Tough weekend for Piastri at Spa

Despite a five-point overnight championship lead, Oscar Piastri slipped seven points behind his PREMA Racing team-mate Logan Sargeant after a tough second race in round seven of the FIA Formula 3 series at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium this weekend, August 28-30.

A threat of rain sent the field scurrying out early in qualifying and the track became heavily congested as the drivers tripped over themselves looking to steal a slipstream. Everyone eventually found their own piece of tarmac but only a handful of cars managed a timed lap before the session was red-flagged when newcomer Michael Belov crashed.

21 out of the 30 drivers, including Piastri who was mere seconds away from finishing his lap, failed to register a lap time, meaning it was game-on when the session resumed. After swapping track position with Sargeant on the prep lap, Piastri found himself compromised by traffic and only managed a time of 2:06,206s to go eighth fastest.

Any hopes of improving were dashed when the forecasted rain arrived. Most of the field went out in the slim hope they may be able to find more time but the PREMA drivers stayed in pit lane and saved their tyres. With no-one improving,
the fastest times were still those posted by the drivers who had beaten the earlier red flag – pole position going to German driver, Lirim Zendeli ahead of Theo Pourchaire and Alex Smolyar.

“A very typical Spa session where it rained hallway through. It was a mess with the traffic in the first run so I didn’t set a lap before the red flag.” said Oscar. “Then the second lap was still a mess with traffic, so my positioning wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t the best lap and it was only lap I had, so I didn’t really get to show any potential today. If there’s a track where qualifying doesn’t matter too much, it’s probably here and Monza, so I’m still confident for tomorrow. I think our pace should still be good, so hopefully we can make our way forward.”

With championship contenders Sargeant, Piastri and Liam Lawson starting further back than expected, the prospects for an exciting race one were set.

After a brief Virtual Safety Car period, Piastri made a great move on Verschoor, going around the outside of the Dutch driver into the Bus Stop chicane and through into seventh. The Renault Sport Academy driver then set his sights on Lawson and moved within DRS striking distance. He was strong through Eau Rouge and nicely positioned to overtake at Les Combes. He pulled to the outside but Lawson ran him out of room and the pair banged wheels and onto the run-off area. Piastri re-joined ahead of Lawson and began to pull away.

However, three laps later he was ordered to hand back the place to Lawson or risk a penalty. With Lawson struggling for grip, Piastri had a much easier time dispensing with the Kiwi but it still cost him three seconds. Ahead in fifth, Sargeant was visibly slowing with a loss of power and the American quickly fell back into the clutches of Piastri who passed him with three laps remaining. However, the time lost with Lawson meant Piastri was unable to make any further progress up the order.

“Fifth place in race 1 is quite good and my pace at the end was really strong. We were holding stations with everyone at the beginning but then our tyre deg was better than everyone else’s so I could make up some positions at the end. It was unfortunate for Logan with his issue and hopefully he can get that fixed. I think we did a good job from eighth, scored some good points and we are in a pretty good spot for tomorrow as well.”

Piastri got off the line nicely at the start of Sunday’s race two and towed up alongside Lawson and Fredrik Vesti before losing out through Eau Rouge and up to Les Combes and fell to eighth.

With Sargeant already pulling away at the front, Piastri needed to salvage whatever points he could. He joined the battle for fourth place with Verschoor, Lawson and Smolyar, the latter pair finding their way past on lap eight, and Piastri doing likewise two laps later. He then closed on Pourchaire and passed the French youngster for fifth. However, race officials advised that Piastri was under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when he passed Verschoor. It was several laps before an actual decision was reached; a five second time penalty added to Oscar’s race time. It meant that he lost fifth place to Pourchaire and ended up sixth.

“It has been a tough race two here at Spa where I started sixth and finished sixth. I had a really good start but I found myself in an unfortunate place into Eau Rouge, so I lost my momentum up the straight which cost me three or four positions. The pace was pretty good, although it was tough to come back through, and I picked up a 5-second penalty that wasn’t ideal. It could have been a better day at the office but we are still tight in the championship and I maintained the gap to the guys behind. Hopefully now it’s just a straight fight between Logan and me at Monza and Mugello.”

Indeed, just two rounds of the FIA F3 Championship remain and the first of these is next weekend (Sept 5-8) at the historic Monza track, Italy where Sargeant and Piastri are set to continue their battle for the title.

Images © Prema Powerteam