If victory in the Sakhir Feature Race was Gabriel Bortoleto stating his intentions of fighting for the 2023 Formula 3 title, then the Trident rookie’s second consecutive Sunday victory had him well and truly stake his claim on it.
Everyone embarked on a journey through uncharted territory on the Championship’s first appearance around Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit. However, Bortoleto thrived from the start by topping Qualifying. With his Italian team holding him in the pits as late as possible, the Brazilian’s wait paid off and he wrestled pole away from Grégoire Saucy by 0.171s.
Securing 12th on Friday, Sebastián Montoya lined up on reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race and held firm off the line, but it was fourth-placed Luke Browning who instantly went on the attack. Getting the jump on Caio Collet for third, the Williams junior tried to nudge past Oliver Goethe up the inside of Turn 1. Fighting through to Turn 3, the slightest contact left the Trident driver with a puncture and brought out a Safety Car appearance on the opening lap.
When racing resumed on Lap 4, the Hitech Pulse-Eight duo of Montoya and Browning squared off against one another. Browning looked to the inside at Turn 9 but bounced over the kerbs and dropped to fifth.
Progressing from sixth on the grid, Franco Colapinto seized his chance on Lap 6, utilising DRS into Turn 9 to swoop past leader Montoya moments before a second Safety Car intervention.
Returning to green flag conditions on Lap 11, the PREMA Racing trio steadily clawed closer to the front as Dino Beganovic snatched sixth from Gabriele Minì before elbowing his way past Browning, who dropped down the order after his defence of P5.
Overcoming a third restart after Tommy Smith ran wide out of the final corner, Colapinto instantly broke clear, escaping DRS range and opening a two second gap within a lap. Zak O’Sullivan refused to be content with third, rubbing wheels with Montoya as the Briton claimed second with a daring move out of Turn 11.
A fourth and final Safety Car brought the race to a close as Alejandro García found the wall at Turn 11, with Colapinto initially claiming his spot on the top step. However, a post-race disqualification for the MP Motorsport trio promoted O’Sullivan to P1, his first F3 victory ahead of Montoya, whilst Paul Aron’s efforts to fend off teammate Beganovic in the final stages were rewarded with the Estonian’s maiden podium in third.
On Sunday, Bortoleto immediately covered off the threat from Saucy at lights out, as the top five held position. Behind them, contact between Montoya and home favourite Christian Mansell eliminated the Red Bull junior from the race, whilst separate incidents for teammates Colapinto and Mari Boya triggered an early Safety Car on Lap 2.
Kaylen Frederick joined the pair in retirement, making contact with his fellow ART Grand Prix driver Nikola Tsolov during the Safety Car phase.
Wisely navigating the restart on Lap 6, Bortoleto couldn’t quite manage to shake off Saucy, as the Swiss driver remained within the crucial one second DRS window.
After a disastrous Qualifying left Josep María Martí languishing at the back of the grid, the Campos Racing driver was back with a vengeance, carving his way from 30th to 21st on the opening lap alone. As his teammate Mansell stuttered following an attempt to pass Oliver Goethe, Martí pounced to seize 12th before a second Safety Car intervention one lap later following contact between Ido Cohen and Rafael Villagómez.
Acing his restart on Lap 16, Martí cleared Goethe and then made his move on Jonny Edgar, braving it around the outside of Turn 9 to break into the top 10 and eventually classified in P7.
Out front, Saucy had closed to within half a second of Bortoleto with three laps to go. Unfortunately for him, it was too late to mount a challenge and Bortoleto reached the chequered flag first to take back-to-back Feature Race victories.
Meanwhile, Minì held off Leonardo Fornaroli’s last-ditch attempt at snatching his compatriot’s podium away in third. Importantly for Trident, their 1-4 finish meant they broke the 100-point barrier in the lead of the Teams’ Championship.
Having entered Round 2 with a three-point advantage, Bortoleto left Australia’s sunny shores with a 20-point margin. Knowing that breathing space could disappear in the blink of an eye, the Brazilian cast his eye on extending it further once the European leg of the 2023 campaign began in a month’s time.