Ben Barnicoat made an impressive start on his FIA Formula 3 European championship debut at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.
Moving up to the series whose results contribute towards a Formula 1 Super Licence, and again backed by the Racing Steps Foundation, the Chesterfield 18 year-old had, “a bit of a mixed weekend really...”
Really strong pace in the free test session boded well for the weekend, but windy and rainy practices were a challenge for his first time in the wet in a F3 car with its dependence on aerodynamics providing the grip.
In a wet qualifying session 1, he was the first to take the flag giving him the initial pole position, but in the improving conditions, “others last laps were faster demoting me to 5th”.
“To start my first ever Formula 3 race in 5th position is a pretty solid platform to work from,” Barnicoat remarked. “I was going well and improving every lap, so it was disappointing to be caught out by the chequered flag. I felt that I could have gone even better, by up to half a second, if I’d been able to bank that final lap”.
Qualifying session 2 was less windy, but expecting the track to be greasy, rather than dry, he was too aggressive warming his slick tyres, and overheated them, losing grip so would be starting in 6th place for the second race of the weekend.
Taking place in drizzle, race 1 saw him “only manage to convert 5th to 4th”, but Barnicoat had a tough race as he spent 33 minutes holding off Max Guenther (pole position in race 2, and race 3 winner).
“My pace was good compared to my more experienced teammate, George Russell, so I was happy – I would have liked a podium, of course...”
Things were not so great in race 2, Barnicoat made a good start and saw a gap at the first corner left by Lance Stroll. “l went for it, but made the mistake of running wide on to the paint at the edge of the track, lost grip and then was just a passenger”.
He cascaded into the pack causing a multiple collision, and broken suspension for Barnicoat ended his race early. He was later handed a five-place grid penalty by race stewards for the third and final race of the weekend, plus Barnicoat was also punished with two penalty points on his race licence.
Sheepishly, Barnicoat admitted, “I learnt a lot from that”.
From his relegated race 3 11th grid slot, he made a really strong start climbing up to 8th, but cars tangling alongside forced Barnicoat off the track and he dropped to 13th.
Soon making his way back up, he got up to 11th, Barnicoat defending his position from a charging fellow Brit, Callum Ilott to the flag, with rain in the air he showed caution, “I didn’t want to risk any further penalties...”.
“All-in-all, bar race 2, it was a positive weekend”. Barnicoat summed up his Formula 3 debut. “My pace was close to (teammate) Russell, so I was happy with my performance. I had a bit of everything in three races, but have got the first weekend over and done, It is good to learn how a race weekend works. But it is a shame about the accident.
“Now I need to get my head down and get on with it, I have not raced on these Hankook tyres before so I have to change my driving style as the race goes on”, commenting with a grin, “having to wait for grip to come in is not really my style...”