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  • Writer's pictureVIVIEN STREBELOW

Jandová, Olkucka and Sabaj make promising debut in F4 CEZ at Balaton Park

The Central European F4 (CEZ) season started at Balaton Park with a 21% female presence on the grid: all making their step up from karting, Michalina Sabaj, Michelle Jandová and Kornelia Olkucka showed promising pace and battled for the points in every race.

Formula 4 CEZ, Balaton Park, Hungary
Photo credits: Petr Fryba / F4 CEZ

The F4 CEZ (Central European Zone) season 2024 got underway at the new Balaton Park circuit in Hungary with three female drivers on the grid, as the series attracted a strong 14 cars field for the first event of the year. Female participation was therefore 21% of the entire field - and all of the three women would be contesting their first race in single seaters.

Czech driver Michelle Jandová made the leap from karting to formula cars teaming up with SAPE Motorsport team. The 18-year-old previously competed in National and Continental karting competitions, mainly in the Easykart categories. She achieved notable results in the Moravia Cup and Czech Championship, before later crossing the borders, where she impressed in the highly competitive environment of the Italian championship.

Kornelia Olkucka made her Formula 4 debut having announced a deal with Swiss team Maffi Racing. The 20 year old from Poland started competitive karting at the age of 14, racing in the Junior category of the Rotax Max Challenge Poland series. She then moved to the senior category and has most recently competed in the DD2 class of the Rotax Max Challenge Poland Cup, gaining experience and moving up the ranks in Polish as well as Central and Eastern Europe championship. In 2022, Olkucka represented Poland at the second edition of the FIA Motorsport Games, in the karting endurance discipline. She tested a F4 car for the first time in August 2023 and started a training programme with Maffi Racing in order to get ready for her F4 debut in the 2024 Central European championship.

Similarly, 20-year-old Michalina Sabaj has been climbing the karting ladder both on home soil in Poland and on the European scene, including outings in Italy, Belgium and Hungary. In 2019, she was among the winners of the FIA Women in Motorsport's Girls On Track Karting Challenge initiative; she then won the ROK Cup Poland in the Master category in 2021 - and was a front runner in the ROK Cup World Final in Lonato in the same year. The young Polish racer carried out a testing program in F4 machinery - in both the first generation Tatuus and then the new T421 car, before joining AS Motorsport for her F4 debut.

The races

Returning reigning champion Ethan Ischer (Jenzer Motorsport) was the star of the weekend, winning two out of the three races at Balaton Park. Due to his wild card status, he was not eligible for points but nevertheless showed his pace and battled with Oscar Wurz (Jenzer Motorsport), close on his tail. The latter now leads the championship after the first round.

Race 1 and 2 followed the same plot, with Ischer leading, then defending for the remaining time from Wurz - who would eventually not find a way past the Swiss driver. Both finished first and second in the opening two races, ahead of Shimo Zhan (Jenzer Motorsport) third in race 1 and Kirill Kutskov (Maffi Racing) in race 2.

The latter - already one of the protagonists of the inaugural F4 Saudi Championship - took his first win in the last race of the weekend: from reverse grid pole, he managed to convert that into the lead and survived a safety car neutralization when Olkucka and Sabaj to score his first victory in the series, preceding Wurz in second and Ischer in third.

Photo credits: Petr Fryba / F4 CEZ

From the practice sessions, the three female drivers made improvements and progressively moved up the ranks up until qualifying, when they were just outside the top ten. Olkucka was the fastest, having set a 1:40.488 that placed her in P11. She preceded compatriot Sabaj by 0.073 of a second; Jandová was a little over three tenths behind.

Race 1 saw Michalina Sabaj had an issue on the formation lap and, while she couldn't take the start from her grid slot, she managed to get away from last on the grid. Nevertheless, she recovered well and, while she initially finished in the top ten in P9, a post race penalty for incorrect grid positioning demoted her to P12.

Kornelia had a brilliant first race and, running with a good pace, she battled throughout the race solidly in the top ten. While she was set to bring home a potential eighth place on her car racing debut, a contact with Sabaj unfortunately dropped her down the order and out of the points, in P14.

"Unfortunately, my debut in F4 was bitter, I was doing great throughout the race", she commented. "On the last lap I was pushed by another competitor, I spun around and lost my chance for the podium. Well, that's motorsport." - Olkucka stated, mentioning the female trophy podium lost in the final stages.

Michelle Jandová had a solid run and, by keeping it clean, she finished tenth in the first race - thus picking up the pieces from the contact ahead of her and the subsequent penalties. She therefore became the first female driver to score points in Formula 4 CEZ.

It was then Michalina Sabaj's time to shine in race 2, as she finished 8th overall and first in the female trophy category, adding herself to the points table. Jandová unfortunately made a mistake in the first laps and got stuck into the gravel, and was out of the race.

The incident triggered the safety car and, following another off track at the restart, a red flag was deployed for barrier repairs.

Kornelia Olkucka once again showed great pace but was pursued by bad luck and finished in P11, having run until the final laps in P9.

"The second race [was] full of unpredictable events - the rival in front of me lost a tire, which results in my sudden braking and loss of position, besides the neutralizations and the red flag did not give us space for a real fight", she summed up. "My mistake at the end of the race, so I drop by one point and finish 11th."

Race 3 was one to forget for the three female drivers - especially as Olkucka and Sabaj made contact once again on track. Sabaj was putting pressure on Olkucka and ended up making contact with the back of the Maffi Racing car ahead, dislodging its rear wing.

With Sabaj stuck in the run off, Olkucka tried to drive away but with no rear downforce she soon found the gravel. The safety car was deployed and both drivers retired from the race with 20 minutes left on the clock.

As a result of the accident, Sabaj will receive a three grid penalty for the next race at the Red Bull Ring.

Michelle Jandová restarted in P11 and eventually brought it home in 12th place, taking again the best female driver over the race award - and completing every race lap, as she built experience and put mileage under her belt.

Despite some unfortunate circumstances, it was a positive debut for all of the three drivers: Jandová proved to be a solid driver, as she capitalized in two out of three races. Olkucka and Sabaj are both on very similar pace and able to score points with consistency already; while this ended in collisions on the first weekend, they will be aiming to work on the positives and convert their speed into more points in the upcoming rounds.

The next race meeting of the F4 CEZ will take place at the Red Bull Ring from 18th to 19th May, with all three drivers confirmed on the grid.

Photo credits: Petr Fryba / F4 CEZ



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