The newest team on the Formula 3 grid made some inroads during their maiden campaign. A year of learning brought a points-scoring result eventually, and there’s no doubt the team found speed and improved form versus the opening round of the season back in Sakhir.
Keen to make the most of 2023 and generate as much knowledge and experience as possible, the team was aiming to log the laps and accumulate data in order to make gains across the season. Team Principal Paul Müller reflects on their maiden campaign and says that a lot of lessons have been learned, and that the outfit has taken valuable experience from 2023.
“This season was definitely a challenge. First of all, it was our first season in the Championship, and we joined an existing setup. We are eternally grateful, and the people have been nothing short of amazing, but it was extremely challenging.
“We finished in the points twice and, alright, one of those were lost and that’s part of the sport, but we managed to put it in the points twice which I think is more than what most people thought we would do this year.”
Heading the charge for PHM was Sophia Floersch, who made a return to Formula 3 after two years away from the Championship. She made great use of her accumulated experience from endurance racing to drive the team forward.
After losing a point-scoring result following post-race disqualification from the Spielberg Feature Race, her hard work was finally rewarded at Spa-Francorchamps. Keeping a cool head, she made her chance count in torrential conditions to bring home P7 and get the team up and running in Formula 3.
That result lifted PHM to ninth in the Teams’ Standings, a huge moment for the team and a well-deserved reward for their hard work and efforts across the 2023 campaign. Losing the Austrian result was a ‘gut punch’ according to Müller, but a harsh lesson that ultimately proved the team was more than capable of competing for points.
READ MORE: Bruno Michel's Debrief: A Champion in the making from start to finish “It was incredibly motivating and a huge gut punch at the same time. It’s just unfortunate because we got the car to a good place, had a good setup, and we went through all the processes, and it was all ok until the wing that was turned up. All that told us was that ok, we still need more processes, there’s still things that we need to do to make sure we don’t lose points over something so stupid again.
“But it was fantastic to see that, on pace, we could produce a car to fight for points. I think that was one of our strengths along with Sophia. Our setups, the tyre windows, we were able to keep going throughout the whole race and not just be quick in Qualifying and then struggling for tyre management. Sophia is pretty good at managing the tyre situation, that’s her background in racing and it was amazing to see that we could make that step, finishing P20-something to getting into and near the points on genuine pace.”
Floersch was the undoubted bright spot for the team on track during their maiden campaign. The German driver was arguably unfortunate to not have been in the points more often. For Müller, her strong performances came as no surprise having witnessed the efforts she made throughout the year.
“She is very professional and very focused on what she wants to achieve. I think it was very clear that she didn’t come here for just a joyride. With her, it’s clear that she wants to prove people wrong, and I think she did prove a lot of people wrong.
“At the beginning of the year, I was surprised to see how much of the public was, let’s say very negative about her getting a drive. Going out of your way to start to insult and berate, having that much backlash on social media, I was just like ‘what is wrong with people?’ It annoyed me in Austria because she deserved those points absolutely. It was heart-wrenching to see her not get them. So, to get them eventually at Spa and her becoming the first woman in the points in F3 proved it can be done. She made the call and said that we should go for wets, and we were totally supportive of her in that situation and said let’s go. So, collecting those points and getting that finish was like a ‘Finally!’ moment. I think that with a little bit more time and experience, she can do even better than that.”
With an average finishing position of 23 in the opening Feature Race of the season, that improved to 17 by the end of the year in the Monza Feature. It represents a small but by no means insignificant gain for a team learning the F3 ropes on the job.
By season’s end, Floersch was a constant presence inside the top 20 and fighting on the fringes of the points consistently, no matter the type of track layout.
Roberto Faria also improved his results, achieving four top 20 results after just one in the opening half of the season. The Brazilian was involved in fewer incidents and a best result of 17th at Spa-Francorchamps in wet conditions clear evidence of his level-headed approach paying off.
Woohyun Shin only had six races with the team after taking over the #31 car for Rounds 7, 8 and 9, but the South Korean saved his best for last, achieving a P17 in the Monza Feature Race and the final race of the 2023 campaign.
Müller says that the team had a tough time in the early phase of the year building their foundations on the move, competing with the experienced runners on the F3 grid. But, he says that a huge effort by the team enabled PHM Racing by Charouz to improve pace and earn better results.
“I’m proud of having scored points and I’m proud of the team who managed to keep their heads down and get all the work done. All the work the mechanics do is underappreciated. Everyone always assumes that the car just magically stands there, is setup correctly where in fact it’s a massive job.
“That’s the area I’ve seen that the F2 and F3 teams are a well-oiled machine, making sure that the cars are ready to go and what that takes in terms of skill and experience to deliver on that level despite the noise around them, that was deeply impressive. I’m really proud of the team and you’ll see a lot of these faces next year because I’ve been absolutely impressed with their work ethic and their attitudes to get stuff done.”
With the focus very much on 2024 already, Müller is hopeful that the trials and tribulations of 2023 have formed the basis of a leap in competitiveness for next season. Work has been non-stop behind the scenes in order to facilitate that leap in performance.
“The first big step was getting the cars in a good place mechanically. We knew that this was going to be a long-term project and saw this season as a transitional season. I see next year as our first proper season.
“Getting the datasets for the cars has been interesting, getting our heads around the car basically from scratch. We’ve brought some of our younger engineers from F4 and Regional and we will continue to do that for next season, so we hope we can build up expertise on the engineering side as well. I hope we can make some steps to get the right people in.
“We are now the proud owners of a couple of new simulators that we found and evaluated so that should help. We now have our headquarters next to the Nürburgring, so everything is coming together, a little bit later than we wanted but it’s hopefully something that you’ll be able to see next year. We’ll continuously try to keep climbing up towards that ultimate goal that’s of course, trying to win the Championship.”
“I look forward to seeing what we can do with a little bit more breathing room, let loose a bit and see what we’re able to produce next year.”