Ben Barnicoat walked on water in Hungary, taking his debut victory in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship while claiming the first win for the Hitech GP squad in the process at a wet Hungaroring circuit.
Round 2 of the Formula 3 series at the home of the Hungarian GP, had the RSF-backed driver held up in traffic in both qualifying sessions on a circuit that has always been renowned for a lack of grip.
Things were made worse by the recent resurfacing of the circuit and with the new tarmac still slippery made ‘exceeding track limits’ penalties a perpetual hazard.
Barnicoat was one of more than 40 drivers to stray a wheel beyond the freshly marked-out lines, and stewards docked his best time in the opening session so he would start race 1 in 12th rather than sixth.
Little changed in the day’s second session with traffic still hampering Barnicoat’s best efforts: he was only able to muster 8th for race 2, but vitally he clocked the 6th fastest time for race 3.
“Obviously I’m still on a steep learning curve but I’m sure I could have done better today but for the traffic and tactics of some of the other drivers out there,” said the Hitech GP driver.
“Still, everything’s there now in terms of the elements I need to produce quick laptimes. I’ve just got to piece them all together now to make sure I leave here on Sunday night with some decent points-paying places under my belt”.
Following a brief race 1 opening lap safety car period, Barnicoat became embroiled in scraps for positions within the top-10: when one car dropped away from the pack, it promoted Barnicoat into the top-10, and into a second tussle for 8th place.
George Russell, Barnicoat’s team-mate, retired and promoted the Chesterfield 18 year-old to 9th place, but he was unable to make further progress: his lap times increasing through tyre wear, having chosen his most tired set of slicks for this race.
A disappointing start to race two from 8th place on the grid, Barnicoat went wide at turn one “taking real avoiding action” losing two places dodging two cars colliding, dropping into a pack of up to six cars vying for 7th place.
Unable to make any progress behind the 9th-placed car, Barnicoat persistently took the chequered flag in 10th place overall, plus attaining a Rookie 3rd-place podium.
“A shame to only score 1 point, while good to take the Rookie 3rd place, I’ll take it on the chin – I know better qualifying is needed”.
Overnight rain continued into the Sunday morning, meaning that race 3 started under the safety car due to the soaking wet conditions.
After two processional laps the cars were released, Barnicoat was “happy and confident” starting from 6th position; he wasted no time in progressing up the order.
New FIA rules on Safety Car re-starts, say that once the Safety Car has pulled into the Pit Lane, competitors can overtake after the Pit Lane entry.
Taking advantage of this, when Nick Cassidy went wide prior to the last corner Barnicoat dived past him on the inside for 5th place.
A deft bit of overtaking gave him 4th place and avoiding a final corner spinner meant Barnicoat was into 3rd place by the end of the opening tour!
While at the front Maximilian Günther and Russell had stormed off, the pair leading by three seconds, Barnicoat felt he had a “good solid position” from which to close the gap.
Steadily he was catching them, but Barnicoat’s Hitech GP teammate Russell did the work for him going for Gunter’s lead, they collided resulting in race-ending damage for the pair.
While “unfortunate” that it was his teammate who crashed, Barnicoat had to capitalise when gifted the race lead on lap six: he was grateful, “it fell into my hands”.
Clearing the wreckage brought out the Safety Car for 2 laps, losing Barnicoat his 3 seconds lead, he could not relax, but keeping a cool head he made a successful restart.
With deft car-control on the wet track, his lead was untroubled and with a string of fastest laps Barnicoat managing to pull out a 5 seconds margin at the chequered flag to take his maiden FIA F3 race win.
Beaming an ear-to-ear grin he commented, “I’m over the moon for me and Hitech GP especially for all their effort: they have worked so hard setting up the new team in such a short space of time and it has boosted their spirits”.
“It was a bit of a ‘could have, should have’ weekend prior to race 3, but I did everything right”, Barnicoat revealed.
“The track was unbelievably slippery in the wet - like driving on ice and it was almost impossible to see anything due to the spray from drivers in front: it was very hard, and I feel that I would still have had a chance to win even without the crash.
“From the restart, I just focused on keeping the car on the black stuff. I’m traditionally good in the wet so felt fairly comfortable. The win is great for me and the team, George [Russell] is more experienced having already had a year of F3 racing, so I expected him to score the team’s first victory.
“Qualifying didn’t go to plan for me earlier in the weekend. It affected my first and second races but I’m so glad that race three has made up for it and I’ve banked good points. I’m ecstatic”.
Adding to the ecstasy, Barnicoat ended the weekend 6 places higher, 7th in the points table and up to 3rd in the Rookies’ championship.
“I hope to be in touch with leaders from now on - It was an amazing race for me and I’m extremely happy!”.