The heat is on! Just one point between title contenders

PREMA Racing team-mates Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant remain locked in their mighty battle for the FIA Formula 3 Championship after round six at Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona over the weekend, August 14-16.

While Sargeant held the upper hand on Saturday and stretched his lead, Piastri made amends for his below-par performance in race one to bounce back with a resounding victory in today’s 22 lap race. It means there is still just one point between the title protagonists with three rounds remaining.

Hot and sunny conditions were once again the order of the day as practice got under way on Friday morning. Sargeant and Piastri resumed their battle for supremacy and filled the top two spots after the first run despite the latter reporting another DRS issue. Some drivers opted for new tyres for their second run, including Roman Stanek and Alex Peroni who inevitably ended up quickest ahead of Sargeant, Igor Fraga (another on fresh rubber) and Piastri. A red flag saw a premature end to the session after Alessio Deledda crashed.

The hard compound tyres were the only ones available again this weekend and it looked very much like they would only deliver one timed lap. David Beckmann and then Liam Lawson took turns at the top of the times but it was Piastri who set provisional pole with a tidy lap of 1min 33.649s. The second run saw a few of the drivers out on track early to avoid traffic later in the session. But, the final minutes saw pole position hotly disputed with David Beckmann and Jake Hughes going fastest only to be pipped by Sargeant who secured his third pole position in succession. Piastri was fleetingly third with a 1min 33.171s but was demoted to fourth by Liam Lawson.

“P4 is not too bad, it could have been a bit better obviously. I was in provisional pole after the first set. I just didn’t put it together with the second set. The car felt really good and I definitely think we can do something from there in the end. It’s going to be a hot one and tyre degradation is usually high around here. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and make a few positions up tomorrow.”

The front two rows were away cleanly at the start of Saturday’s 22-lap feature race but Piastri found himself pinched through the first few turns and lost a place to Clement Novalak. Piastri redressed the balance after a short Safety Car period, picking off the Frenchman at the exit to turn nine on lap four. Piastri though couldn’t quite manage to move out of Novalak’s DRS range so had to work hard to protect his position while trying to close the gap on Liam Lawson in third. The race was interrupted again on lap nine by another Safety Car period. Trying to nail the restart and put pressure on Lawson, Piastri made an uncharacteristic mistake and ran wide at the exit to the last chicane and over the sausage kerb. This allowed Novalak and David Beckmann past the young Australian.

Novalak was able to inch away but Beckmann headed a long procession of cars all looking to fill the minor positions. Although he was close enough for a couple of exploratory looks, Piastri was unable to make any further progress and crossed the line in sixth.

“I ended up sixth in the race, not really what I was looking for. It was all going okay until the safety-car restart when I picked up some understeer and got stuck on the sausage kerb. That was pretty much game over for the rest of the race. We will try and bounce back tomorrow and try to salvage some points back for the weekend.”

Piastri knew that he needed to deliver on Sunday and starting from fifth position on the grid and ahead of Sargeant, a good result beckoned. A great launch at the lights and a sensational tow enabled the Renault Sport Academy driver to position himself nicely for braking for turn one. He carried his momentum through, seizing the moment to pick off those ahead as he swept around the outside of turn three and then the inside of turn four to move into the lead.

No sooner had he completed his mission though, the Safety Car was deployed and so everyone closed back up for several laps before the race went back to green at the end of lap five. It was important for Piastri to move outside of DRS range of second placeman Matteo Nannini, so he reeled off a series of fastest laps to establish a one second lead which he further extended to three seconds. A questionable Safety Car intervention on lap 16 for just half a lap brought everyone together again so Piastri had to repeat the process, this time with fellow Australian Alex Peroni in second place. An impressive first lap did the trick nicely and Oscar maintained a comfortable margin over Peroni until the chequered flag, and picking up the extra points for fastest lap.

“We came away with the win in race 2 which is a great result from fifth on the grid. I got a mega start and took the lead in the first few corners. That was really positive because that’s sort of where I’ve been playing a bit weak so far this year. After that, I just had to break out of DRS and maintain the gap. The Safety Car threw a bit of a curveball in, but again, after breaking the DRS, it was just about maintaining the gap and keeping the tyres in check. It pretty much saved what was otherwise a reasonably average weekend, so a massive thank you to Prema for that. Now there are three more rounds to go, let’s see what we can do!”.

After the Silverstone/Barcelona triple header, the teams now have a short window to regroup before round seven takes place at the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium on August 28-30.

Images © Prema Powerteam