After a year of learning the F3 ropes and finding improvements with each race weekend, 2022 is a considerable success according to Franco Colapinto. He was a winner in the Sprint Race at Imola, with three further podium finishes separating that result from his second win in the Monza Sprint.
His Monza victory came under pressure from Oliver Bearman, who crossed the line just 0.4s behind the Van Amersfoort Racing man but had been side-by-side heading into the final corner. Unflinching in the face of the challenge, it was an impressive drive considering how overtaking was easier at Monza due to DRS having a larger benefit than other circuits.
The moment that stands out most though for Colapinto is the one right at the beginning.
“My favourite moment was the first one, Bahrain. It was a big surprise, not even I thought we would have been on pole. First of all, putting in a really good lap on the first set of tyres but then getting it deleted for track limits and losing P1 – I didn’t know if I could do it again because it was a really good lap, everything came together on my first push. So, I had no lap before the final push, but I knew that the car had a good balance and I knew that if I could repeat the lap, I would be on pole. It was that little extra pressure when you don’t already have the lap, it makes everything a bit more tricky.
“When you cross the line and you feel that relief and it was a good lap, you’re proud of the situation, the team, yourself. It was teamwork that worked really well. I only met the team a few weeks before Bahrain and then in the first race we put it on pole. It was my best moment of the season, surprising for me to be on pole on the first weekend together. It was like just one of those moments where you’re thinking maybe you could fight for the Championship. So, it was a good boost for the rest of the season.
“Qualifying is always one of the best moments when you nail the lap, put all the corners together and feel like you gained the maximum that you could and then cross the start/finish line, it’s an amazing feeling after a lap like that. Even though I didn’t win the race, it was the moment where I felt the best.”
For a team that made its debut this year in FIA Formula 3, VAR hit the ground running and then some. Colapinto took the first pole position of the season in Bahrain, a surprising achievement for the newcomers.
The Argentine was one of the stand-out drivers of those competing in their maiden F3 season, scoring multiple wins and podiums during a strong 2022 rookie campaign.
“I learned a lot and it was an amazing opportunity with Van Amersfoort,” Colapinto said. “I think the team was a success, to be that quick straight away, with a new team and new people. It showed that all the work they did in the winter meant they were going in the right direction, it was a very good year. We did some really good races, showed that the car was quick. Of course, we missed that consistency, but I think that’s normal.”
The aforementioned pole at the first time of asking in Sakhir was a welcome surprise for VAR and Colapinto, who were not expecting to be right at the front in the first competitive session of 2022. His 1:46.249 was good enough for the prime grid slot, 0.065s better than next-best Roman Stanek.
Pole was a cause for celebration within the team, having arrived on the Formula 3 grid and out-paced teams with far greater experience. And yet, achieving that pole and having such a strong start in Bahrain might have actually cost VAR in the long run. Colapinto believes that the result may have skewed the true picture of the competitive order.
“It wasn’t realistic to be on pole in the first race of the season, just a lot of things that came together after testing that helped a lot. We had a lot of information on other tracks but were missing things on some weekends, not strong enough to compete with the best teams like PREMA Racing, Trident, ART Grand Prix, or Hitech Grand Prix.
“I don’t think it was something that many people in the paddock were expecting, Van Amersfoort Racing on pole for the first F3 race for the team and myself. Being the quickest in Qualifying was already a success. Slowly, with the races going by, we started to understand where we were in the competitive order a bit more.
“We knew what we had to work on from the beginning, but I think being on pole straight away in our first race, it might have taken us off the path we were following. In the end, being on pole means you are the quickest of all 30 cars, and maybe we were not. I think a lot of things combined together in Qualifying went in the perfect direction, we maximised what we had, and other drivers didn’t. I think we did the overall better job in that Qualifying.
“I’m not going to say that it was a comfort thing, we thought that the car was really quick, but we still had a lot of things to work on and maybe not working on those things early enough in the season hurt us. But that’s normal, that’s part of the learning experience.”
Once the team had identified the problem areas, improvements quickly followed and the level of consistency in the races that Colapinto was waiting for finally arrived. A difficult middle phase of the season meant that strong results were few and far between.
Arriving back after the summer break, the improvements in race pace were evident as Colapinto put together what he believes was his best race performance of the season, keeping Championship leader Victor Martins honest throughout.
“Towards the last part of the season, the race pace was good. In Zandvoort I had the best race pace by far, I was just starting behind Victor Martins. It’s really difficult to overtake in Zandvoort so it made it tricky. I was following, maybe three-tenths behind him almost the whole race. We found a really good balance for the races, and I think it helped a lot to save the tyres and that improvement made us able to fight for more points and podiums. Many other races were just about defending, and we would slowly drop back but at the end I was quite happy with the race pace, and I think we were one of the strongest ones in that aspect.
“The strongest part at the end of our season was race pace whereas at the beginning, it was Qualifying. Every weekend had good things. I don’t think any weekend was perfect, but I think that’s normal for a new team. The last part of the season and the race pace, how we managed to save tyres by improving the balance of the car, we had a very good thing after a lot of work and testing.
“We were still missing some things but found a lot of things to work on. It’s impossible to be focused on everything on the car, but we tried the best we could, and we extracted the maximum we could out of the first year. I was happy with where we ended up and how we improved across the season. I think the team did a really good job for their first year, happy with the trust they gave me to step up to F3. We enjoyed it a lot in the team. Overall, it was a pretty decent year for a rookie team and rookie driver.”
P9 in the Championship for Colapinto and sixth in the Teams’ Standings behind the established outfits was a solid foundation to build on for both parties. Though the team did excellent work to improve its set-ups and pace throughout the season, there is no substitute for real life experience according to the Argentine.
Regular points-scoring finishes were a positive from ’22 he is hoping to carry into next year, but the consistency will need to improve. Should that happen next season, Colapinto believes there’s no reason why he can’t be competing for the Championship come 2023.
“When you compete against teams that have been there for five or six years, it’s sometimes difficult to be at the same level as them. They have a lot more information to rely on, a lot more experienced drivers, more experienced engineers, it makes it a bit more difficult. We did a good job though with what we had.
“We were always in the mix. We weren’t always consistent in the season, but I think that’s something that’s normal for a new team and new driver. We both did some mistakes, the team and myself but I think that’s more or less why we weren’t fighting for the Championship at the end of the season. In that middle part of the season, all those points that we missed, that hurt us in the end.
“Even though it was an amazing season, there are many things I’m hoping to improve. This year I improved in some things and in other areas, I still need to improve and I’m working hard on that with the people around me. I think it’s really important to have those people that you can lean on and get support from in the background. Fortunately, I have it. I did a big step this year but there’s areas to work on still. I’m just hoping to become a bit more complete as a driver for next season. I want to learn from my mistakes because I did quite a few this season, avoiding those and I will be fighting for the Championship next season. I will push hard to use that experience of my rookie year and start to work towards that goal of fighting for the Championship.”