Léna Bühler gains 7 positions in FRECA Monaco race to secure her first top20 of the season
At only her second weekend in the series after an injury, Swiss racer Léna Bühler gained seven positions in her first Monaco race - securing her first top-20 of the season in the massively competitive Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine.
Monaco GP. That's one race that every racing driver dreams about since his/her karting days.
One of those tracks that take driving skills, focus, commitment and bravery to a whole new level.
On the F1 calendar since the series inception in 1950, the Monaco GP has been missing only in 2020 due to the extraordinary challenges posed by the global pandemic. We all grasped how much we truly missed it when cars hit the most famous 3.337 km of street tarmac on Thursday again. The sight of formula cars cutting through the scenery, inches from the guard rails is something that any motoring enthusiast has to witness live at least once in his/her life.
Supporting the most glamorous Formula 1 GP of the season was again the newly-formed Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, entering its third round of the 2021 season - and the third race meeting as part of the F1 weekend.
Spaniard Belén García started the season in Imola as the only female racer on the grid and was joined at her home track at Barcelona by Swiss rookie Léna Bühler.
Announced by G4 Racing for a partial campaign in preparation of the all-female W Series, García made significant progress throughout the first two race meetings but was unable to capitalize on her pace due to a series of unfortunate incidents at the Catalan venue.
Bühler, after just one season in single-seaters in the Spanish F4, made her step up to F3 machinery in the uber-competitive Formula Regional and signed for R-Ace GP. The talented driver, though, suffered a testing crash in the very first collective test at Imola. A double fracture in her right hand meant that Bühler was out for the full testing program at Imola, Le Castellet and Barcelona.
With the merging of Formula Regional European Championship and Formula Renault Eurocup, the over 30-car grid of the new Alpine-sponsored series might well represent the highest-level F3 championship worldwide. And, with such a reduced mileage under her belt, Bühler had a mountain to climb at her series debut.
After two solid races, though, Léna was P25 and P27 at Montmelo: her pace improved session after session and the 23-year old driver managed to overtake some of her more experienced competitors.
With García unavailable due to her W Series testing commitments in Wales, Léna Bühler tackled the mighty streets of Monaco as the only female driver this weekend. In the only practice session on Thursday, she slotted into P31 out of the 33 entries. In qualifying, the Swiss racer ended up in Group A - as the series had to adapt the Monaco GP format due to the crowded field.
Drivers were in fact divided in two groups, with the fastest lap overall setting pole position and the positions in each group making up the rows of the grid.
Frenchman Isack Hadjar claimed pole in the first group, while it was R-Ace GP teammate Zane Maloney to top the second session. Bühler was 16th fastest in group 1 - which granted her a slot in 27th position for Race 1, but was unfortunately not enough to qualify for Race 2 on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Bühler logged crucial laps and was mistake-free throughout the whole weekend. "Incredible to drive on this beautiful and technical track." - she commented after her first day of running in the Tatuus T-318 car between the unforgiving walls of Monaco. "The pace is increasing, it's not easy to come back in these conditions, but we continue to work hard."
When the 28 cars went on the grid for Saturday’s Race 1, the track conditions were still very tricky due to overnight showers. The previous Formula 2 race was in fact contested on a wet track, but the teams all opted to send the drivers out on slicks.
Hadjar lined up on pole alongside Maloney on the front row, with Paul Aron and Hadrien David following them on the second row.
Argentinian Franco Colapinto was missing from the grid as he retired from the weekend after being disqualified from qualifying for a technical infringement. The MP Motorsport driver decided to pull out of the meeting.
Léna Bühler took the start from P27, one place ahead of Alessandro Famularo, after the G4 drivers had endured a rough day on Thursday with both Famularo and Gnos hitting the barriers.
At the lights out, all the field got away cleanly through Saint Devote; Isack Hadjar held off Maloney in a R-Ace GP 1-2, ahead of Aron, David and Pasma.
ART GP's David was held up by Aron, but could not find a way past the Estonian on the notoriously hard track to pass. The battle for third, though, would remain the closest, as Hadjar soon signed off and pulled away from Maloney - the two front runners having opened a gap from the rest of the pursuers.
Eduardo Barrichello (JD Motorsport) pulled into the pitlane after only two laps for technical troubles. The Brazilian would later rejoin several laps down, but ultimately retired.
Léna Bühler had a positive start of her race and managed to move up four positions in the opening stages.
Jasin Ferati hit the barrier and stopped on track with left-rear suspension damage. Compatriot Axel Gnos also had a moment under braking at the Nouvelle Chicane, but he could save the car from hitting the guard rail.
Bühler, who was a few seconds behind Gnos, temporarily lost 23rd place to Oliver Goethe.
16-year old Hadjar was unreachable and he could open an over 5 second gap to Maloney -but, with 14 minutes to go, the leader saw his advantage disappear when Brad Benavides tagged Nicola Marinangeli at the chicane and the Italian reversed back into the wall, requiring the intervention of the Safety Car.
After only one lap behind the pace car, the race went back to green with Hadjar having another great restart. In the midfield, battles were fierce: Rosso and Bortoleto had a little tangle and both the Brazilian and Ten Brinke then tumbled down the order.
Championship leader Gregoire Saucy was deep into the tricky section of Sainte Devote and had to wait for the whole pack to go by, rejoining at the tail-end of the group.
Léna Bühler had a great run and continued to gain positions: she moved into P21, before breaking into the top-20 when Benavides pitted for a new front wing.
After 21 laps, Hadjar took a masterful win around Monaco at his first ever participation: the Frenchman preceded Zane Maloney by over 7 seconds despite the race neutralization. Behind them, Paul Aron (Prema Powerteam) held off David for the podium, with Pasma finishing fifth. Quinn, Vidales, Alatalo, Boya and Mini rounded out the top ten.
Léna Bühler was 20th across the finish line after a remarkable recovery - gaining seven places from her starting position. By doing so, she secured her first top-20 of the season at only her second race weekend.
Despite not being able to take the start to Race 2 on Sunday, Bühler's performance proves her constant improvements in the series, ahead of the next round at Paul Ricard, France, next week.