Reflecting on what he sees as a season of two halves, Taylor Barnard couldn’t have anticipated how his rookie Formula 3 campaign would conclude, given how it started.
Securing a maiden podium and victory in Spa-Francorchamps alongside finishing 10th in the Drivers’ Standings had seemed a dream, but the Jenzer Motorsport driver credits a mix of making the most of situations and his and the team’s hard work to transforming their year.
Jumping straight up to the third tier from Italian and German F4, Barnard admits that his relative lack of experience did put him on the backfoot during the early phases of 2023.
“Coming into this year, I wanted a podium and to be in the top 10 of the Standings. Honestly, after the first three rounds, the top ten in the Standings went out of the way, but I was still chasing the podium.
“I couldn’t say I was confident. We were definitely behind on preparation, not having done Formula Regional or EuroFormula. Starting the season was really tough. We were all down, we really needed to dig deep and bring ourselves up, but with the results and the pace, it was really hard for us all.
“Then when we finally got the chance to dig deep and work hard at the tests, we did that and came out the other side. I think it was not only rewarding that hard work, but the celebrations were much needed for myself and the team.”
He added: “The in-season tests were a good turning point as we got some laps under our belt, both for myself and the car. The few races after that we still struggled slightly, but we were on the way up. Then the second half of the year, we really started to put it all together and that's when the results started to come as well. There was definitely a point where my confidence, the way that the team worked, and everything turned around in the last four rounds.”
By his own admission, Barnard’s debut in the Championship didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts after a run of mistakes in Qualifying at Sakhir invalidated his laps. From there on, experience behind the wheel naturally bred performance. As the Briton began to find his feet, he achieved five consecutive points-scoring finishes from the Melbourne Feature Race onwards through his first appearances in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
Reflecting on a vital learning period, Barnard points to the two in-season tests as the chance to make that jump in performance and understand the Pirelli compounds, something he admits he had difficulties getting to grips with, due to his inexperience.
“Being put in stressful and difficult situations and getting laps in the car really started to build my confidence. Also, the evolution throughout the season, I think I had the biggest improvement out of everyone from the start to the end of the season. I think that’s also due to the fact that the preparation was not as good as we would have liked.”
Following those three successful weekends, Barnard left Spielberg, Silverstone and Budapest with no points to show for it. Acknowledging the disappointment that came with a lack of linear progress, the 19-year-old could at least see the silver lining and remained determined to prove how far he’d come.
“It was really frustrating because in the first few rounds, we just didn’t have the pace and I felt like we were putting everything together as much as we could have. Then as soon as we found the pace, everything just didn't go together properly. We had a few issues in Qualifying in Spielberg and in Hungary, and in Silverstone my mistake was why we had no points.
“It was for sure frustrating that in the three rounds after we really started to turn around and get the pace, we didn't get the results. When anyone goes through a difficult period when you have no results and no pace, it’s just constant hard work and there is always a huge learning curve. You’re always coming back stronger, but I think the way that we bounced back was really strong.”
Yet even he couldn’t have foreseen how events would unfold at the penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps. With the unpredictable weather at play, Barnard made his own luck. Keeping his nose clean in the Sprint Race saw him secure his first podium, a feat he wasn’t sure whether he could top.
Starting the Feature Race with a gamble on the wet tyres after a pre-race downpour proved to be the right call. Remaining resolute in his decision despite improving track conditions, he handled a Safety Car restart to perfection and fended off Christian Mansell’s relentless advances to bring home an emotional victory for Jenzer and their first since 2019.
“I can’t really explain how it felt,” Barnard said. “It’s one of those feelings that I think you have to experience to understand how someone feels. It was partly luck for sure. In the first race, there were a lot of Safety Cars and not many racing laps. However, you still had to do the restarts in super tricky conditions on the slicks.
“However, the Feature Race was not expected at all! I said to my engineer when we were on the grid that we’d had a great day yesterday and I thought starting on the wets was going to be quicker. Then as the track dried out, it just depended on how much the tyres were going to drop away and I said I’d rather be in the position of being in front and trying to hold everyone off, instead of trying to fight everyone.
“I think you have to be lucky to be put in those situations, but even then, when you’re given the conditions, you still have to follow through and finish the job. We had our chance to do it and we took it. After the struggle that we had at the start of the season, to finally get rewarded with some points and a nice result was really needed for myself and the team. Then to add to that, the Feature Race win on Sunday was the highest high that you can get.”
While the Belgian weekend was his strongest in terms of results, Barnard sees the season finale in Monza as arguably his standout weekend and proof of how far he’d come. Two consistent performances in P4 and P3 crucially earned him a top 10 finish in the Drivers’ Championship, a feat he saw as unattainable with 16 points to his name at the halfway mark.
“Honestly, I think it was my best weekend of the whole season. In Spa, it was down to circumstances and as well as us finishing the job, but in Monza, it was down to pure pace and that meant more to me when we got the podium in the Feature Race. I had to do some good overtakes, we had to race well, and everything was in the same conditions.
“On Sunday, I didn’t expect to have the pace and results that we did. Again, like in Spa, when we got put in that situation where we had the pace and the opportunity to get the podium, we grabbed it with both hands and made the best out of it. That was really the chance that I got to prove to everyone the evolution that I’d had throughout the year.
“I was just taking one weekend by the next, kept working as hard as we could, and the points will always follow in that case. I’m really happy to say that we’ve finished in the top 10, especially at the start of the season when it looked impossible. To end up there with the results that we’ve had and the hard work we put in is a great pleasure.”
For Barnard, an up-and-down rookie year is all part of the bigger picture. Helping to shape him as a driver, 2023 serves as another example to the Briton that he’s got the grit and determination needed to turn his fortunes around.
“I’ve had a few hard periods in my career when there’s been a lot of hard times coming and then there’s always been a positive trend come afterwards. I think this season was another. There are always going to be hard times to come, but we can always get through it and there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” he concluded.