After getting his first Formula 3 points under his belt last time out in Melbourne, Taylor Barnard couldn’t have imagined that he’s now got a trip to podium in his sights on his Monte Carlo debut. Earning ninth overall in Qualifying, the Jenzer Motorsport driver says his success is a testament to the developments he and the team have made – particularly during in-season testing.
Out in Group B, Barnard ventured into the unknown after Thursday’s wet-to-dry Free Practice session left the Briton with no experience on the new soft Pirelli rubber. Adjusting to very different conditions, he made his way up the timing sheets to snatch fifth in his group in the final moments of the session.
“It was pretty crazy. Obviously, we only had 16 minutes and only one set of tyres, so I had to make it work,” Barnard explained. “Yesterday I didn't have any push laps at all on the slick tyre, so I had to adapt as quick as I could. The whole session I was like P8 or P7 and I struggled quite a lot to be honest with the balance of the car.
“Towards the end, I was getting more confident, pushing the limits of the track and of the car. On my last push lap, I managed to improve and get the P5, but I feel like we’re still improving as a team, the car in general and everything's just improving.
"Continuing on from the tests in Imola and Barcelona, I feel like this result was not expected for our first time in Monaco, but I expected to be boosted up the grid a little bit. I think it's now good to have some results after the hard work that we put in.”
Considering the uphill battle the grid faced after Practice, Qualifying proved that to put the perfect lap together around Monaco is no easy feat. Dancing right on the edge of the limit throughout, Barnard’s penultimate attempt had already been thwarted by traffic. That left him facing an all-or-nothing final shot at putting himself into the mix for points.
Fortunately, the Jenzer rookie looked to those more well-versed with the circuit in the opening group. Taking advantage of being in the second segment, he noted how while the insight into his rivals’ approaches was helpful, putting it into practice required him to adapt to his own style rather than a copy and paste-style performance.
“I had traffic in my second to last lap, so I just had to abort the lap in the second last corner. Then I had to quickly focus and reset for the last lap because I had only one corner to prepare myself, but I think that's kind of the characteristics of this track - you have to just adapt as quick as you can. For example, you catch traffic in the last corner and you have to make it work on the next lap. Thankfully, this time I managed to do it.
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“I tried to look at the gears they were using, especially in the last two corners because that's where I was standing, but when I went on track, I actually couldn't do it. I struggled too much with understeer, and in the end, I had to adapt on that, but it gave me kind of an insight as to what kind of speed they were taking to be able to use the gear. So, I kind of knew that I had to push a lot from the start compared to yesterday as it was wet.”
Having made the step up directly from Formula 4, Barnard was always going to face huge learning curve adapting to his new machinery. Whilst his one-lap pace was underwhelming in Sakhir and Melbourne, with his previous best Qualifying result being 18th, in-season testing seems to have come at the right time for the Briton to bridge that gap.
Recording two top four times on Day 2 of Imola testing, Barnard cites those four days of running as being instrumental in finding extra pace in the car, whilst also allowing him to evolve as a driver to better suit his new environment.
“I definitely think since Bahrain we've done a huge jump. In the two tests in Imola and Barcelona, we managed to do a huge step with the car and also myself. I feel like now that we've made a few changes, I've able to get myself comfortable. Before that I really struggled to feel the car and feel confident. We've made a few changes now and it seems to like we're going in the right direction, so I think now I just need to improve myself and the results will start to come.”
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Those kinds of results could be right on the horizon for Barnard, as he lines up third for Saturday’s Sprint Race. Surprised by how quickly his chances have turned during the opening rounds, he’s hungry to bring home silverware with a potential maiden podium on the cards but recognises that it could all come down to those initial seconds off the line.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that I was struggling to get points and I'm now thinking about a podium in Monaco. There’s not really any strategy involved for the race, it's just to have a good start. Then you have a couple of seconds before the first corner to think about basically the whole race because it's impossible to overtake. The goal is just having the best start that I possibly can and we'll see how the race unfolds.”