F1 Academy: Léna Bühler claims dominant win in Barcelona race 3
After Saturday's heartbreak, Léna Bühler turned her weekend around with a dominant victory in race 3, as the Sauber Academy driver now moves up into third place in the standings.
While weather forecasts predicted rain for most of the weekend, F1 Academy races remained fully dry on both Saturday and Sunday, despite grey clouds over Circuit de Catalunya for most of the days.
In Sunday’s sole race, Léna Bühler was looking to get redemption after an unbelievably unfortunate first race, where the Sauber Academy driver led every lap only to have her first ever victory in race cars denied by a gearbox issue.
Bühler started from pole position for the final race of the weekend, following a superb qualifying on Saturday morning, where she claimed the top spot thousands of a second ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi. The Emirati also lost several points in Race 1, having retired with another gearbox issue while in a podium position.
On the second row, championship leader Marta Garcia lined up alongside Abbi Pulling, with both drivers scoring two podiums on Saturday.
When the lights went out for the final time in Barcelona, Bühler had a good start and managed to stay ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi, who was close at Turn 1 but eventually decided not to risk a move after the points lost on the day before. Her sister Amna, from fifth on the grid, had a good launch and overtook Rodin Carlin’s Abbi Pulling.
Bühler led Al Qubaisi and Garcia after the first lap; on lap 3, the Spaniard set the fastest lap and closed in on Hamda Al Qubaisi, who couldn’t challenge Bühler – now one second ahead. Al Qubaisi was in fact on a very used tyre compared to the other drivers in front and, after a few laps, struggled to keep up with Léna’s pace.
Pulling, meanwhile, was back ahead of Amna Al Qubaisi, but had the two MP Motorsport cars of the Emirati, winner of race 2, and Emely de Heus, winner of race 1, right on her tail.
Despite the tyre deficit, Hamda set the new fastest lap and got back within one second to Bühler, but the Swiss driver responded with some fast sectors to keep the Emirati under control.
Lola Lovinfosse was arguably one of the protagonists of the race: the Campos driver attempted a pass on her teammate Nerea Marti – and eventually got ahead, after Marti continued to struggle with technical issues after a race 2 gearbox failure which couldn’t be fully fixed.
Lovinfosse, on the other hand, showcased some great pace and continued her recovery: one lap later, she overtook Megan Gilkes for seventh and then chased down de Heus and Amna Al Qubaisi just in front. Lovinfosse made a move on Emely de Heus and found a way past the Dutchwoman with a couple of laps to go.
But there was close racing throughout the whole pack despite not many passing opportunities. Bustamante, Grant and Schreiner were also running close to each other, as Edgar had to defend from Maite Caceres in a very compact field. The Uruguayan made a move stick on lap 10 – and would then overtake Schreiner on lap 12 as well, confirming her steps forward and good racecraft.
Positions at the front settled and Bühler could stretch her legs, opening a 3 second margin. Once Hamda Al Qubaisi understood that she had no more chances to catch Bühler, she focused on setting the fastest lap that would gain her the extra point – and that’s what she did, posting a 1:42.508 that was only 14 thousands of a second better than Bühler’s.
After 16 laps around the new Barcelona layout, Léna Bühler took the chequered flag and claimed her first victory in race cars, with a dominant performance that brought redemption after the unfortunate race 1. In a lights-to-flag win, Bühler was unchallenged and has now moved up to third place in the championship standings.
“I was very confident with the car and did P2 and P1 in qualifying”, Léna summed up. “I was supposed to win race 1 but I had a gearbox problem. I was very disappointed and lost a lot of points. It was a shame but today I won – I’m super happy and I will try to come back for the title.” – she continued.
“It’s a win that means a lot, because we work a lot with the team and everytime we’re on track we make good progress. I’m happy with the work we did this weekend and I hope it will continue into the next rounds.”
Hamda Al Qubaisi was back on the podium with a solid race, ahead of her main championship rival Marta Garcia – who despite missing the win for the first time this weekend remains the most consistent driver of the championship and scored the most points of anyone at Barcelona.
Abbi Pulling preceded Amna Al Qubaisi across the finish line, but the latter was handed a 5 second penalty for track limits, which dropped her to ninth.
Lola Lovinfosse therefore scored her second top five of the season, in another really strong outing for the young French driver.
Emely de Heus was sixth – and totalled 38 points over the weekend, just one less than Garcia.
Nerea Marti fought her way to seventh place despite the gearbox gremlins and will be looking to bounce back at Zandvoort; she preceded Megan Gilkes, Al QUbaisi after the penalty, and Bianca Bustamante – also struggling on old tyres but still bagging one point.
Chloe Grant was P11, a few tenths ahead of Maite Caceres – who had a very good race and was challenging Grant and Bustamante as the chequered flag fell. Schreiner was 13th, ahead of Edgar and Chong – the latter also wrestling with her old tyres.
After the ninth race of the season, Marta Garcia enjoys a 41 point lead to Hamda Al Qubaisi; Léna Bühler follows at 83, having possibly re-launched her title bid. Pulling, Amna Al Qubaisi and Nerea Marti all remain close behind, as the series will have a month break before travelling to Zandvoort for the fourth race meeting of the inaugural season.