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F1 Academy: Paul Ricard preview

The F1 Academy first ever title fight is heating up as drivers gear up for the final European leg of the championship, before a long summer break: Marta Garcia enjoys a 33 point lead, but pre-event testing highlighted an extremely tight field on the shorter track layout.

Photo credits: Racers - Behind the Helmet

F1 Academy is set to complete the European leg of its inaugural season this weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, in the South of France, where drivers return after two separate tests – one in pre-season and one after the Monza round.

The French venue offers a wide variety of circuit configurations and the one chosen for this sixth and penultimate round is the 3.826km “3C” version, which features a sharp right hander before the traditionally used first corner: drivers will immediately join the Mistral straight after a tricky downhill double right, and then will tackle a left-right-left chicane, before the iconic Signes corner.

Drivers have tested on this layout and will therefore have plenty of data to start the weekend with – albeit summer temperatures might result in higher tyre degradation than initially expected.

The championship battle is heating up, with Marta Garcia enjoying a positive weekend in Monza and extending her gap to her main challenger – Hamda Al Qubaisi – to 33 points. Theoretically, Garcia could claim the title with one round to spare, but will need a 68 point lead at the end of the third race of the weekend on Sunday afternoon.

Garcia led the final session of testing last week – but the fastest times of the two-day test were posted by Abbi Pulling, who had a very positive fifth round in Monza with many points added to her tally. Pulling showed impressive speed throughout testing at Paul Ricard and will likely be among the drivers to beat – as the whole Rodin Carlin team made great steps forward over the last few rounds.

Jessica Edgar was also steadily around the top five in testing and will once again aim for podium finishes after snatching third across the line beating her teammates Pulling and Gilkes in race 1 at Monza.

While Hamda Al Qubaisi had an extremely unlucky weekend in Italy, Léna Bühler secured another victory and more podiums to establish herself as one of the title contenders: the Swiss driver, also part of the Sauber Academy, is only 7 points away from Hamda in second place.

Nerea Marti was back on the podium in Monza, had encouraging testing pace and will make sure to be up there fighting for the top positions, as well as Bianca Bustamante who added her second win of the season to her resumé in Prema’s home race last time out.

Particularly interesting was Chloe Chong’s performance in testing, as the British/Canadian driver showed massive improvements over the season – her first in race cars – and will be eyeing to build upon this momentum at Paul Ricard, the same track where she was selected among the finalists of the FIA Girls on Track initiative less than a year ago, together with Chloe Grant.

Grant recovered from her scary Monza accident – which forced to miss all three races. The Scottish racer was back behind the wheel just one week later.

It will be the home race for 17 year old Lola Lovinfosse, who previously contested the Spanish F4 championship in 2021 and in a partial 2022 campaign; Lola has in fact never raced before on home soil in F4 machinery. Lovinfosse had very strong recoveries in Monza, where she gained several positions especially in race 1 and 3.

Similarly, the second part of the season has seen a big development for Maite Caceres, who scored her first points in Zandvoort and then topped her best finish in Monza with three battling races. In testing, the Uruguayan was very close to the top 10 once again.

With seven drivers out of 15 having won at least one race, the whole 15-grid pack is expected to be extremely close – especially on the shorter lap of Paul Ricard. The most consistent drivers have been Marta Garcia and Amna Al Qubaisi, who only missed out on points on one occasion; Marta will be looking at the big picture at Le Castellet, as we might see the Spaniard avoiding big risks in order to capitalize on points. With 134 points still up for grabs in the final two rounds, nine drivers are still mathematically in the title fight. We will soon discover how many will go to the US for the final round – and the series’ first alongside F1 – still with title ambitions.



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