Callum Ilott dominated the GP3 opening race in Austria and cruised into the championship lead as title rivals Nikita Mazepin and Anthoine Hubert clashed whilst recovering through the field.
The British driver, who is part of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy scheme, got a good start from pole position and was never challenged throughout the race, eventually winning by 4.5 seconds from Campos Racing’s Leonardo Pulcini. Even an early safety car to recover Joey Mawson’s broken Arden car from the pit straight could not help the rest of the field catch the untouchable Brit.
Ilott’s progress to the championship lead was helped by the poor results for rivals and ART stable-mates Nikita Mazpin and Anthoine Hubert. Mazepin had already made contact with Pedro Piquet in turn one whilst Hubert had carved through the field to 11th, after starting 19th due to breaking down in the closing minutes of qualifying, before the pairs races collided in more ways than one. Mazepin went for a move on Hubert into the penultimate corner but had no-where to go except for into the rear tyre of Hubert, spinning the Frenchman into the middle of the track. Hubert was lucky not to be collected by any of the other drivers in the blind but fast turn nine and managed to restart but a 17th place finish leaves Hubert with a lot of work to do on Sunday to score any points from the weekend.
Whilst the leader had a comfortable Saturday morning drive, the rest of the field had to fight every inch of the way, especially in the opening laps after the Safety car. Leonardo Pulcini got a good initial start off the line and followed Alessio Lorandi past front row starter Jake Hughes on the opening lap. From there, the two Italians squabbled over second place for a number of laps until lap seven when Pulcini managed to pass Lorandi into turn four with the help of one of his six DRS uses. Pulcini stretched the legs of his Campos car but could not threaten Ilott and had to settle for second place, his second podium of the season.
Lorandi seemed to be a casualty of miscommunication from race control. The drivers were originally asked to follow the Safety car through the pit lane, however, the Safety car did not enter the pit lane at the end of lap one. Whilst this message got to all the other drivers to stay on circuit, Lorandi headed for the pit lane. Race Control realised their mistake and allowed Lorandi to retake his second position, that he had won off the start, behind Ilott. After his battle with Pulcini had finished, Lorandi settled in for a race long battle with Hughes. Hughes lost the position off the start but moved back past the Italian on lap ten.
At this stage, ART’s Hughes looked strong for a confidence boosting podium as he pulled away from Lorandi, who was still racing with a broken shoulder that was picked up in the five week gap between the opening two rounds. Lorandi had to fight off the attentions of Trident team-mate Pedro Piquet for a couple of laps but Piquet out-braked himself into turn three, whilst attacking Lorandi, and used the run-off area to rejoin, losing a place to the third Trident of Ryan Tveter. This seemed to kick start Lorandi’s confidence as he closed back down on Hughes quickly, taking the position with the help of DRS up into turn three. Whilst he had to rebuff a late challenge from Piquet, Lorandi claimed his first podium of the season.
Pedro Piquet continues to impress this season. Whilst not always qualifying in the first few rows, Piquet has shown strongly throughout the races, especially with his overtaking. Today was no different as the Brazilian recovered from sixth on the grid and early contact with Nikita Mazepin to challenge for a podium. Fourth place was a good reward for Piquet, who now sits sixth in the championship, one point ahead of team-mate Lorandi
Britain’s Jake Hughes must have thought he had double vision with the amount of Trident cars he had to battle today with Lorandi, Piquet and Tveter all challenging the ART driver during the race, Tveter the only one not to make a move stick on Hughes. It will be a moral boosting result for Hughes after a disastrous start to the season that was built up to be a championship challenge. This fifth place almost doubles his points total from the opening two rounds and moves him back to eighth in the points table.
Giuliano Alesi has been the fourth best Trident driver over the weekend, which is unusual for the driver who came into Austria third in the points. A quiet Saturday race was brought alive in the final laps as he caught team-mate Tveter, passing him on the final lap into turn four for sixth place. American Tveter has returned to form in Austria. After being off the pace in the opening two rounds and not scoring a point so far, Tveter required a strong weekend. Being fastest in practice on Friday morning was a positive start. The momentum has continued for the Trident driver into the race, finishing in seventh place. Possibly the driver to watch for Sunday’s reverse grid race?
The battle for eighth, and the reverse grid pole tomorrow, involved many drivers throughout the race but it came down to Jenzer Motorsport’s David Beckmann and Campos Racing’s Simo Laaksonen. The pair battled hard over the final few tours with Laaksonen overtaking Beckmann with four laps to go but Beckmann saved one of his DRS uses and used it perfectly to claim the all-important eighth place. The battle between the two was hard but respectful, with the pair side by side for half a lap at one stage.
It was a disappointing race for MP Motorsport, who arguably had the fastest car in France. Dorian Boccolacci had a quiet race to tenth to claim the final point ahead of team-mate Niko Kari, who had qualified in sixteenth. Debutant Devlin DeFrancesco pitted towards the end of the race and the Canadian finished a lap down in 18th.
Jenzer Motorsport almost scored an own goal as Juan Manuel Correa and Beckmann battled hard, making contact twice during the fight. Correa’s promising race ended with contact with Hubert’s front wing causing a puncture. The team debrief will be interesting as its the second race in seven days that Correa has made contact with a team-mate after spinning Tatiana Calderon out of the points in Le Castellet last Saturday. Arden International qualified two cars in the top ten but any hope of a good result was spoilt early on with Mawson’s retirement and Gabriel Aubry needing a new front wing.
The momentum is now with Ilott, who leads the championship by two points over Hubert. The Brit will be hoping to extend his lead in tomorrow’s reverse grid race starting nine places ahead of Hubert but as we have seen this season, nothing is certain.