After 3 successful, if slightly damp, tests the entire grid couldn’t wait for the 2017 season to get underway at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, and if they worried that the 2 rain storms on Thursday were a precursor of the days to come then the glorious sunny conditions on Friday would put a spring into everyone’s steps. That afternoon saw the cars hit the track in anger at last, with Nirei Fukuzumi showing how keen he was to get going by topping the timesheets by two tenths from Arjun Maini and Marcos Seibert.
But the Japanese driver wouldn’t have everything his own way the next morning, with Jack Aitken threading the needle and finding a clear run when his tyres were at their best to steal pole in the closing minutes from Fukuzumi and Dorian Boccolacci, who had led the way on the first set of tyres before improving, along with the others, on his second.
The Briton, however, was slightly surprised at his good fortune in the session: “A little bit, yeah! I made quite a big mistake on the last corner of the lap but obviously the rest of the lap was good enough to start from pole, and it’s a perfect way to start the year with the team. It’s so important with these tyres to make sure you hit the peak of the grip, to make sure you’re doing the lap at the right time, not getting traffic and managing all the little things, and everything went pretty smoothly. We were able to show our pace today, apartfrom the last corner, and maybe next time we can be even better.”
That next time was Race 1 later that day, and it certainly didn’t go to plan: at the start all 3 drivers went side by side into turn 1, with Fukuzumi getting the line into turn 2 while Boccolacci was eased a little wide to start a battle between the teammates. The pair gave no quarter, pulling away from their rivals as they fought, before a mechanical gremlin halted Aitken’s challenge, handing the win to Fukuzumi by over 7 seconds to Leonardo Pulcini and Alessio Lorandi, both fighting to the flag for the bragging rights of being the top Italian.Asked how it sounded to be called a race winner, the Honda protégé couldn’t contain himself: “It sounds amazing! I had a good start and then I tried to manage the tyres as best as possible. But then Jack was quite close, so that complicated things a lot. When I tried to challenge him, he had a problem with the car. I am quite sad for him, but anyway I am so happy with this win. I would like to thank Honda, ART and my sponsors for making all this possible!”
If the fight for victory was complicated in Race 1, the second event would be blissfully simple: Arjun Maini was simply untouchable. The Indian got away well from P2 to lead his rivals into turn 1 and then just left, running out to a 6 second lead at the flag to the sheer delight of his Jenzer team, with Boccolacci learning about maintaining his tyres in the first race and now able to stop a fast charging Lorandi rounding out a 1-2 for the Swiss team.
“It was a hard fought race,” the delighted Indian noted later, “I had a good start and managed to take the lead, although Boccolacci was putting a lot of pressure on in the first few laps: it was difficult to keep him behind me, but once I managed to do that I was able to pull out of the DRS zone. It was a pretty consistent and simple race after that for me, I just had to maintain my pace and save the tyres as much as I good. It felt amazing to cross the finish line! I want to thank the team, because they’ve been working really hard since the beginning of the year: to finally give this good result with both cars to them is incredible.
“We are putting up a challenge to ART now. We have a strong chance, and I’m really looking forward to the next round!”
For more info from Round 1, check out the latest issue of The Insider magazine: theinsider.gp3series.com