Three-time F1 Academy race winner Marta García sums up her weekend: here's what she told us about what it means to win at her home track, her secrets to overtake at the tricky Valencian track and her closest competitors.
Six races in, Marta García is the only F1 Academy driver to have won more than one race: the young Spaniard has claimed half of them in fact, and leads the championship standings after a truly remarkable start of the season in the brand-new F1-promoted series. García secured two wins from pole position at the opening round in Austria, capitalizing on Abbi Pulling's tough starts from the back of the field due to a team's technical mistake in qualifying. García held off Nerea Marti in the season opener, took a cautious approach in race 2 while still scoring points and then won a brilliant battle with Hamda Al Qubaisi in race 3 at Red Bull Ring, taking the early lead in the points' table. At her home race in Valencia, García was back to impress once again. In the finally crowded paddock, Marta and her compatriot and fellow Valencian Nerea Martí certainly felt the support of the Spanish crowd – in a home race that took on a further meaning in front of family and friends. During the two practice sessions, García and Martí set the pace, showing that they might be the drivers to beat at the technical Circuito Ricardo Tormo. The Prema driver went on to secure two pole positions, but as track limits were investigated through an in-depth video review of all on-board cameras, García ended up losing all the laps recorded in Q1, which put her at the back of the pack. "In the first qualifying, apparently I bit the white line on the first corner by two centimetres, which doesn't really give you a performance – but it is what it is, track limits it was, as they said it was like a wall into the first corner", Marta explained. "My lap got deleted – all my laps – so I started P14." She was in good company, as the whole starting grid for both Q1 and Q2 was shuffled by the penalties. García, though, clearly didn't give up easily and put on great recovery drives on Saturday. "[In race 1] I ended P6, which is not bad", Marta told us. "We got some solid points for the championship."
"The second race was kinda the same with the result of qualifying 1: I started P14 and I ended up fifth", she summed up, as she managed to gain even more places in the shorter second race. One of the highlights was a stunning double pass on the battling Jessica Edgar and Chloe Grant at turn 1, plus a series of clean passes at Turn 11.
"I actually enjoyed the races; you don't enjoy that you don't win or that you're not at the top, but the overtakings were quite good and at Turn 11 it was really cool." On a notoriously difficult track to pass on, the home racer pulled off some spectacular moves, as she seemed to have found something special. "In race 1 and 2 I did a lot of overtakings at Turn 11", she explained, "I used to do the corner T8 really well, so I had a good exit there and I was able to go later on the brakes at T11, where I would overtake. I think I also had a few in Turn 2, but there are like three corners where you can actually overtake quite well if you have a bit more pace than the car in front."
"If it's really similar pace – like for example me and Nerea in the last race – then it's a bit more difficult because you get the bad air from the car in front and you start getting understeer. So I think it's better to overtake at the beginning of the race when you have a better tyre, still with not much degradation." On Sunday, though, it was all about holding on to that hard-fought Q2 pole position, which saw García sharing the front row with Abbi Pulling for the first time. "On Sunday, I knew I was starting P1 and I knew I had the pace: I just had to get a good start and take some gap. And that's what I did" – Marta continued. After a good launch off the line, Nerea Martí had emerged again as her closest competitor and, while García had managed to open a small margin, the Campos Racing driver was catching up, before a safety car in the closing stages put everything again on the line. "We had the safety car at the end of the race, and I was like oh amazing."
"But in the end I was not really scared of it, as I knew I had the pace. Nerea was really fast – I think she was the fastest on track, but I knew that being behind me you always have dirty air, so it shouldn't have been too much of a problem."
"I made no mistakes – and that's how it went: I ended up P1", García recalled. "Of course it's a really weird weekend when we could have been better on Saturday, but in the end I'm happy with the results. It was all we could do." With an all-Spanish 1-2 across the finish line, the Valencian crowd had the chance to see their heroes battling for the win in an exciting yet always clean duel. It was an important win championship-wise for García, but also a special one for the venue, surrounded by the fans of every age asking for photos and autographs. "It means a lot", she admitted. "It's really cool to see all the fans, everyone asking for pictures. They were happy with P1 and P2 from Nerea, with two Spanish drivers on the podium. It's great and they're all very supportive, it's amazing."
"We're both from Valencia, and we obviously raced each other in W Series for the first time. We're rivals, but to be fair we get along off track. We've been practicing together, we've been going here and there. Of course when it's racing it's racing and there are no friends, but to be honest it's good to see Nerea P2 here with the Spanish fans."
With Pulling – one of the highest ranked potential contenders on the eve of the inaugural season – having another very unfortunate round, Hamda Al Qubaisi scored her first win in race 1, and has now emerged as García's closest competitor in the standings. "I think Hamda is one to watch", Marta commented. "She's really fast, she does well and I think she will be there [in the title fight]. I don't know what happened exactly to Abbi, I think she had a bad weekend in terms of points for the championship. She was starting more or less like me in race 1 and 2, but I couldn't see her coming up with me or recovering positions – I think she had some problems. It's just really a shame." "But in terms of championship, I think Hamda is one to look for, and obviously Nerea, as she's showing some potential." With 5 different winners and 8 podium finishers out of 15 drivers after the first two triple-headers, though, there are still plenty of points on the table and, with a rather close field from top to bottom, anything can happen. Following a midweek two day test at Valencia, racing will resume in two weeks' time at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, on another very familiar territory for the Spanish aces.