. She could continue, but the feeling with the car wasn't the same and she started to drop down the order. Ultimately, she was crashed out at the final Safety Car restart. “The second race wasn't good", she summed up. "My start was good, having started from a good position. But then Camara overtook me and Spina just pushed me off the track. My car was a bit damaged and I could not feel it as normal", she continued. "Then after the SC, I was just sent into the gravel.” The final race turned out to be again an unfortunate one for the PHM Racing driver: from 11th on the grid, she had another positive start and traded positions with some of the most experienced racers – before she was sent into a spin at Tosa corner. “The first lap was good for me, I lost a couple of positions but I was still in P13", she recalled. "Then, in the corner after the two chicanes, a driver pushed me towards the wet grass and I spun because of it. I couldn’t push the reverse button and I rejoined last." “I needed some laps to catch up with the others, and I still had good lap times. I overtook a few drivers." When she was eyeing yet another recovery, a crash on the last lap put an early end to her Race 3. Ivan Domingues spun at Villeneuve chicane and was unfortunately collected by her Iron Lynx teammate Maya Weug, who could do nothing to avoid him. More drivers were then involved in the accident; Victoria Blokhina tried to take evasive action on the gravel but was hit and lost the front wing. "And at the end there was a massive crash in front of me and I lost the front wing", she said. "It wasn’t a lucky race for me”. Despite an unfortunate Sunday, Blokhina's first weekend in Italian F4 showed plenty of positives. A strong qualifying – albeit in unusual weather – gained her a deserved start at the front thanks to a bold tyre choice. In really tricky conditions, she kept it clean in Race 1 and made no mistakes, unlike some more experienced drivers – proving she can break into the top-20. She had the chance to start higher up and thus battle with some of the series' frontrunners; eventually luck was not on her side, but Victoria set the tone for a promising remainder of the season, as she looks at the positives. “Of course we had a lot of battles with fast guys. That’s great for me to learn from. I was around Camara, Antonelli – and that was great.“ The next round of Italian F4 will be at Misano World Circuit – where she will try to put her testing efforts to good use: “I tested in Vallelunga – which so far I like the most; I had quite a few days in Monza and two days in Mugello, and also Misano.” "I want to be higher up, but there are a lot of fast guys behind me. If I can be P15 it’ll be great for me.”