MP Motorsport’s 2022 F3 campaign was a tale of two halves according to their Team Principal Sander Dorsman. Comfortably holding on to fourth in the Teams’ Championship for the second consecutive season, that result was far from guaranteed early on, until the sixth round in Budapest turned a corner for the Dutch squad.
Crediting the success to the synergy between the drivers and crew, their joint efforts saw them defend their position from Hitech Grand Prix and finish only 13 points behind third-placed ART Grand Prix – a position Dorsman is earnest about achieving going forward.
“To be honest, before the season we aimed to be at least inside the top three in the Standings,” Dorsman noted. “I think it’s always good to have a little ambition to take the next step in the season afterwards. That was obviously what we had in mind, but for various reasons that didn’t happen.
“The start of the season wasn’t really an easy one for us, I think we actually expected a bit more from it. However, in the second half of the season we regrouped quite well, and the drivers performed pretty good.”
Initially their form from the backend of 2021 seemed to be carrying through into 2022, with rookie Kush Maini securing P3 on his Formula 3 Qualifying debut, while Alexander Smolyar went on to claim a podium in the Sprint Race, with teammate Caio Collet in seventh. Yet the steady stream of results they were wanting failed to materialise, as a run of small errors knocked their consistency back.
“I think the first two rounds were a bit unlucky for us, with Caio having to avoid someone in the Bahrain Feature Race and breaking a suspension part, that cost a lot of points. Imola was a bit of a messy situation with Qualifying. Then on Kush’s side, we missed the weighbridge whilst we had a fantastic Quali in Bahrain, and he was not completely straight in his start box in Imola.
“It’s stupid things that cost you a lot of points. Luckily, we filtered that out a bit in the second half of the year and then suddenly, the points finishes were there.”
With only three podiums to their name after the first five rounds, with the further two courtesy of Collet in the Barcelona and Spielberg Sprint Races, the team faced an unwelcome return to Budapest. The Hungarian circuit had played host to a dreadful weekend for them in 2021, but the team were hellbent on avoiding a repeat this time around.
With a renewed outlook, the weekend was all about MP. Firstly, Smolyar took pole position by over a tenth. Meanwhile, Collet mastered wet-to-dry conditions in a Sprint Race of survival to bring home his maiden F3 victory, and more joy came to the team as his teammate Maini joined him on the podium for the first time.
Rounding out their weekend, Smolyar nailed his start and drove all the way to the win in the Feature Race, as all three MP cars finished inside the points – their only triple points-scoring result of the year.
“In 2021, we had an absolute disaster in Budapest,” Dorsman insists. “We didn’t have a car within the top 10 and that was the worst weekend of the season. Then to come back one year later and that’s the best weekend of the season – it's quite a bit ironic. We had a good bounce back on that track at least, so that was a great weekend for us.”
Reflecting on his trio’s performances, the team boss was full of praise for the potential they showed but believes that their missing consistency held them back from showcasing on a more regular basis. For Collet, the Brazilian seemed to carve out a spot for himself as a leader in his second season with the team and the Alpine Academy junior closed his campaign the highest Championship finisher in their line-up, in eighth.
“Caio expected more at the start and so did we. After two rounds, if you have almost no points you can feel very sorry for yourself or you can choose to try to find a way to make it better, and I think that’s what we did all together. Then it’s just a matter of finding that reset button, hitting it hard and starting all over again. I think that’s what we did with the positive end to his season.”
He added: “Caio fits really well into the team. He’s a fantastic guy to work with, all the people in the team love to work with him – he's part of the family in that sense. When he arrived, he was already a very mature driver, but obviously he learned things over his second year in F3 and experience helps in a Championship like this.
“Alexander was a bit inconsistent but showed good pace and good potential. If you want to win this Championship, you must be consistent. I think that should be our objective for next season to make sure that we perform more consistently as a team and with our drivers.
“Kush did an amazing job, especially in Bahrain Qualifying with a P3. That was not something we immediately expected from him. Then he had some minor rookie mistakes like missing the weighbridge or that kind of thing that has a massive impact on their results of the weekend. Still, the potential has always been there during the season. At Silverstone he had a bit of a struggle because he wasn’t feeling well, but the pace he showed there was still pretty good. I think he can be happy with the season he had and I’m proud about the results he scored.”
Naturally, Dorsman’s thoughts are already on the future, namely how he and the team can make headway next year and put themselves in the fight for the top three in 2023. Refusing to get too far ahead of himself, he recognises that after their experiences this season, there is one clear goal – keeping things consistent.
“We would like to start where we finished in 2022, the results were good in the second half of the season and that’s where we want to pick it up in 2023 again. It’s always a tricky question because normally if you set the bar quite high, then it will always end up in disappointment. We want to do a better season than we have done, so we must be more consistent.”