F1 Academy: Zandvoort preview
A month after the previous round at Barcelona, F1 Academy returns to the track in Zandvoort, Netherlands, as the all female championship enters the second half of its inaugural season. Here's a few points on what we can expect from the Dutch weekend.
After three rounds in rapid succession, F1 Academy returns to the track after a month's break since its previous round at Barcelona, where we witnessed to two first.time pole sitters as well as winners: MP Motorsport's Emely de Heus and ART Grand Prix's Léna Buhler had a remarkable Catalan weekend and became the fifth and sixth different race winners out of the 15 entries.
Part of the Sauber Academy, Léna Bühler had already scored three podiums and was closing in on her first win with very consistent results. After a heartbreaking retirement in race 1 due to a gearbox issue, Léna found the top step of the podium in race 3 with a flawless race that put her back in contention for the big goal.
Two more podiums for Abbi Pulling also mean that the British racer is climbing up the order after a difficult start, while just a handful of points behind Amna Al Qubaisi - who won again in Barcelona - will be aiming to keep her point-scoring streak alive.
The biggest mover from the third triple-header, though, was 20 year old Dutchwoman Emely de Heus, who gained six positions in the drivers' championship standings ahead of her home race in Zandvoort. Having just secured her first pole position, her first podium and first win in single seaters all in the same weekend, de Heus will be aiming to keep momentum on home soil, also helping Dutch team MP Motorsport to keep the freshly-grabbed championship lead in the team's standings.
“The next race is in Zandvoort – I like the track. It’s not that I’ve been there a lot, but it’s still my home track." – de Heus commented, ahead of her first home race. "I like the two corners with the banking, and also the Scheivlak corner – the downhill one", she explained.
"I’ve been there a couple of times with my dad, we drove together in a TCR and I liked the track a lot."
It will be in fact her first time in a formula car at the Zandvoort 4.259 km circuit; that will not be the case for three other drivers – her MP teammate Hamda Al Qubaisi and Léna Bühler, who both previously raced at the home of the Dutch Grand Prix in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, as well as Abbi Pulling, who raced to a spectacular seventh place in W Series at only her second race in the series. Only Hamda Al Qubaisi has already tackled Zandvoort in F4 machinery, in a one off round in the ADAC F4 Championship in 2021.
An overall short circuit, Zandvoort offers hardly any rest to the drivers, in what is arguably the most physically demanding track on the 2023 F1 Academy calendar. A few banked corners - famously Turn 3 and the long right-hander Turn 14 - add an extra complexity.
The one-month break surely meant plenty of time spent on the simulator, but also a mid-season collective test at Motorland Aragon, where Hamda Al Qubaisi topped the times on both days. Al Qubaisi had a troubled weekend in Barcelona, where she salvaged a second place finish but recorded a DNF on her point's table due to a costly gearbox issue.
Hamda will be clearly one to watch at Zandvoort, as she tries to recover the 41 point gap to Marta Garcia. "In Zandvoort it’s going to be the home race for MP so we want to do well there", Hamda told us. "The track is very physical as well, so it’s a good track to see who can perform – it’s old school."
"It’s very physical, but it’s nice. In F4 I did well there so I hope we can do the same in F1 Academy.”
The nature of the circuit also means a higher load on the tyres, with degradation playing a role during the weekend. By F1 Academy rules, each driver would receiver 3 and a half sets of new tyres throughout the weekend: from this weekend onwards, the series tyre supplier Pirelli will provide two extra new slick tyres per car - meaning four new sets to be managed throughout the 2 practice, 2 qualifying and 3 races.
In Aragon, Abbi Pulling, Marta Garcia and Bianca Bustamante also showed great speed - with the Filipina racer topping the second day afternoon session. Bustamante - already a race winner - might be looking strong for another podium finish at Zandvoort, but the competition for the top five is shaping up to be once again extremely close.
A driver that is making leaps forward is Carrie Schreiner: the 24 year-old German was back on the podium in her return to GT3 machinery in GTC, and is proving to switch from GT to formulas increasingly easier. Schreiner was third fastest in both sessions on day 1 at Aragon - as she gears up for a strong second half of the season.
Weather forecasts in the Netherlands can famously be quite variable, but there should be no rain expected for this weekend's races.
The first practice session is scheduled for Friday morning at 09:40 local time, while a second 30 minute session will get underway at 16:55 in the afternoon.
It's going to be an early wake up call on Saturday, as the two qualifying sessions will go green at 08:00 and 08:20 respectively; Race 1 will follow in the afternoon at 16:30.
On Sunday, two more races are scheduled for 08:40 and 17:25.