Impressive podium-matching pace from Mazepin at Red Bull Ring
Nikita Mazepin delivered one of the strongest race performances of his maiden season in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Sunday, 22nd May, with a highly competitive drive in round 12 of the campaign.
Producing race pace a match for the outright podium, and showcasing some excellent racecraft, the 17-year-old Hitech GP driver ultimately had to settle for a 14th place finish – eighth in the Rookie classification – in the weekend’s final contest as a result of an unfortunate track limits time penalty.
During the second half of the contest, the Russian was in the thick of a tight four-way battle just outside the points-paying top 10 and certainly delivered an impressive conclusion to the weekend at the wheel of his Dallara-Mercedes.
“Race three was definitely the best”, said the Moscow youngster, “I had a good starting position but had to avoid a collision at the start, so that lost me a couple of places. Our pace was really good, though, and I was very happy with how our performance improved through the weekend.”
Mazepin began round 10 on Saturday, 21st May, from 20th place on the grid as a result of a tricky qualifying period but put together an excellent first lap, rising into the top 15 prior to the Safety Car venturing onto track following a multi car tangle at Turn Two.
When the action resumed on lap four, the Hitech GP driver continued to make great progress and climbed into 13th place before then moving into the top 12 at the end of the sixth tour when Pedro Piquet served a drive-through penalty.
At the end of lap seven, the Russian sized-up a pass for 11th position at the final corner but after being delayed on the inside he was passed around the outside by team-mate Ben Barnicoat and then edged back to 14th position. Although slipping back to 16th spot, seventh of the Rookies, he moved back into the top 15 before the race was red flagged following a frightening three-car accident.
Two of the drivers involved in the race-ending collision, Zhi Cong Li and Ryan Tveter, had to be transferred to hospital as a result of their injuries and so they were missing from the round 11 grid on Saturday afternoon – elevating Mazepin a couple of spots on the grid.
Holding 15th position early on, the first year FIA F3 racer maintained the place prior to the emergence of the Safety Car on lap four. When racing got back underway two laps later, though, Mazepin received the news officials had adjudged his car to have moved on the grid prior to the lights going out and he was therefore handed a costly drive-through penalty.
Serving the penalty straight away at the end of lap six, the Moscow teenager rejoined the race in 19th position and eventually ended the 24 lap contest in 17th place and ninth position in the Rookie classification.
Round 12 on Sunday morning was certainly the highlight drive of the weekend from the Sahara Force India Formula One Team Development Driver. Beginning the contest from 13th on the grid, Mazepin was edged back to 16th on the opening lap – after being delayed at the first corner due to a tangle ahead – but moved back up into 14th prior to the lap four appearance of the Safety Car.
The action resumed on lap seven and although slipping back to 15th position, he moved back up the order soon after and on lap 15 lit up the timing screens with the fastest lap of the race at that point, a time of 1m23.673 seconds. Holding 14th position, he then pressured Pedro Piquet into a mistake on lap 16 to gain another place and broke into the top 12 when Harrison Newey was given a penalty.
Continuing to reel off superb lap times, including a personal best of 1m23.597 seconds, Mazepin swarmed all over the back of the trio of cars ahead as he sought a way into the points-paying top 10 but a 20 second track limits time penalty applied to his time meant an eventual finish of 14th place.
“We experienced some difficulties with the car at the beginning of the weekend, I was good in slow speed corners but I had to do better in the high speed and I also had some problems with the track limits too”, reflected the Russian, “Throughout the weekend, though, we made improvements and I was happy with the pace in the end.
“I’m really looking forward to the next round at Norisring now. I’ve never been there and it’ll be really challenging, another street circuit, but I’m going to prepare as well as I can on the Hitech sim and hopefully we’ll be able to have a strong weekend.”
Mazepin now has a five week break from race action with rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship taking place over the weekend 25th/26th June at the Norisring in Germany.
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings
20th Nikita Mazepin, 1pt
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings
2nd Hitech GP, 249pts
2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings
8th Nikita Mazepin, 62pts