Maite Càceres makes European debut with two Top-10 finishes
The second round of the brand-new Formula Winter Series featured a growing field and three female drivers on the grid. Despite a very late call, no previous experience of the car and at her European debut, Uruguayan Maite Càceres fought her way up the order and claimed two top-10 finishes.
The second ever round of the Formula Winter Series took place at Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo, with a significantly increased field of now 15 Formula 4 cars on the grid. Swiss racer Tina Hausmann (AKM Motorsport) impressed at her first open-wheel racing weekend of her career, claiming an outstanding podium finish at Jerez last weekend - and was then joined by two more female drivers at Valencia: W Series front-runner Nerea Martí, at her first F4 race since 2019, and Uruguayan up-and-coming star Maite Cáceres.
Both Cáceres and Martí join the ranks of Campos Racing for the upcoming weekend, at the Valencian team's home race.
19-year-old Cáceres made her European debut, having previously contested the F4 US Championship and selected rounds of the USF Juniors series, both on US soil, in 2022. Last year was in fact Maite's rookie season in single seaters, after stepping up from karting.
She is following in both her father and brother's footsteps and, after a few seasons in karting on home soil as well as in the US, Cáceres' first campaign in race cars was marked by a significant progression, as she improved consistently session after session and weekend after weekend in F4 US and USF Juniors.
Cáceres has recently moved to Spain - where she studies chemical engineering - and is therefore exploring the chances to compete in her first international campaign: a very late call to participate in last weekend's Formula Winter Series round was therefore a great opportunity for the young Uruguayan, who drove for the first time the new Tatuus T-421 second generation F4 car.
On Saturday's practice, the drivers used the sessions to get up to speed with the cars, as many of them joined the series for the first time. Certainly not a rookie of the track, local driver Nerea Martí - who also battled for the class and overall title last year in the GT Winter Series - was a consistent presence in the top five in practice - setting the fourth and the third fastest time in the opening practice sessions.
Tina Hausmann and Maite Cáceres learnt the track and were lapping around the top ten.
In qualifying on Sunday morning, though, track limits one of the biggest topics of the weekend: with the whole field being separated by less than 2 seconds - in what turned out to be a very competitive grid - several track limit penalties shaped the grid.
Series newcomer Matteo de Palo (Campos Racing) scored both pole positions, sharing the front row with two-time race winner and Jerez-dominator Kacper Sztuka (US Racing).
Nerea Martí was clearly fast - but struggled to set a clean lap and had most of her times deleted for track limits. At the end of the 30 minute session, Martí managed to qualify in P9, with Hausmann and Càceres just outside the top-ten.
A tight battle at the top of the pack between De Palo and Sztuka at the start of Race 1 saw the Polish driver attempting a pass on the inside of turn 1, but he eventually had to settle behind De Palo. Sztuka, though, had not given up and put pressure on the Italian Campos driver for the whole race, unable to find a way past. Matteo De Palo took victory from Sztuka and Frederik Lund (US Racing), who followed in third.
Nerea Martí had a solid recovery and was able to comeback from ninth to sixth, battling in the final laps with Drivex’s Juan Cota Alonso. Nerea - like several other drivers - had more issues with track limits, and received a five-second time penalty that dropped the Spaniard to seventh. Nevertheless, the multiple-podium finisher in W Series showed good speed and was confident for a better second race.
A slow start off the line hampered the first laps of Maite Càceres, who had to catch back the pack in a clean and uninterrupted first race. Càceres managed to close the gap and, with steady pace, gained positions up to the top-10, finishing her first European race with a promising P10.
Tina Hausmann, on the other hand, had a very unlucky weekend: the Swiss talent was making her way up the order and battled hard, completing some great passes when she unfortunately had a contact at Turn 1 and, despite a pit stop, she eventually retired the car a few laps later.
The afternoon race turned out to be a lot more hectic and incident filled. Pole-sitter De Palo stalled on the grid and dropped down, luckily avoided by the rest of the field. Sztuka took over the lead, followed by US Racing teammate Lund. Further behind, Carl Wattana Bennett (AKM Motorsport) spun, with everyone taking avoiding action. After a remarkable first weekend with Hausmann, the AKM Motorsport team had a troubled weekend in Valencia and both cars recorded early retirements: Hausmann came to a halt on the first lap, bringing out the first Safety Car of the weekend. The Swiss managed to get going again, but her car eventually grinded to a halt once again a lap later.
"In the second race we faced unfortunately a technical issue", Hausmann told us.
"Overall the race weekend did not materialize in a ranking you might qualify as a success. However, it was a weekend rich of expected but also unexpected learning opportunities."
"Being a passionate driver with high expectations on myself, I have to remind myself from time to time that I’m on a journey and can be proud of incremental and continued improvements", said the talented Swiss, who will no doubt bounce back in two weeks. After four Safety Car interruptions for several incidents, US Racing took a dominant 1-2-3 across the finish line: Kacper Sztuka held off Frederik Lund and Gianmarco Pradel after 18 laps of racing. With three wins out of four, the Polish driver extended his lead in the championship ahead of the next round in Navarra. Nerea Martí had a good start and was soon up to sixth place, battling with Cota Alonso and the recovering De Palo. Martí's progression, though, was halted by the several neutralizations; seventh at the chequered flag, two 5-second penalties for track limits infringements inevitably dropped Nerea 12 seconds behind the leader, finishing tenth. Maite Càceres had another very solid race and was possibly one of the most convincing drivers of the weekend. The Uruguayan had another difficult start, but had the chance to recover and pass a few drivers. After good battles, Maite came home with a ninth place in Race 2, rounding out a highly promising debut despite the lack of track time and the last minute call. "It was a last minute invitation from Campos Racing team, for which I thank them as it has allowed me to measure in the European motorsport since I had only raced in America", Càceres said after the weekend. "It was a good weekend for me, happy with the progress in each session. A lot learned and it was nice to get two top 10s in my first time here with this car." - she concluded. It was Càceres' best result in F4 machinery, having previously finished eleventh in USF Juniors and 12th in F4 US. Formula Winter Series will return for the third and penultimate round of its inaugural season in two weeks' time, as more teams are expected to join the grid at Navarra from 3rd to 5th March.