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•    Hitech GP racer claims season-best top eight finish on strong Spa weekend 
•    Outstanding career-best top three qualifying performance from Russian rookie
•    Heartache in race two of weekend as fuel pump issue curtails podium bid

Nikita Mazepin delivered his most eye-catching weekend yet in the ultra-competitive FIA Formula 3 European Championship during a dramatic seventh event of the season at Spa-Francorchamps, the Hitech GP racer delivering searing qualifying pace before taking a career-best top eight finish.

After posting a top 12 finish in a rain-hit round 19 on Friday, 29th July, the 17-year-old from Moscow was determined to mount a potential podium challenge in round 20 later in the day but a fuel pump issue ruled him out of the race at the end of the opening lap, while running in second place.

Bouncing back well from the disappointment, Mazepin’s hopes of a podium bid in round 21 on Saturday, 30th July, were also hit after sustaining damage over the kerbs in avoidance of an incident involving team-mate Ben Barnicoat. Despite that, he battled to an eighth place finish to take his second points score of the campaign.

“It’s been a strong weekend and I’m happy the team bounced back so well after Zandvoort”, said the Sahara Force India F1 Team Development Driver, “Our pace was really good in the dry and I was especially happy in second qualifying, as a rookie driver on the dry track for the first time, to qualify so high in P3 and P6. 

“Race one was average, there was so much water on the track and not really too much we could do. Race two was very disappointing, I made a really good first lap and the car felt good but then at the chicane it just stopped. Race three was good at the start, I moved into second but then had to avoid Ben’s accident and we had damage to the car over the kerbs. Still, P8 is our best result yet.”

Both of the event’s practice sessions on Thursday, 28th July, took place in the wet and a very tricky track surface was the order of the day once again for the opening qualifying session later in the day where Mazepin posted the 14th fastest time, seventh of the Rookie class competitors.

In the dry second qualifying period, though, the Hitech GP driver produced an absolutely sensational performance in his first session on slick tyres at Spa to claim, by far, his best ever grid start in FIA F3 with a magnificent run to the third fastest time. 

His lap of 2m12.403 seconds was less than 0.2 seconds shy of delivering a Hitech GP front-row lock out with pole position qualifying team-mate George Russell. Notably, Mazepin’s second best time of the session was good enough to place him sixth on the grid for race three of the weekend.

Yet more rain ahead of round 19 on Friday, 29th July, meant the opening contest would begin behind the Safety Car. With little improvement in conditions, the F3 racers circulated in formation for over half the allotted time before the action got underway at racing speed with 15 minutes to go.

Mazepin quickly made progress, moving up from 14th position into 13th place, but overtaking opportunities in the spray were few and far between. On lap nine, issues for Mikkel Jensen elevated the Hitech racer into the top 12 and he stayed there to the finish to also take sixth in class.

Round 20 on Friday afternoon offered the best chance of the year for a top result for the Russian and, from third on the grid, he made an excellent start to hold position through La Source right behind the top two. 

With pole position starting team-mate Russell coming under attack out of Raidillon, Mazepin was able to benefit from the slipstream onto the long Kemmel Straight and he squeezed past the sister Hitech car into Les Combes, Russell actually edged back to third with Joel Erikkson taking the lead.

Laying the foundations for a richly deserved podium challenge, Mazepin remained in second place to the end of the lap but as his car turned out of the Bus Stop chicane it crawled to a halt due to a fuel pump problem and he was forced to retire from the race – unbelievable misfortune. Thankfully, the stream of cars exiting the corner all managed to avoid making contact with the stricken Dallara.

For round 21 on Saturday, 30th July, Mazepin made a very good start from sixth on the grid and although ending the lap in a lofty third place it hadn’t been without drama – the youngster having to take a trip across the sausage kerbs at Les Combes in avoidance of Barnicoat after his incident. 

Despite damage to the floor and fuel tank of his car, Mazepin managed to cling on to third for another couple of laps but was eventually shuffled down the order to eighth place. Even so, the result was his best of the year and he also matched his previous best top four Rookie class finish.

Mazepin now has a six week break from FIA Formula 3 European Championship race action with the ante-penultimate event of the season taking place at Germany’s Nurburgring over the weekend 10th/11th September.

2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Driver Standings (after Rd21):
19th Nikita Mazepin, 5pts

2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Team Standings (after Rd21):
2nd Hitech GP, 405pts

2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship Rookie Standings (after Rd21):
9th Nikita Mazepin, 124pt