One of the standout rookies so far this season, Isack Hadjar says he’s surprised by how rapidly he’s gotten to grips with his Formula 3 car but is excited by the chance to be fighting at the front the field in Barcelona this weekend.
Keeping out of trouble on his way to a third-place finish in the Imola Feature Race, the Hitech Grand Prix driver heads into the third round fifth in the Drivers’ Championship on 31 points.
This leaves him only five points behind the leading pair of ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins and PREMA Racing’s Arthur Leclerc.
“To be honest, I didn't expect to adapt that quickly to it,” admitted Hadjar. “But when I saw at the pre-season test in Bahrain that I was on the pace with the top guys then I saw my chance.
“I feel really good with this car. It suits me well and we are performing at a high level at the moment, keeping up with the top drivers.
I'm feeling more confident than ever because I know I have the ability and the team to perform at the highest level.”
Away from the track it’s been a busy time for the 17-year-old, juggling school exams alongside racing. Despite missing out on time in the simulator, the Frenchman insists he’s already gotten an insight into how important tyre management is going to be around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s high-speed corners after facing a greater challenge at the season-opener in Sakhir.
“I think if you go through Bahrain without any problem then you can do all the tracks. Barcelona also is quite tough and quite demanding for them, but I think we, the team, know and understand how it works now.”
Crucially, he’s already got experience at the track – clocking in 72 laps during in-season testing a month ago. Although this has given Hitech a good starting point, Hadjar thinks the much higher temperatures have left them with some question marks ahead.
“Obviously it's way hotter now so the track will be slower than in the test,” he said.
“We expect the loss (to be) around a second, a second-and-a-half through the lap but I think we have a good baseline. We also made a lot of long-runs when it was hotter.”
However, that experience and familiarity for the field also has its disadvantages and Hadjar predicts there’ll be a close fight out front in Qualifying, so he’ll need to get in the zone and put everything together quickly.
“Because it's a track everybody knows, it makes it even more tough for us because we are all very close. We all know this track perfectly. Every team come after years driving this track with the same set-up, so it will be very tight for pole.
He added: “Everyone says that, but in the end that's the key thing to do as a driver and use the Free Practice to nail the balance and be ready for that last push.”