Already having shown himself to be a rapid qualifier in the opening three rounds, Gabriele Minì proved he could put it all together in Monte Carlo. The European leg of the 2023 Formula 3 season commenced with the Championship’s first trip to the legendary streets and it was the Hitech Pulse-Eight driver who ultimately mastered them.
Unlike other venues this season, running in Monaco was split across four days. Thursday’s Free Practice began in less-than-ideal conditions for the field, with a heavy downpour ahead of running leaving drivers to explore the track on wets. One of 12 drivers to have previously driven around the Principality, Minì quickly got reacquainted and snatched P1 at the chequered flag following a switch to slicks.
With the 30-car field split in two for Qualifying, Group A headed out first and Dino Beganovic and Luke Browning immediately began bouncing the fastest time back-and-forth. However, the PREMA Racing driver’s 1:23.880 couldn’t be matched and all eyes turned to the odd-numbered cars in Group B.
From the outset, Minì didn’t waste any time, storming over six tenths clear of the field. Clocking in purple sector after purple sector, the Alpine junior improved but couldn’t get close to Beganovic’s time. A final shot saw him leave nothing on the table and he was rewarded with a 1:23.278 to claim his second pole position in the Championship.
Promoted to reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race after a penalty for Grégoire Saucy dropped the ART Grand Prix driver to fourth, Josep María Martí started out front and never looked back.
Holding firm off the line, it was second-placed Leonardo Fornaroli who had to go on the defensive to fend off Jenzer Motorsport’s Taylor Barnard, who ultimately lost out as a daring move from Saucy saw him swoop around the outside of Turn 1 and into the top three.
Opening lap contact for MP Motorsport teammates Mari Boya at Turn 1 and Jonny Edgar at Sainte Devote brought out an early Safety Car. Once cleared, Martí aced the Lap 6 restart. Behind him, Franco Colapinto pounced on Barnard, squeezing past the Briton at the Turn 6 hairpin.
Fighting at the tail end of the points, Minì closed up to Paul Aron’s rear wing in the #1 PREMA car but couldn’t seem to find a way through for tenth, as Beganovic patiently eyed up his own chances at a lunge.
Looking completely comfortable in the lead of the race, Martí pulled a five-second gap in six laps. The Spaniard eventually crossed the finish line to take his second victory of the season on his Monaco debut 8.1s ahead of the chasing pack. Fornaroli covered off Saucy’s persistent pressure to bring home his maiden podium in second ahead of the Swiss driver.
Lining up on pole at a circuit where overtaking opportunities aren’t in abundance, Minì knew the Feature Race victory was his to lose. Controlling his launch at lights out, he managed to keep Beganovic behind. Meanwhile, his Hitech teammate Browning had to get his elbows out to hold off Caio Collet for fourth on the run down to Turn 1.
Duelling over eighth, Martí attempted to take two cars in one corner, eying up a move on Championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto and Colapinto at Turn 6. However, a snap of oversteer for Colapinto gave Bortoleto his chance to move up to eighth for Trident.
Whilst duelling with Rodin Carlin teammate Oliver Gray, Ido Cohen lost his #22 car on entry into Turn 12 to trigger the Safety Car. Green flag conditions resumed on Lap 6 and Minì bolted early into Rascasse to hold on to the lead.
Aron and Browning locked themselves in a battle for third as the gap wavered around the 1-second mark. By Lap 17, the Williams junior was all over the back of the Estonian, who made his car as wide as possible to prevent the #16 Hitech finding its way through.
Just behind, Browning’s teammate Sebastián Montoya was shaping for a move of his own for fifth. Benefitting from the traction out of Turn 1, the Colombian gambled on a pass on Collet on the run up the hill that ended in disaster. Making contact with the Van Amersfoort Racing car’s left rear tyre, the Brazilian was left with a puncture Montoya was forced to box for a new front wing.
Beganovic tried to close up to the back of Minì, re-entering the DRS window for the final handful of laps. Yet as the laps ticked down and corners came and went, there was nothing the Swede could do to deny Minì a hard-earned maiden victory. Aron managed to keep Browning at bay to join his teammate on the podium in a 2-3 finish for the Italian team.
In the Drivers’ Championship hunt, Bortoleto’s consistency showed no signs of abating. Earning sixth and fifth-placed finished elevated the Brazilian to 73 points, as his Trident team now held a 24-point lead over PREMA Racing. Victory elevated Minì to become the nearest title contender. Sitting second on 56 points, the Italian had a nine-point advantage over Saucy, as the halfway mark approached in Barcelona next time out.