In racing, teams win together and lose together and that couldn’t be a truer statement of Paul Aron’s up-and-down Feature Race. A last-second decision to go for the wet tyres off the line transformed his race, rocketing him from 11th on the grid to the lead in a handful of corners.
The PREMA Racing driver had built a comfortable gap out front until he was called in to box for slicks behind the Safety Car on Lap 5, which ultimately cost him a chance at victory. Eventually settling for P8 as the highest placed medium runner, Aron admitted that with the benefit of hindsight, the gamble did not pay off.
“A crazy race! Firstly, we had mixed conditions again and we weren’t really sure what was the best strategy, if we should go with slicks or wets. Most of the field chose slicks and I think we did the right call with the team to go on to the wets, which we proved straightaway on Lap 1. I had an amazing start, and in two corners I made it to first place and then I pulled a nine second gap and the pace was very good.
“The race was in our hands. Then finally, a Safety Car came out. The team thought that the track would dry up and we had a margin of 40 seconds to pit and still come out in front of the slick runner. So, we took that call and the end side of the track didn’t try, and the slicks didn’t work out. Obviously, a massive shame because we were comfortably leading the race, I was saving my tyres, so from the wet runners, we were by far the quickest and the race was in our hands but the call was taken.”
He added: “I can’t blame the team, obviously they had their reasons and in the end, the first call we made to go on wets was made between all of us. So, we made the right call in the beginning, but sadly not at the end.”
That initial call proved to be a stroke of genius and a risk worth taking given that the Estonian started outside the top 10. With the first nine cars all opting for dry weather tyres on a circuit that had seen several on-and-off showers that morning, all Aron needed to do was get a better start off the line than 10th-placed Taylor Barnard.
Preferring to start on the wet-weather Pirellis, Aron immediately demonstrated his confidence. Benefitting from the grip, he blazed through the pack out of nowhere, going from outside the points to the lead of the race in one sector. Once into the lead, he says the plan was to build a steady advantage to those behind in case he needed to fight towards the latter stages or give himself the opportunity to pit should conditions improve.
“It was really late. I said in the beginning, I’m not really sure what we should do. So, we just waited and thought about it and the team suggested that maybe we could go on wets. To be honest, my inner feeling wanted to go on wets as well. So, when they suggested it, I said ‘let’s go’. It was a very late decision, but it was the right one for the beginning for sure.
“I had a massive advantage because I was on the wet tyres. I just took the right decisions and I managed to go through the field as quickly as possible, and that was the goal because we thought that the wets could struggle at the end. The goal was to just pull a gap and either manage the tyres or if there is a possibility, pit for sticks. Looking back at the race, the track just didn't dry and sadly the pit stop was just the wrong call."
Taking advantage of the early Safety Car, the move on to the mediums backfired, as the Belgian circuit wasn't drying out quickly enough. The varying conditions meant that Aron couldn't try to claw back time to the remaining wet runners ahead until the very end of the 15-lap race, by which point it was too little, too late.
“The moment we switched to slicks and did one lap, I realised that it was the wrong call. During the race the Safety Car came out, I was in Turn 15. So at the end of the lap, I got a radio call to box and that’s what I did. There was not really any time to think about it and the moment I went out of the pits on slicks, I realised that was the wrong call.
“The end of the race was difficult for me because I saw the win slip away just like that in a few seconds. I was trying to give my best, but we were struggling and obviously the slicks were not the right call.”
That split-second decision could have huge ramifications for the Formula 3 title fight. Whilst on a positive note, Aron sits second in the Standings on 106, he remains 38 points adrift of Championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto. However, victory and the Trident’s driver failure to score in Spa meant the Mercedes junior could have slashed Bortoleto’s advantage down to just 17 points and within touching distance given the 39 points to play for in Monza.
Taking the summer break as a chance to decompress after a hectic month of racing, the PREMA driver reflected on the bittersweet circumstances he finds himself in before the season finale.
“I’m going in the break now with mixed feelings. On one side, I’m second in the Standings, which is obviously great and that was the goal for this weekend. But on the other hand, we could be really close to fighting for the title and comfortably in second. Very mixed feelings going into the break and definitely it doesn’t feel like we have fully deserved it, so I’m sure the first week of the break will not be as enjoyable as after maybe winning the race.
“Monza should be a good track for us. I would say straight speed hasn’t been our strong point this year, but hopefully we can make the difference in the corners as the soft tyres work well with our car. It’s a home race for PREMA, I assume we’ll be strong there.
“Then the goal is just to get as many points as possible. There’s no point thinking about fighting for the title or getting second place because in the end, if you do the best job possible, that’s all you can hope for.”