FRECA: Léna Bühler ends maiden F3 campaign on a high with Monza recovery
Swiss driver Léna Bühler completed her first season in F3 on a high with a solid recovery in Monza race 2, where she scored her second-best finish of the season.
After a long season spent on some of the most iconic European racing venues, Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine headed to Autodromo Nazionale di Monza for its 2021 season finale.
Coming off an important learning-oriented season and among one of the most competitive grids in feeder series globally, Swiss racer Léna Bühler was ready to end her rookie year in F3 machinery with the aim of continuing to build on her experience for the next steps of her racing career.
Her weekend at Monza started with a few technical hiccups on the test day on Thursday, which prevented her from running on new tyres.
Unfortunately, this adds to an engine issue that translates in a lack of straight line speed, which the Swiss driver has been battling since the Spa Francorchamps round.
Still, she managed to end the first practice sessions ahead of a few competitors and improved by half a second between the two sessions.
Bühler closed the day in P32. Axel Gnos and Emidio Pesce rounded out the field.
Despite the weather forecast had predicted a fully wet Saturday, a few shy sun rays appeared in the sky over Monza, allowing the 36 drivers to fight for Race 1's pole position in a very competitive 25 minute dry session.
Frenchman Hadjar set the pace ahead of teammate Zane Maloney – but it would be Hadrien David to score the first pole position of the weekend, followed by Saucy on the front row.
Colapinto – who had sat out FP2 due to a big shunt in FP1 – clinched the third grid slot, while a strong final lap allowed Brazilian Gabriel Bortoleto to place his #85 FA Racing car into P4 – in an incredibly tight grid entirely covered by 1.6 seconds. Léna Bühler was consistently ahead of Pesce and Bardinon throughout the session, but despite improving in the final minutes, she ended the session in P35 and was forced to a comeback in Race 1.
Zane Maloney was successively penalised and lost two positions on the grid, promoting Rosso and Hadjar on the third row.
On Saturday afternoon, Formula Regional by Alpine's first race of the weekend saw the green lights under grey skies – but rain was once again not to be seen for the entire 30 minute race.
Hadrien David had a great start and retained the lead coming into the challenging Turn 1; the famous Prima Variante didn't prove as tricky as usual and the whole field went by unscathed.
In the following corners, Franco Colapinto completed a great move to strip Saucy of second place, while Italian Andrea Rosso and Gabriele Mini were forced to an early retirement after making contact.
Hadjar started to put pressure on Bortoleto and overtook the Brazilian on lap 3. Bortoleto would soon lose another position to Maloney and had to defend from the attacks of Dino Beganovic, as the latter eventually got by at Ascari.
Léna Bühler ran a consistent first few laps and moved up to P30, having passed Konsta Lappalainen, Emidio Pesce and Eduardo Barrichello – the latter starting on wet tyres hoping for a sudden rain shower.
Prema's duo Vidales and Aron fought for P8, also joined by VAR’s Mari Boya. The Spaniard left the top ten after being pushed off by Aron at Prima Variante and successively had to retire.
Leading the pack, David accumulated over a second advantage, but had to watch his mirrors from the return of Saucy, who moved to second after overtaking Colapinto on lap 9 at Parabolica. The Argentinian had a difficult second half of the race and lost his third place to Isack Hadjar after putting a wheel on the gravel that opened the door to Zane Maloney.
Léna's lap times improved as the race went on and caught up with the group in front.
With an optimistic move, Vidales forced Colapinto to the gravel and allowed Paul Aron to make up one more spot. Under Hadjar's pressure, Gregoire Saucy made a mistake on Lap 15 and the French driver advanced to second, while ahead David looked comfortable with a perfect run.
The R-Ace GP masterpiece materialized on the final lap, when Zane Maloney overtook Saucy at Turn 1 and later defended to take the final spot of the podium.
Léna Bühler finished in P30 after a solid run. She finished ahead of Eduardo Barrichello and recovered six places from her starting position.
The second qualifying session was contested in fully wet conditions. Dino Beganovic took pole position ahead of teammates Vidales and Aron, in a Prema 1-2-3. Isack Hadjar was the highest-placed R-Ace GP driver. Léna Bühler lined up in P35 for the final race of the season. The season finale was started behind the Safety Car due to the changeable weather conditions and it proved to be drama-filled. The green flag was waved on lap 2 and, while Beganovic retained the lead, Vidales and Saucy cut across the run off at the second chicane; the Spaniard held on to second, but the crowned champion dropped a few places. Bühler had a good start and overtook Bardinon in the first lap – then skillfully avoided all the chaos unfolding in front of her. Andrea Rosso spun on lap 3 at La Roggia and the Safety Car made its return to the track after Ido Cohen crashed under braking at the second chicane. Positions at the top of the standings were unchanged, with Beganovic leading Vidales, Aron, Hadjar and David. At the restart, Vidales pushed off Aron at Turn 1 but the Estonian racer took the escape road and continued. Bortoleto had also spun at the first corner following contact with Pesce. While cutting across the run-off at La Roggia, Maloney and Pasma went for same spot of runoff and Pasma hit the barriers. The accident required the intervention of the extrication team due to pain in the Finnish driver’s arm and a lengthy red flag followed. But the action was short-lived: once the cars went back out on track, Vidales and Beganovic battled for the lead going into the second chicane and Vidales, having cut across the run-off, was launched into the air by the sausage kerb, then hitting at speed Beganovic. Both crashed in the barriers before Lesmo 1, and the whole field had to take evasive action. Marinangeli went off as he avoided the slowing Barrichello. The two heavily damaged Premas required once again the intervention of the Safety Car and the race was ultimately called behind the pace car. Isack Hadjar took his second win of the season, preceding Paul Aron and Hadrien David. Kas Haverkort scored his best result in the series with fourth place, ahead of Gabriele Minì, Franco Colapinto and Zane Maloney. Léna Bühler always had good restarts and kept her nose clean to finish P23, gaining 12 places. It was her second best-result of the season, after a P20 on the streets of Monaco. Despite the expected challenges of one of the world’s top feeder series, Bühler laid the foundations for her next steps in motor racing, as we are eager to learn her plans for 2022.