Good points haul keeps Piastri on top

Australia’s Oscar Piastri has retained his lead in the FIA Formula 3 Championship after two top five finishes netted him valuable points in round 2 of the series at the Red Bull Ring, Austria.

Fresh from his debut F3 win at the same circuit seven days earlier, the 19-year old Renault Sport Academy driver was quickly into his stride during practice and what proved to be a punctuated qualifying session run in hot and dry conditions on Friday. He set the fastest time early in qualifying but had dropped to fifth when the session was red flagged after Sebastian Fernandez crashed. When the track went green, Oscar posted a 1min 20.590s to go third fastest behind his PREMA Racing teams Logan Sargeant and Frederik Vesti but the order changed again in the closing moments, with Vesti claiming his first pole from Sargeant and David Beckmann pipping Piastri for third.

“Qualifying was not bad but could have been a bit better. P4 is not too shabby even though having both my team-mates in front of me is not ideal. I think tomorrow is going to be very interesting with the rain which is on the forecast and we definitely want to be able to fight.”

The rain arrived right on cue on Saturday morning, a light shower before the cars took the track meant that most of the field lined up on the grid on wet-weather tyres. As the drivers took off on their formation lap, the rain intensified forcing those brave souls who had gambled for slicks to dive into the pit lane to change.

From fourth, Oscar got a great start, diving down the inside to pass Beckmann into turn one and up into third. However, a poor exit out him saw him shuffled down to fifth as the cars disappeared into a plume of spray. He regained one spot before the track conditions further deteriorated, causing several laps under the virtual safety car. The safety car was eventually deployed as the weather worsened but race control attempted to restart the race a couple of laps later. Piastri was caught unawares by Olli Caldwell unsighted behind him in the heavy spray and dropped a spot before the race was finally abandoned on lap 14. However, the result was taken back two laps meaning Piastri kept fourth.

“We expected rain and it definitely came. It wasn’t really much of a race, to be honest, we were just trying to stay on the track. The last three laps I was struggling to stay in a straight line. P4 was not too bad and we didn’t lose much ground in terms of the standings with today’s race being awarded half points. I think we can leave the track in sort of a good mood and look forward to tomorrow’s race 2.”

Dry conditions greeted the drivers for Sunday’s 24 lap race. On the reversed grid, Piastri lined up seventh and had a busy opening few laps and lost several positions. He stayed within the top 10 but it became evident his DRS wasn’t functioning, thus limiting his speed and overtaking opportunities. A safety car period mid-distance closed the order up, and on the restart there was plenty of jostling for position and Piastri set the fastest lap of the race (1min 20.968s). Race leaders Jake Hughes and Liam Lawson took each other out which promoted 16-year Theo Pourchaire into the lead and Piastri into fifth place. With Lawson’s car stuck in the gravel, the remaining laps were run behind the safety car.

“A very eventful race again. The first few laps weren’t amazing and I lost a few spots, then I had some big problems with the DRS which were also compromising. Towards the end it wasn’t too bad and I made up a few spots on track, plus two spots from the contact at the front. The fastest lap on the last lap definitely helped out with the points. Not too bad overall but we still have room for improvement and hopefully in Hungary we can keep the championship lead.”

Round 3 of the FIA Formula 3 Championship takes place next weekend, July 17-19 at the Hungaroring just outside Budapest.

Images © Prema Powerteam