FIA F3: Sophia Floersch debuts in Austrian race 1
The long wait is over: Sophia Floersch makes her official race debut in FIA Formula 3 for team Campos.
It still feels unreal to be finally witnessing to the start of the F1 championship this weekend, as the Austrian Grand Prix plays host to the first round of the delayed 2020 season.
And, just like the pinnacle of motorsport, its feeder series also made their on-track return. The FIA Formula 2 and Formula 3 championships feature some of the most extraordinary grids this year, with a level of talent probably unmatched in the recent history of the two series. Making her official race debut this week in Austria was German star Sophia Floersch: the 19-year old driver from Munich finished seventh in last year's Formula Regional European Championship and was the only driver - together with series dominator Frederick Vesti - to finish every race within the top-10.
Floersch returned to Macau in November, entering the most famous F3 race on the same streets that saw her scary accident one year before. Sophia had good pace in Macau but was stopped by a gearbox isseu, as the German raced for her long time partner team HWA. It was no secret that Floersch targeted a FIA F3 seat for the 2020 season, but could only reach a late deal with the Campos team close to pre-season testing in Bahrain, before the COVID-19 outbreak brought the world to a halt.
"For me it's a new chapter with Campos Racing, it's the first year with them, we just had those three test days in Bahrain in March, but I'm really happy to be with the team." - said Floersch on Thursday during an instagram live session. "They have a really long history and you can feel the ambition and the dedication in the team."
"For me it's the rookie year, my first year in FIA F3 and especially now, after the lockdown and so much time not driving, it'll be interesting [to see what we can do], but the goal is to improve, to learn a lot, hopefully to get one or two top-10 finishes and show good pace. To get better at qualifying is probably my main focus point for the season." - she explained, taking about her expectations for her debut.
For the first time in the history of F1, the Austrian Red Bull Ring hosted the season opener - a track that Floersch enjoys: "This feels like my home track, it's 3-and-a-half hours away, so it's the closest track on the calendar. It's in between the mountains and the layout is amazing - it has got slow corners but also quick corners, especially in sector two and three. It's nice to be here again."
When the cars finally hit the track on Friday morning, drivers found wet conditions in the first half of the session, while the tarmac increasingly dried up in the final runs and everyone switched to slick tyres. The session was topped by David Beckmann, who made his series return for team Trident and led Piastri and Stanek.
Floersch was steadily in the midfield and ended her first official session in the series in P18. Her best lap of 1:21.821 was 0.064 seconds adrift of Alex Peroni, Sophia's more experienced teammate in the Spanish squad.
Qualifying proved more challenging for the only woman in the whole F1, F2 and F3 fields. After the 30 minutes session, she slotted-in in P28 after a DRS malfunction: "Due to a technical issue my DRS was not working in Quali which put me on P28." - she wrote.
"Red Bull Ring got 3 DRS zones so that’s some time you’re loosing per lap."
The Austrian track had proven tricky for Floersch in qualifying last year as well, when the young German had to start all the three F.Regional races from the back of the grid for technical issues. Coincidentally, it was also one of the best weekends for Floersch in 2019, as she completed stunning recoveries to finish P6, P6 and P5.
Under clear skies and a nice weather, the drivers lined up on the grid for the first race day of the season on Saturday morning. Right before the start, Jake Hughes (fifth in qualifying) hit troubles and had to start from the pitlane, while Alessio Deledda managed to start from the grid after reporting issues seconds ahead of the formation lap. The Italian later received a stop and go penalty for his mechanics being on the grid after the last signal.
When the lights went out, polesitter Sebastian Fernandez had a slow getaway, which allowed Lirim Zendeli to quickly move into the lead. Oscar Piastri also had a great start and went side-by-side with Fernandez into Turn one, making contact with the poleman. Fernandez spun into the gravel and soon retired.
At Turn 3, Piastri went into the lead and never looked back. After the first hectic lap, it was Piastri, Zendeli, Sargeant, Peroni and Vesti in the top 5.
Zendeli found himself defending from a group of faster cars behind, as Sargeant and Peroni found a way past the German on lap 6. Three laps later, Formula Regional reigning champion Frederick Vesti overtook Zendeli as well, also signing the fastest lap so far.
These battles allowed Piastri to build a comfortable lead of over three seconds.
Behind, Sophia Floersch battled and swapped positions with Enaam Ahmed for 27th position, before the Brit managed to advance ahead of Dunner, Schumacher and Nannini. Sophia moved past Nannini as well and then spent the vast majority of the race battling with her compatriot Schumacher. With almost identical pace, Floersch made a move stick for P25, but Schumacher responded back on lap 23, when tyre degradation dropped their performances.
There was some more action among the front runners in the closing stages, when Peroni got closer to second-placed Sargeant, but the American better managed his tyres and seemed more competitive in the last laps, when he got under the 2 seconds gap from leader Piastri.
Formula Renault Eurocup champion Oscar Piastri took the chequered flag to become the 2020 first race winner, followed by Prema teammate Logan Sargeant. Alex Peroni was an extraordinary third, making his racing return after his enormous accident in Monza last year.
Vesti led Zendeli and Lawson, while free practice pace-setter Beckmann was seventh, one place ahead of Macau winner Richard Verschoor.
Clement Novalak (P10) will start tomorrow's race from reverse-grid pole, as the grid inversion was extended to top ten rather than top-8 this year. He will start alongside Smolyar.
Floersch completed her first FIA Formula 3 race in P26 and will look forward to her first top-20 in the series tomorrow. Race 2 from the Red Bull Ring will get underways on Sunday 5th July at 09:45 CET.
In Sophia's words:
"It's nice to be here again."