Sophia Floersch: the first woman to collect points in FIA Formula 3
History was made at Spa-Francorchamps, as Sophia Floersch became the first woman to score points in FIA Formula 3 - on a weekend where weather was so unpredictable that the chances of making mistakes were higher than ever. Yet Sophia stormed through the field in both races, claiming a breakthrough seventh place.
Just one week after the thrilling weekend at the Hungaroring, it was time to tackle the iconic Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, which hosted the FIA Formula 3 Championship for its penultimate round of the season. The Belgian track is known for his legacy, as it's one of the most well known and challenging venues in the world, often labelled as "the university" of motor racing. For young drivers on the F1 support series it often provides an opportunity to challenge themselves on some of the most tricky corners in the season.
This year, the whole F1 circus had to deal with the unpredictable weather that characterized the whole weekend: weather forecast around the Ardennes is always a challenge in itself, and while everyone was ready to hit the track in dry conditions, it started to pour. Or, on the contrary, when teams expected heavy rain, the sun kept on shining. These conditions made strategies unpredictable and extremely difficult, as conditions changed by the minute. But in the end, it was all worth it: Spa delivered some of the most incredible races of the season.
Sophia Floersch was the protagonist of a breakthrough weekend: the German comes home of this round with full pockets, having made the best of these difficult conditions. Floersch had already proven her potential, significantly improving round after round, after a progressive crescendo throughout the season. Three years after her last F3 drive, Floersch got back in rhythm with the car during the first rounds, yet consistently outperforming her teammates, and then showed what she's capable of.
During the last three rounds, she got closer to the point-scoring positions - even finishing 9th in Austria before a post-race technical disqualification. However, she didn't give up and kept momentum by gaining as many positions as possible during the races in Silverstone and at the Hungaroring. Floersch also worked on her qualifying pace, but a few issues prevented her from starting further ahead.
"It’s always amazing to come and race on this legendary track but this year it has been extra special."
Her weekend started with a half-wet/half-dry qualifying session, where Pepe Martì (Campos Racing) proved to be the fastest of the field with a lap of 2:22.160 that secured him the first spot on the grid. Sophia managed to get the 24th place, as the tricky conditions and the traffic made it difficult for everyone to show their full potential.
The first race of the weekend went underway on a wet Saturday morning that saw the reverse grid poleman, Hugh Barter (Campos Racing), maintaining his lead for a few instants only, as Paul Aron (PREMA Racing) and Caio Collet (Van Amersfoort Racing) immediately tried to take it away from him. The Brazilian managed to snatch first place right at the end of the first lap and held it up until the very end of the race. The safety car interventions, in fact, resulted in very few green flag action: the laps completed in racing conditions were only two, interrupted by three cautions.
Right after the start, Sebastian Montoya (Hitech Pulse-Eight) spun and got stuck in the gravel after a contact with Rafael Villagomez, meaning that the SC had to be deployed to make sure that everyone was safe during the recovery of the Colombian's car. Then racing resumed, but Gabriele Minì (Hitech Pulse-Eight) and Pepe Marti collided while entering the Pouhon corner; while the Spaniard was trying to rejoin the track, he crashed into a blameless Ido Cohen (Carlin Racing), triggering the SC again.
Racing barely resumed when the race was neutralized again as championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto (Trident) had to stop his car on the Kemmel straight after a contact with Dino Beganovic (PREMA Racing). The race ended behind the Safety Car, but Sophia Florsch had managed to make the most of those sparse green flag minutes: she made no mistakes, moved up the field at every opportunity and was the driver with the highest number of overtakes, as she was able to gain 10 positions during the race. 14th across the finish line, she was later promoted to 12th, due to post-race penalties.
If the Sprint race was a highly positive one for Sophia, the Feature was even better. The track was wet during the line up laps, as drivers made it onto their grid spots. Weather forecasts predicted no rain, so teams had to decide whether to make their drivers start on slick or wet tyres.
Most of the drivers went for slick tyres, while only a few decided to start the race on wets. One of them was Floersch, who made the call herself. The track was more wet than the day before, and with the colder temperature, it would've dried slower.
At the start, the drivers with wet tyres were making up ground and by the end of the first few laps, Florsch was in the Top 10, from P24 on the grid. Everyone tried to read the track to understand how fast it would actually dry, when Oliver Goethe spun and hit the barriers at Raidillon, destroying his car but luckily without harming himself.
The Safety car was deployed and some drivers who were on wet tires, such as Paul Aron or Mari Boya, decided to pit for slicks. Sophia stayed out on wets and, when the race restarted, she went on the hunt for the five drivers in front of her.
She battled with Sebastian Montoya for the fifth place until the very end of the race, when the track was improving and Caio Collet, the first driver on slick tyres, caught up with them. The trio crossed the finish line almost at the same time, but Collet had better grip and was able to make the passes.
The race was won by Taylor Barnard (Jenzer Motorsport), one of the fastest rookies, and the podium was completed by Christian Mansell (Campos Racing) and Nikita Bedrin (Jenzer Motorsport) - but it was Sophia who had everyone's attention.
She finished seventh and became the first woman ever to score points in the FIA Formula 3 Championship, a result that writes a chapter in the history books of the sport. While the result is a spectacular achievement, it felt like it was a matter of time, as her pace kept getting faster and faster every weekend. Having made up 29 places across the weekend, Floersch once again left her mark.
She not only brought home this result, but she also won PHM by Charouz Racing's first points in Formula 3, a result that feels like a victory in the team's rookie season in the championship.
"Saturday was already a strong race with finishing P12 in only three racing laps. But then Sunday we did the right strategy calls and ended up in the points in a super difficult race with mixed conditions. I'm just really pleased with the result, and I want to thank PHM for giving me the chance to make the wet tire call."
"We always said that points should've come by the end of the season, and they finally did. Without the help of Alpine and the Rac(h)er program it would not have been possible. There will be more to come and we keep on working" - Sophia said, looking back on her performance this weekend. She will be back on track at the beginning of September, when the FIA Formula 3 championship will contest its last 2023 round at Monza.
The Temple of Speed always delivers a lot of action and hopefully Floersch will have the chance to replicate what she just did in Belgium.