Sophia Floersch impresses in F3 testing debut
Sophia Floersch ended the F3 collective testing in Bahrain impressing in an exceptionally competitive field, as Campos Racing found promising speed ahead of the first round.
With a single test scheduled before the start of the new 2020 FIA Formula 3 and Formula 2 seasons, teams gathered at Bahrain's Sakhir circuit from 1-3 March, two weeks ahead of the start of the first official event.
In the middle of the Coronavirus outbreak threatening the regular execution of the Bahrain Grand Prix, pre-season testing took place smoothly: all the 30 drivers made it to the small Gulf state, with only HWA's Jake Hughes arriving one day later due to the clashing Formula E rookie test in Marrakesh, as the British racer drove for Mercedes.
The F3 collective testing also signed the return of Sophia Floersch at the wheel of a Formula 3 car, having recently sealed a deal with Spanish outfit Campos Racing. Floersch was back in a F3 car after last November's Macau Grand Prix and made her debut on dry conditions on a permanent racetrack. Her only previous experience of the new Dallara car was in fact at the Valencia Ricard Tormo venue, where the German driver had a single-day outing in wet conditions.
The morning session was dominated by the Dutch teammates duo of Bent Viscaal and Richard Verschoor, who led the way for MP Motorsport. Enzo Fittipaldi was among the first drivers to record a competitive lap time, but was again topped by Viscaal in the closing stages. Hitech's Fewtrell and Lawson were third and fourth.
In the afternoon, it was Team Trident to set the early pace with Lirim Zendeli. But Sophia Floersch first made an appearance at the top of the timesheets, beating her compatriot.
Floersch enjoyed a very positive afternoon and remained in the top-10 for most of the session, even when Lawson and Fewtrell returned to the top of the charts.
Canadian Devlin De Francesco and fresh-winner of the Toyota Racing Series Igor Fraga alternated in the lead in the latter stages, with the Trident driver finishing on top of the first day. Australian Alex Peroni, making his return for Campos after his scary crash at the Monza round in 2019, was second fastest, showing some great pace for the Campos crew.
The session was briefly red flagged when ADAC F4 champion Théo Pourchaire stopped on track. Verschoor managed to snatch P3, ahead of Sebastian Fernandez and Pourchaire.
Floersch was 13th after her first day in the car.
"First day in the office. How much I missed it." - she commented online.
"Pretty happy but still stuff to work on."
On dustier and windier condition, the second day opened with David Schumacher topping the morning session for Charouz. Sebastian Fernandez and Sophia Floersch again led the field early, showing some speed early on in the day.
Pourchaire and Fernandez swapped places on top of the standings before the action was interrupted by the first red flag of the day, as Matteo Nannini stopped on track.
When the action resumed, Schumacher was able to post a 1:47.461 lap, two hundredth of a second faster than Fernandez to set the morning benchmark.
Floersch was 12th.
Nannini went out soon in the afternoon session to make up for the time lost after the morning stoppage. He led Peroni and Vesti in the opening minutes.
The Hitech duo Lawson-Fewtrell confirmed their day-1 speed, bringing themselves up to the top of the timesheets, with also Nannini enjoying a consistent session.
Times dropped in the last half and hour: Hughes, returning in the HWA seat, was fast straight away, but was then beaten by De Francesco, Novalak and Peroni, who was the first under the 1.46 minute mark. New Zealander Lawson went even faster, before the session was halted by Niko Kari stopping on track. The session wasn't restarted and Lawson thus led the field of 30 drivers in the second day of testing. Sophia Floersch was once again 12th fastest, setting her personal best in 1:47.436 and completing 55 laps.
With teams returning to run on a sunny and warm Bahrain International Circuit, the last day of pre-season testing closed its morning session with Finnish Kari on top of the standings.
Jake Hughes, Enzo Fittipaldi and Liam Lawson again emerged as leading contenders early on, before Niko Kari went fastest and under the 1.47 mark once again, merely four hundredths of a second ahead of the Kiwi.
Teams shifted their focus on long runs, as the Charouz driver remained unbeaten.
The last session started with the Carlin trio of Novalak, Das and Ahmed taking the early lead, as race simulations remained the main target for most of the field. Jenzer Motorsport's Calan Williams brought out the first red flag of the day. When the action resumed, morning pacesetter Kari went second fastest, behind British F3 champion Clement Novalak.
Again, the final 45 minutes paved the way for more fastest laps: Vesti, Schumacher and Hughes advanced in the top-3. More qualifying simulations saw Doohan, Hughes and Peroni alternating at the top, with the Australian Campos driver ultimately ending the day unbeaten with a 1:46.173 lap. Logan Sargeant and Richard Verschoor completed the top-5, while Sophia Floersch finished in P20, with a best lap of 1:47.547. However, her last qualifying sim and ultimate performance was hindered by red flags with her two last sets of new tyres.
The German ends the three days of testing in Bahrain certainly impressing, often running comfortably in the top-15 in an exceptionally talented field. She will also rely on her teammates data, with Campos Racing finding promising speed ahead of the upcoming season.
"Testing in Bahrain is over, it was three days of driving. It was fun, it was good work." - said Sophia after the test. "Our pace was pretty ok - for me it was the first time in dry conditions in this car on a normal racetrack, so a lot to learn."
"I think our pace was pretty ok. It was really nice working together with Campos, I think it's gonna be a great season coming up."
"Our first race is in two weeks time, really looking forward to it. Still a lot to work on, but I was enjoying it. You never know in where you are in the end because everyone is testing different stuff, tyres, long runs and quali sims, so we'll see how we go in free practice in Bahrain in two weeks."
Floersch will be the first woman to enter the FIA F3 championship after its rebranding, succeeding Tatiana Calderon, Beitske Visser, Samin Gomez, Carmen Jorda, Alice Powell and Vicky Piria, who all drove in the third-tier feeder series GP3.
Day1 - P13 / 1:47.899 / 42 laps
Day2 - P12 / 1:47.436 / 55 laps
Day3 - P20 1:47.547 / 49 laps
In Sophia's words:
"First official test days are over. Was mega being back in the car. Did many laps, tested a lot and enjoyed it. Feeling ready for the first round in two weeks time"
Ph Credits: Formula Motorsport Ltd.