Sophia Floersch moves up to P21 after farcical FIA F3 qualifying
German F3 racer Sophia Floersch managed to gain four positions in Monza's action-packed Race 1.
The FIA Formula 3 Championship hit the track again at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza - one of the most historic and legendary venues in motorsport - just one week after another driver's favourite, Spa Francorchamps.
The only female racer in the field, Sophia Floersch, made her return to the F1 support series after missing the Belgian round due to her clashing commitment in the European Le Mans Series at Paul Ricard, where she made her sportscar debut last week in preparation for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans. The endurance classic will be a real highlight of her racing season, which the young German lady will contest as part of the fully-female Richard Mille Racing squad in the LMP2 category.
Floersch completed an outstanding triple stint of over 2 hours and 20 minutes, taking the start and handing over the wheel of the LMP2 Oreca to Beitske Visser into the night.
In the middle of a very challenging and bad-luck affected FIA F3 rookie campaign, the Le Castellet 240 event was an opportunity for Floersch to regroup and regain confidence in herself - in order to return to Monza with revamped energy.
When the F3 cars hit the track at Monza on Friday morning, it became immediately clear that one of the biggest talking points of the weekend would become the tow-strategies. David Schumacher - who switched to Carlin after starting the season at Charouz - topped the timesheets as plenty of drivers relied on teammates to set their fastest laps in the quickest racetrack of the season and notoriously heavily influenced by slipstream.
Floersch was P26, with Campos teammates Alex Peroni and Alessio Deledda respectively finishing P24 and and P27.
The situation became farcical during qualifying, when the easily predictable outcome from tow-strategies were took to the extreme. The field of 30 cars, led by the Trident and ART drivers, went out on track and bunched up the whole pack, with no one willing to lead the way without the help of the slipstream.
This resulted in the lower-end of the field not getting their opportunity to complete even one push lap on their fresher tyres, as the drivers that did eventually complete a lap slowed down dangerously in the middle of the track.
Sophia Floersch, with no relevant time set in the final minutes, started P25 and again had her weekend turned into an uphill battle for Saturday and Sunday's races.
"In briefing they tell us to behave and not to block. What is half of the field doing? blocking and crashing everyone's laps." - commented Floersch on an Instagram story.
"I guess you need to take the positive things out of bad days and continue to fight...At least that’s my strategy for the rest of the weekend. At some point there will be luck."
The predictable penalties from race direction did eventually arrive late in the afternoon, with Theo Pourchaire losing his maiden pole position and Alex Smolyar, Pierre-Louis Chovet, Lirim Zendeli, Ollie Caldwell, Sebastian Fernandez and David Beckmann all dropping down the initial order as well. Liam Lawson was thus promoted to race 1 pole, with home boy Matteo Nannini starting from the front row in second.
At the start, Lawson battled Nannini into the first tricky chicane, while Pourchaire had an outstanding start and advanced into third. When the whole field of cars approached the famous "Prima Variante", it was chaos behind when Fernandez spun and went deep, almost collecting the slowing cars in front of him. Nannini attempted a move for the lead at Variante della Roggia, but backed off and then came under attack from Pourchaire.
The ART of the 17-year old driver flied past on the main straight and moved ahead of Nannini.
Floersch had a good getaway and avoided the slow car of Fittipaldi almost stalling in front of her grid slot. Fraga also had a great start to his race and moved up several places to slot into sixth in the opening stages of the race. There was action all over the field: Pourchaire caught up with Lawson, just as Jake Hughes moved up to third.
Several drivers straight-lined the first chicane and contacts were not spared throughout the many battles: Deledda stepped on Caldwell's front wing at La Roggia, Malvestiti clipped the wall at Turn 1 and Peroni made contact with Williams - who was having a great race in the Jenzer - spinning around into the first chicane.
As soon as DRS was enabled, Theo Pourchaire claimed the top of the classify on the main straight after a better exit from Parabolica. The fight for the title also heated up between Prema teammates Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant one lap later, when the American went wide at Prima Variante and gave Piastri an opportunity under braking of the following chicane. Piastri made the move stick, in a potentially important moment for the championship. They would swap positions again when Piastri went deep into La Roggia and had to defend from Smolyar for 12th.
Hughes took second on the sixth lap and Lawson also came under pressure from Nannini, with the Italian attempting an optimistic move on lap 8 at Turn 1 which ended in contact and with terminal damage for Nannini's front suspension.
Sophia Floersch gained positions and made her way up to 20th place, always battling few tenths away from Cameron Das.
Just as Piastri was recovering from his earlier mistake and again found a way past both Sargeant and Zendeli, Frederick Vesti overtook with a bold move Liam Lawson at La Roggia chicane, moving up into third literally seconds before the Safety Car was deployed for the stricken car of Sebastian Fernandez beached into the gravel at Ascari.
The race went back to green on lap 14 with a great restart from Pourchaire and with Vesti immediately attacking Hughes to move up to second.
Floersch lost two positions in the midst of the restart hectic action, but she then managed to pass Malvestiti and Fraga soon after - to re-claim P20. The 19-year old lady then had very close battles until the end of the race with Smolyar, Chovet, Schumacher, Malvestiti and Deledda - all eager to break into the top-20 in another unbeliavably closely fought race in the midfield.
In yet another dramatic moment of the championship, Logan Sargeant was spun around at La Roggia by Clement Novalak - who would then receive a 10-second time penalty for causing the collision - and dropped to the tail-end of the field.
When Peroni tried to find a way past Lawson, he came under pressure from Piastri. The Prema driver overtook his Australian compatriot for fifth after Peroni went slightly wide at Parabolica.
Prema's Frederick Vesti closed the small margin to Pourchaire on lap 19 out of 22 and, as the Frenchman started to break the tow, Vesti made a great move at Turn 1, firing into the lead.
Piastri also passed Lawson - the New Zealander trying to respond back at La Roggia but losing two more places in the process from Beckmann and Peroni. Novalak joined this small group of cars and won a three-way battle for sixth with 2 laps to go.
With Prema cars absolutely flying on track, Piastri made the most of out of the DRS and was up into third, as Jake Hughes was also stripped of fourth by Beckmann.
Vesti crossed the finish line to claim his second win of the season, beating Theo Pourchaire by just over eight tenth of a second. Piastri was third after a brilliant recovery and, with two Prema cars on the podium, the Italian squad could celebrate their team's championship.
Beckmann was fourth, ahead of Hughes and Lawson. Enzo Fittipaldi had an impressive charge through the grid to finish P9 after his slow start, just ahead of Michael Belov who will get reverse grid pole for tomorrow's race.
Sophia Floersch battled David Schumacher but was then passed at the very end by Alex Smolyar by less than two hundredth of a second to be classified P21. She gained four places from her starting position.
The second race of the Monza weekend will go green on Sunday morning at 09:45 CEST, with Floersch again trying to move up the order.