When it comes to countries synonymous with motorsport, the Caribbean island of Barbados probably isn’t a place that instantly comes to mind. With a population of around 280,000, Zane Maloney was already a local star before he hit the track in Formula 3, but this season’s rollercoaster journey has certainly put him on the map.
On the eve of the 2022 season finale, the Trident driver sat fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, 24 points adrift of Victor Martins. Very much an outside contender for the title, that didn’t matter to him - as it was a position that he never could have foreseen following the opening three rounds. It exemplified the 18-year-old's determination, outright talent and the momentum he and the Italian team built to turn his fortunes around.
Having honed his craft in British F4, Euroformula Open and then the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine last season, many onlookers weren’t sure what to expect from him. Yet it was apparent from the opening Qualifying session in Sakhir, where he secured seventh, that the partnership between the then reigning Teams’ Champions and the Bajan rookie had the potential to be something special.
“I had no expectations coming into the season,” he admitted. “We saw the speed was there straight away and I gelled with the team, so we were able to be quick from the get-go. It was tough, of course, stepping up, but it felt more natural.
“To be honest, it didn't take any time in terms of getting up to speed, which I was very surprised with. I was expecting it to take quite a while. Trident did an amazing job with the preparation, and I think that's what made it so natural. I was able to gel with the team and the car a lot quicker than I expected, but there were still other things I needed to work on.”
While his one-lap pace was impressive, with the best average Qualifying performance across the season and he took pole in only his second weekend, his strong starting positions failed to translate into the solid haul of points he was hoping for across the first three rounds. Two DNFs and a P13 finish in the opening trio of Feature Races was a combination of bad luck and rookie errors, not least spinning out of the lead whilst behind the Safety Car at Imola early on and missing the weighbridge during Barcelona Qualifying, which condemned him to a pitlane start for both races.
The knockbacks were a bitter pill to swallow for Maloney, he recognised that he had to put things into perspective. Taking the opportunity to head back to the familiar surroundings of Barbados, he welcomed the chance to refresh and knuckle down ahead of the second half of the year.
All season we’ve been there, and I kept learning more and more with the team and started to put it together. I knew our potential and I knew I still had the confidence in myself to be up there all the time.
"However, even though you try not to look at the Championship positions, every time you look after losing 25 points each weekend, it’s not so nice.
“At the beginning of the year and whenever I had a month off, I really wanted to go home back to Barbados to get some sun and more training in. The problem is when you have a bad weekend, you don’t want to go home, you just want to come back and fix what happened. When it was a double or triple header, then it was full work mode, but when I had a bit of a break, I think the best thing for me this year was to switch off from racing and set a new goal for the next round.”
Initially however, the familiar frustration continued at Silverstone. Whilst defending from fellow rookie Oliver Bearman for third on the opening lap of the Feature Race, the two tangled, sending Maloney spinning off and he tumbled down out of the points.
Yet the tide of his 2022 campaign started to shift as F3 headed to Spielberg for the fifth round. Demonstrating his overtaking chops, the #6 Trident carved his way through in the Feature Race, making up three places to claim fifth. His first points on a Sunday couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as the Championship tilted over the halfway mark.
“For me, Red Bull Ring was really the turning point of the season in terms of results, but nothing really changed from my side from the start of the season. I think I put it together a bit more and focused on the end goal, not past the end goal – focused on the moment.”
Buoyed by his result, he began to turn the tables on his early season disappointment. Assuming his place on the front row once again, he held firm to bring home a maiden podium in Budapest’s demanding Feature Race. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Maloney’s first double points finish saw him climb up into the top 10 and began the run of form that would transform him from midfield fighter to title contender.
“I didn’t want to end the season with so many podium opportunities and none of them executed. Budapest was great and at the time it was amazing, but when I look back now, second is not as good as first. To get the podium there really kickstarted everything, I felt more confident with the team and maybe the team had a bit more confidence in me as well. Everything was a bit smoother since then.”
Crediting his team for all the time and dedication they gave to him, nowhere was this more apparent than in Spa-Francorchamps. A crash between Maloney and Campos Racing’s Oliver Goethe left their cars in tatters and it took a herculean effort from both crews to get the cars to the grid in time for lights out on Sunday.
In a fairy-tale ending to their Belgian weekend, Trident reaped the rewards, as Maloney recovered in style to bring home his first victory in the third tier – an achievement he doubted was possible the night before.
“It felt amazing! I gave the team a lot of hard work on Saturday into Sunday. The win in Spa was more just about how good the team did, that’s what I was thinking about. I didn’t sleep much on Saturday either because of the big crash, it was probably one of the biggest I’ve seen in a long time so to reset was hard.
“After the crash, I wasn’t really thinking about the next race. I knew I was starting second, but it was quite difficult mentally to prepare for Sunday. I think that was our biggest feat this year. To come back from the biggest crash of my career to win the next day, I didn’t believe I could do it.
“As racing drivers, we kind of need to put what happened out of our minds. I would do the same moves on Sunday, but of course it’s difficult. I got in the car on Sunday hoping that I knew what I was doing still, but I felt good straight away - just a little bit strange during the race, but it didn’t really show in the results.
“Obviously, it shows all the work that I’ve been doing and that the team have been doing behind the scenes to prepare me physically and mentally really helped. I’m proud of that!”
Moving up into seventh, it would be the penultimate round that truly catapulted him into the title fight. After becoming the first double pole-sitter of the season, he strategically balanced risk versus reward and held his nerve in a late two-lap charge to the line to snatch victory out of Championship leader Martins’ hands. Evolving his race craft round-by-round to become an unexpected late outside shot, Maloney knew that he had the potential to fight until the end.
“To be honest, I expected it a little bit because by Monza I had two poles this season, but we’d been so close to having four or five poles and I’d been in the top three in Qualifying six times. The pace had always been there, but to be in the Championship fight after what happened at the beginning of the year was a bit crazy - I shouldn’t have really been in this title fight, so to be in it was a positive.”
Storming out of the blocks in Monza, Maloney outqualified his rivals and secured a crucial seven points with fourth in the Sprint Race. Yet a sizeable 18-point gap remained and with 25 points for victory on offer, it was all or nothing for the Bajan driver.
Unfortunately for him, claiming a remarkable third consecutive Feature Race win wasn’t enough to overturn Martins’ advantage for the title. But it was Maloney who stood proudly as the Vice-Champion, with only five points separating the two.
Maloney’s 2022 season proves that it’s not how you start but how you finish that matters – illustrating how he and Trident were able to turn the corner on early frustrations and transform it into an extraordinary ending. While the lessons he’s learnt along the way might have stung, he recognises that there could be no better preparation for whatever comes next.
“Every time I got in the car, I was a bit more confident. If something went a bit wrong in Practice, at the beginning of the year maybe I got a bit nervous for Qualifying or expected the worse, whereas I had a terrible Practice in Zandvoort and then I knew exactly what I needed to do in Qualifying.
“I just felt a lot more confident in myself and I knew that every time I went out on track, I would be up there if I didn’t make mistakes, so for sure I’ve changed in that way. Then also knowing what the job is – maybe it’s not to win every single race and it’s to score points. That’s a great lesson for the future.
“I've learned so much in this season, probably the most ever in my career by quite a lot. I'm looking forward to the future and whatever I do next year, I'm sure I'll be a lot more ready than I was at the start of this season. It's always a positive, I just need to try not to make the same mistakes again, and I'm sure I will.”