Pole position and victory: Sacha Fenestraz’s season gets off to a dream start!
In glorious sunshine Fenestraz had his first outing on the Pau circuit at the wheel of a Formula 3 car. Right from the start of free practice, he was among the fastest drivers despite a brake issue and set the sixth-quickest time in session one. His Dallara F317 ran perfectly in the first qualifying session and with only six minutes to go to the end he topped his group by 2/1000thof-a-second! The Renault Sport Academy driver continued to push, but made a tiny mistake on his quickest lap and ended up third fastest just in front of his team-mate, Jehan Daruvala.
The start of the first race of the weekend was given under threatening skies, but on a dry track. Sacha made a great getaway from the third row and gained a place under braking for the first corner. After a full course yellow neutralisation period he kept up the pressure on Robert Shwartzman who made a mistake. This gave the Frenchman fourth place and he continued to push in his no. 11 F3 Dallara posing a real threat to Daniel Ticktum. However, there were no further changes among the front-runners on this circuit where overtaking is very difficult and the FFSA Equipe de France driver opened his score with the points awarded for fourth place.
In the afternoon, the second qualifying session that determined the grid positions for races 2 and 3 was held on a wet track on which Fenestraz gradually built up his confidence. At the chequered flag he snatched the fastest time in his group by 3/1000thof-a-second from Enaam Ahmed! As the qualifying times in the other group were slower this gave him pole position for race 2.
Although the track was still pretty slippery, it was generally dry when the race started. Sacha made a flawless getaway and fended off the attack of Fabio Scherer in the first corner. After five laps the race was neutralised behind the safety car. On the restart Scherer attempted to pass Fenestraz again, but the latter slammed the door shut! Then it began to rain and the field bunched up. In the Epingle du Lycée Scherer defended his place against an attack by Alex Palou and pulled over on Fenestraz. The front wheel of the Swiss’s car rode up over that of the no. 11 Dallara which, luckily, didn’t suffer any damage in the incident. Sacha then opened up a gap over Palou and won the race with more than three seconds in hand over the Spaniard.
In the mid-afternoon, the third F3 race brought down the curtain on the long Pau weekend. As grid position were decided by the second-quickest times in qualifying Fenestraz found himself on the fourth row. He made a great start and came into the first corner in fifth place. At that moment the heavens opened and he had to pit to shod wet-weather tyres. He rejoined at the back of the field, but the conditions got worse and worse and the stewards decided to red-flag the race. The outcome was that only half the number of points was awarded because of insufficient distance covered. Sacha left Pau leading the FIA Formula 3 European Championship after the first round thanks to the 37 points he scored in the first two races.
“Obviously, I’m very happy with my first weekend. I achieved my objectives, which were not to make mistakes and position myself among the eight drivers capable of winning the title. This evening I’m leading the overall classification so I’ve exceeded my aims, but I know that Pau is the most atypical event of the season so I’m not getting carried away. I’ll remember my victory for a long time as it was the most difficult race of my career so far. In addition, driving such a quick car on this circuit, which was also a bit damp, was a real challenge. Circumstances also compounded the difficulties with the race being neutralised behind the safety car and then the rain started to fall with increasing intensity, the attacks of my pursuers, etc. When I crossed the finishing line I almost didn’t dare believe it. It’s the result of all the work done this winter with the Carlin team and it’s a perfect launch to our season!”
Overall classification: drivers
1. Fenestraz – 37 points
2. Aron – 34,5 points
3. Ahmed – 27 points
4. Zhou et Armstrong – 25 points
6. Palou – 24 points