She is back: Sophia Floersch returns to FIA F3 with top-20 in Bahrain
"I hope that we can move up into the midfield." – Sophia Floersch made her return to FIA Formula 3 and fought her way into the top-20 in Bahrain, three years after her last single seater race and in an extraordinarily competitive F3 field.
A couple of weeks after collective testing, the Bahrain International Circuit hosted the inaugural round of the FIA Formula 3 season, kicking-off the 2023 campaign alongside Formula 2 and Formula 1. The FIA third-tier series gathered a pool of talents from the top F4 championships, as well as the most exciting drivers of FRECA, resulting in possibly one of the highest level F3 fields to date.
The 2023 entry list features seventeen new faces, with many rookies but also welcomes back some returnees such as Sophia Floersch – who is back in single seaters after focusing on sports car racing in the past couple of years.
Her single seater career started in 2016, when she competed in the ADAC Formula 4 and became the first woman to score points – as well as to step on the podium - in one of the most competitive F4 championships at that time. She then stepped up to the FIA F3 European Championship, before moving to the inaugural season of Formula Regional European Championship, where she finished 7th in the standings and was one of the most consistent drivers in the season.
She graduated to FIA F3 in 2020, alongside a double-program that saw the young German making her endurance racing debut in the European Le Mans Series and at the 24H of Le Mans. In 2021, Floersch competed in WEC and in DTM; especially at the wheel of the LMP2 prototypes, Sophia proved to be extremely fast and grabbed her first podiums in ELMS.
Her interest, though, remained in formula cars and, as soon as the chance arose, Floersch jumped on the opportunity.
"I am very happy to be back in Formula 3", said Sophia, announcing her comeback in Formula 3 just a few days before pre-season testings in Bahrain, where she got the chance to get back to the rhythm and to start working with her new team – PHM Racing by Charouz – also making its debut in the series.
Floersch has also become part of the Alpine Academy, one of the top programs for young drivers climbing the F1 ladder, where the 22-year-old will have the chance to further develop as an elite driver.
At the first round of the championship, fellow Alpine Academy driver Gabriele Minì (Hitech Pulse Eight) snatched pole position in a tight field; Sophia managed to slot in the 24th grid spot, having consistently reduced the gap to the top after practice and signed a 1:48.659.
A different tyre strategy was also highly promising coming into the first two races, on a track that traditionally represents a big challenge on tyre wear.
Unfortunately, Saturday morning's first race wasn't off to a great start for Floersch, who had to start from the pitlane – together with her teammate Piotr Wisnicki – after the team had changed tyres on the grid.
As the lights went out, pole-sitter Franco Colapinto (MP Motorsport) was busy defending from a very fast Pepe Marti (Campos Racing), who attempted a pass for the lead at the start. The Safety Car was quickly deployed when Rafael Villagomez (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Gabriel Bortoleto (Trident) made contact on the opening lap, as the Mexican hit the barriers and ended his race early. The neutralization gave Floersch the opportunity to catch back the pack, effectively starting her race anew after the pit lane start.
At the restart, Colapinto waited until the very last second and, with the field bunched up, contacts were not spared: the Safety car was deployed again after Luke Browning was tagged from behind at turn 1 and had to retire. Floersch navigated through the chaos and made it up to P25.
At the following green flag, Pepe Marti took the lead from Colapinto – whose restarts were placed under investigation – and took his maiden win in the championship. The MP Motorsport driver had to settle for second place and the pair was joined on the podium by Brazilian Caio Collet (Van Amersfoort Racing).
Floersch had a solid race and gained a few more places; in the second half of the race and for a few laps, she lapped almost a second faster than the cars ahead of her, eventually completing her first race since her return to single seaters in P22 out of the 30 entries.
Floesch then had another chance on Sunday morning, as the Feature Race rounded out the weekend at Bahrain International Circuit.
Poleman Gabriele Mini lost the lead to Gabriel Bortoleto, before he tried to hunt back 'the boy from Brazil'.
From 24th on the grid, Floersch had a good getaway and soon started to move up the field, until the Safety car halted the action when Mari Boya's MP Motorsport car had to be recovered after coming to a stop on track. Two laps later, Bortoleto retained the lead from Minì, who was handed a 10 second time penalty for a starting procedure infringement.
Floersch once again had good lap times and had elbows-out battles with drivers such as Barnard and Bedrin, while trying to manage her tyres at the same time.
The fights for positions in the midfield were fierce and Sophia was kept busy throughout the race, engaging in duels that brought the German up to P21.
Another Safety Car was deployed at the end of lap 20, and the race ended under yellow flag conditions: Min' – who had managed to pass Bortoleto and the top-two had pulled away from the rest of the pack – lost the chances to fight for a podium once the penalty was applied and dropped to eighth.
Gabriel Bortoleto therefore took his maiden win in FIA F3, joined on the podium by his teammate Oliver Goethe and by Dino Beganovic (Prema Racing).
21st across the finish line after some good overtakes, Sophia Floersch was promoted to P20 following a few post-race penalties, collecting her first top-20 at her return in the series.
"I am back! I am very happy to be back in FIA Formula 3"
"The team and I collected mainly data in Bahrain and probably also in Melbourne", Sophia told us. "These are now to be analyzed to find out where we lose the so important tenths. Performance and tire understanding must improve."
"The driver field is very strong and close together" – she continued, "I am looking forward to Melbourne and hope that we can move up into the midfield. Thanks to PHM by Charouz, Alpine Academy and WH sports for the good teamwork here."
With the first racing weekend officially in the books, Floersch made the most out of the two races, considering the little track time she has had in the past three years in formula cars.
She significantly closed the gaps, was consistently the fastest out of the three PHM Racing cars and showed her peculiar fighting spirit in the wheel to wheel battles.
FIA Formula 3 will now be back on track at the end of April, at a new venue for the series: Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia.