improvements for Lena Bühler in FRECA race 2 despite difficult weekend at Red Bull Ring
Swiss racer Léna Bühler had a difficult weekend at Red Bull Ring, but after an unlucky retirement in Race 1, she showed improved pace in Race 2, ahead of the Valencia round.
At the Red Bull Ring, one of the most popular racing destinations in Europe, Formula Regional European Championship returned to the track over a month after the Spa Francorchamps meeting. The series has raced at the Austrian venue since its inception in 2019, often providing spectacular racing and high profile winners, such as Frederik Vesti, Gianluca Petecof and Oliver Rasmussen. In 2019, Sophia Floersch scored at this track her first fastest lap in the series - as she went on to finish fifth after starting from the back of the grid.
The 2021 season has been so far dominated by ART GP's Gregoire Saucy, whose seven victories so far gave the Swiss driver a consistent lead in the championship over his closest pursuer, Frenchman Hadrien David (R-ace GP). The French outfit has also managed to elevate Zane Maloney and Isack Hadjar to third and fourth in the standings, with reigning Italian F4 champion Gabriele Minì being the best placed Prema driver in fifth.
Among the 33-car field - one of the most competitive single-seater championships in the world, featuring drivers with relevant F3 experience as well as some of the most promising rookies in motor racing - is Léna Bühler: the young Swiss woman is contesting her first season in F3 machinery and only her second season in formula cars, after a remarkable campaign in Spanish F4 in 2020.
Bühler had a rough start to her season, having injured her hand in a testing accident in Imola that forced the rookie to miss all pre-season testing. The incident surely had a big impact on the first rounds of the season, as could only join the field at the second race meeting in Barcelona, with very limited mileage.
Despite the difficulties, Bühler had a positive debut at Montmelo - a track where she had finished in the top-5 in the Spanish F4 - before heading to the most famous street circuit in the world, Monaco. There, Bühler had her best finish in the series to date, with a remarkable 20th place after gaining seven places from her starting position.
It would be from the Paul Ricard round that Léna would start to struggle more - but with a solid first race in Zandvoort she bounced back and moved up the field. It would be another mixed weekend at Spa Francorchamps, ahead of the Austrian round.
On Saturday morning, Bühler qualified in 31st place, with Franco Colapinto (MP Motorsport) scoring his first pole position of the season ahead of Hadrien David in a last-minute swap of positions in a fought Q1.
At the lights out, Colapinto got away well and led from David, Aron and Quinn. Léna Bühler also had a good launch and was in the mix at Turn 1 when she locked up and hit Tommy Smith (JD Motorsport) and José Garfias (Monolite Racing) - the latter making his FRECA debut this weekend.
Unfortunately, it was the end of Race 1 for Smith and Bühler, both with suspension damage.
Léna would later receive a three place grid drop for the incident.
The Safety Car turned off its lights and the race restarted on lap 4: with the drivers following each other closely but never enough to attempt a pass, it turned out to be a rather uneventful first race. Spa race winner Michael Belov (G4 Racing) was among the only drivers able to move up the order, as the Russian passed both Alatalo and Bortoleto to finish sixth.
It was a frustrating return to Formula Regional to the 2020 champion Gianluca Petecof: the Brazilian had troubles in qualifying and ultimately retired in the pitlane. Kas Haverkort also retired, with engine issues that would force the MP Motorsport crew to an engine change overnight.
Franco Colapinto managed to extend his lead by over 1 second on lap 11, but soon after David was back behind his tail. When the Frenchman was looking more menacing and seemed able to attempt an attack for the win, Alexandre Bardinon parked his FA Racing Tatuus T318 car in the run-off, forcing the race direction to deploy the Safety Car.
With only 3 minutes left on the clock, the race would end with the neutralization.
Colapinto took his first championship win this season, ahead of Hadrien David and Paul Aron. Alex Quinn held off the championship leader Saucy to finish fourth, preceding Belov and Bortoleto. The Brazilian's performance also gained him the win in the rookies' class.
Alatalo, Maloney and Hadjar rounded out the top10, but Hadjar would later receive a 2 place penalty, promoting Mari Boya (MP Motorsport) to tenth and to the final point.
Franco Colapinto was unstoppable at the Red Bull Ring and took a back-to-back pole position on Sunday morning, edging Gregoire Saucy and Gabriel Bortoleto - once again in good shape. Belov lined up alongside the Brazilian on the second row of the grid. After a better Q2, Bühler was thousandths of a second adrift the cars in front and she started P32 having received the penalty for the previous day's incident. The session was dominated by track limits violations: almost 20 drivers had their laps deleted. Among them, also Léna Bühler, who had her last lap cancelled for track limits at Turn 9. Haverkort started from the pitlane after the engine change and José Garfias stalled on the formation lap and also had to take the start from the pits. It was again a good getaway for Colapinto, followed by Saucy up the hill at the first corner. Zane Maloney had a great launch and went side by side with Belov and David - the Russian moved to the left and squeezed David, who went off into the barriers once they had made contact. Both were out of the race and the Safety Car was deployed. Léna Bühler hadan impressive start and managed to avoid the chaos, slotting into P27 once the pace car freezed the action. Colapinto was safely in the lead once the green flag waved again, but Saucy, Bortoleto and Maloney fought closely for the podium positions. Emidio Pesce went off in the gravel, but rejoined at the back of the pack - as well as Nicola Marinangeli, who nevertheless lost just a few places. Dino Beganovic moved up to sixth place from eleventh on the grid. On the other hand, Aron struggled to recover after he had his lap times deleted in qualifying and had to start from P17. Bühler continued her run with improved pace and fought around P29, close to the pack. With 13 minutes to go, teammates Zane Maloney and Isack Hadjar battled for fifth position: Maloney covered the inside after an attack on the main straight, and Hadjar went wide at Turn 3 as he tried another move soon after. The mistake cost him a bit of momentum and Maloney managed to hold on to P5. In another entertaining battle, Vidales overtook Minì for the final point in P10. Bühler made a small mistake at Turn 3 and went wide, allowing back past Pesce. She retained P29, though, as Bardinon dropped back. In the final stages, Colapinto and Saucy pulled away from the third-placed FA Racing's car of Bortoleto; the championship leader tried to close in for a late move, but the Argentinian made no mistakes all weekend long. Oliver Goethe passed Ido Cohen and Gianluca Petecof with a spectacular move around the outside at Turn 3, with two wheels on the grass - gaining him 14th place on the penultimate lap. After 21 laps of the 4.318 km-long Red Bull Ring, Franco Colapinto claimed his second win of the weekend and of the season, preceding Gregoire Saucy and Gabriel Bortoleto, who stepped on the podium for the first time this season and was again the best placed rookie. Maloney, Hadjar and Beganovic rounded out the top6. Léna Bühler made progress and was P29 across the finish line, having significantly reduced the gap session after session. The Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine will now head to Valencia in two week's time for the eighth round of the season. The Ricardo Tormo circuit was added to the calendar after the cancellation of the Nurburgring event and will provide Bühler with a chance to make further progress, on a track where she previously raced in the Spanish F4.