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  • Writer's pictureVIVIEN STREBELOW

Mathilda Paatz twice in the Top-20 at F4 debut

While conditions were tricky for a single seater debut - with mixed weather and even a cancelled race due to rain - Mathilda Paatz made up positions on her F4 debut, securing a double top-20 at Nogaro and collecting important experience at the FFSA F4 opener.

Mathilda Paatz, FFSA French F4, 2024 Nogaro
Photo credits: KSP Reportages

The 2024 French Formula 4 went underway in Nogaro last weekend, following their traditional start of the season at Nogaro since 2017. Nine drivers will return to the championship in 2024 - such as Yani Stevenheydens and Leonardo Megna. No female drivers have been competing in the French series since 2021, when Angelina Favario made her single seater debut. In 2024, the FFSA F4 will mark the return of a female participant with the entry of German karting star Mathilda Paatz, who joined the ADAC Formula 4 Junior Team alongside Montego Maassen.

After an international karting career, Paatz in fact made her car racing debut, in what will be her first year of single seaters. She will be aiming to adapt and learn the tracks as well as the Mygale chassis, which are powered by a 180-hp, 1.3-litre turbo engine from Renault. The series - unlike most F4 national championships - is run centrally by FFSA and provides the drivers with equal opportunities and transparent costs. Formula 1 supplier Pirelli is tyre partner of the junior series.

After a soaking wet practice session, qualifying was brightened by some sun shining through the Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro, which traditionally hosts the season opener of the FFSA championship on the Easter weekend. Yani Stevenheydens set the fastest laps to earn both pole positions for the upcoming races; the session, though, was halted by a red flag for a couple of minutes to recover the car driven by Paul Roques who got stuck in the gravel at turn three.

Mathilda Paatz clocked a best lap of 1:28.005 which put her in 22nd for race one, while her second best lap of 1:28.218 was enough for 21st for the grid of race 3, after the German racer hit some troubles with track limits at turn 9 on her fastest lap.

"Tricky day in France '', she commented. "With the mixed conditions in the practice it was hard to prepare for the qualifying. Still the qualifying was quite good but unfortunately my best lap time got deleted due to track limits."

In Race 1, Stevenheydens led the field into the first lap and pulled away quickly, followed by Taito Kato who passed Jules Caranta at the end of lap 1. They managed to quickly build a six second gap to Caranta behind, who then had a train of cars behind him - especially Dylan Estre, Jason Leung and Rayan Caretti.

A tricky start - which saw a glitch in the starting lights - saw Paatz losing two positions on the first lap, but from there the young rookie kept her head down and started to hunt down her rivals to make up ground. On lap 2 she passed Tom Le Brech, who had gained positions at the start. One lap later, she had cleared Roques and Ruiz Porte, who then retired.

Running under the 1:30s mark, her pace was progressively more competitive and Mathilda gained one more position on lap 7, picking up P19 as Dorison fell down the order.

While she couldn't put all her sectors together, she recorded a 1:28.137 on lap 9, which would remain her personal best in the race.

Now chasing Eduard Borgna, Paatz collected valuable experience in the midfield battles in the closing stages of the race and she gained 18th on lap 13, although she would eventually lose out to Arjun Chheda on the final lap. Nevertheless, a good recovery drive still resulted in a positive P19, gaining three spots from her starting position.

Ahead, the order remained unchanged and Stevenheydens scored his first victory of the season ahead of Kato and Caranta who managed to hold on to third place.

"Lights not working made for an interesting Race 1", Mathilda commented, "managed to make up three places despite a tricky start and finished P19."

Race 2 was cut short, as the contest was red flagged after just three laps behind the safety car due to heavy rain and the dangerous conditions didn't allow for a restart. With no green flags laps completed, the race was effectively cancelled and no points would be awarded.

"Second race went swimmingly, like literally – got cancelled because of the rain, instead of racing action we got rainbows" - she wrote.

Drivers returned to the track on Monday morning, now in fully dry conditions for race 3. Stevenheydens led the field from pole once again - but this time he was a bit too fast off the line, as he jumped the start and earned a five second penalty which would be added to his race time at the end of the race.

However he pulled away quickly to open a gap - but soon the safety car was out on track when Roques hit the barriers.

At the restart, the Belgian was unchallenged and started to set fastest lap after fastest lap to build up a gap again. Luck, though, wasn't on his side as the safety car made yet another appearance for a multi-car accident and the action could just resume for one final lap - which stripped Stevenheydens of his gap and ultimately of the race win, having dropped down to seventh. Caranta inherited the victory, ahead of Rayan and Kato.

It was another positive race for Mathilda Paatz, who took the start from P21 in the strong field. While she fell to P22 at the end of the first lap, she passed Romeo Leurs on lap 2, before the first neutralization. Having gained one place to Doyle-Parfait, she had a strong restart and set her fastest lap in 1:29.060, while battling in the pack.

Steadily in the top-20, Paatz kept her nose clean and made no mistakes, which resulted in more places being gained on lap 9, when she could advance to 17th. She held position at the final restart and brought home another very solid top-20, ultimately moving further up to P16 after O'Gready was handed a drive through penalty.

On her Formula 4 debut, Paatz secured a double top-20 and was close to breaking into the top-15 in the third race; with improved qualifying, Mathilda might not be far off the top half of the pack, as she continues to gather crucial mileage.

The next FFSA F4 event will take place from 10th to 12th May at Lédenon Circuit. 



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