After a stellar maiden campaign in FIA Formula 3, Van Amersfoort Racing didn’t quite hit the same heights in 2023. A slide from sixth to seventh in the Teams’ Standings might not sound like an annus horribilis, but for the “racing animals” at VAR, it represented a disappointing campaign with pre-season expectations set much higher.
“I think 2022 we started out highly successful, more than we expected,” Team Principal Frits Van Amersfoort said. “2023 our hopes were high, but we were not completely happy in the end. Although Caio (Collet) did win a race, it was a bit of a funny one, he had a few times on the podium, but we had hoped for more and that’s the honest answer.
“That’s also true for Rafa (Villagomez). It was his third year in F3, it was a difficult year to put together. It wasn’t an easy year to be honest. We started in a new series in 2022 and immediately we had a pole position, and we were thinking wow. We were really happy, and we thought we were there but then in 2023, we saw how competitive the series really is. Everything has to fit together and in 2023 we didn’t have that.”
Finding the root cause of the problems the team faced a task that’s more difficult than you’d think. There is no clear operational problem for VAR according to the team, with no specific area standing out to improve on.
The possible cause for poorer results than their maiden campaign could be down to tricky Qualifying days according to the team boss. Pole sitters in their first F3 race back in 2022 in Sakhir, there were no front row starts for the Dutch squad until the final round in 2023 courtesy of Caio Collet around Monza.
“In the beginning of the season, I would say we weren’t on the mark. We never had results we were hoping for and then as a race team, the doubt starts, and you ask yourself what can we do to change things? What can we do to make it better? As racing animals, we are always prepared and eager to change things and we did a lot of change, in the team, in setups, but it never really came together as we wanted.
“I can be highly religious about it, but I think it was a bit more down to luck. In F3, Qualifying has to be ok at least and when you don’t qualify well, you’re basically in trouble. It’s very difficult and when you’re working with a new car, you maybe have newcomer’s luck. That’s what we had in 2022 but in 2023, we were faced with that. So, we have to start all over again.”
Another factor was the continued rise in competition and the levels of rivals climbing season to season. It’s the second post-season for the team but they have more time to rectify the wrongs of 2023 across three post-season tests.
But for all of the experience in racing VAR has accumulated, the team isn’t underestimating the work in store both during the final test and across the winter break.
“It’s hard to point out one thing but one thing is for sure, you’re always hoping that with the experienced guys, you’re there. You’re faced with some highly talented newcomers coming from lower categories and I’ve learned with 50 years of experience that every new adventure, the 50 years don’t mean anything, and you have to start over again.
“You have to be honest with yourself and this year we missed something. Altogether we missed some things this year, not for everyone but we have a lot to work on and we are of course prepared to take on the challenge and we must face forward and work hard to change things.
“We’re new to F3, we thought we understood it, but we simply don’t and now we have these few weeks post-Monza to capitalise on how things have gone and plan how we’re going to change things during the tests.”
“We still don’t have the complete answer, so we’re happy to have six test days whereas last year we only had three. We’re going to work hard to find answers and find a better setup and how to deal with the Championship.”
With two of the three tests in the books already, VAR and the rest of the grid will have just two more days before the curtains close on the 2023 campaign.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, with Rafael Villagómez a point scorer twice at Monza, Collet a winner in the Budapest and Zandvoort Sprint Races and Tommy Smith a bright spot at times through the year. The Australian’s highs exceeded what the team had set out for the rookie.
“It might sound weird, but I was happy with Tommy. He made us smile a lot. We saw that based on the expectations, he did some foolish things and he’ll admit that too, but he also did some brilliant things, and that brought us a smile looking back at the season.
“When you’re racing, you’re never happy. We will only be happy if we were a copy of Max Verstappen but in F3, that’s just out of the question. We were in difficulties but that’s part of the charm of being in racing. You always fight, that’s what we did this year and that’s what we’re going to do in the offseason. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Of course, the pursuit of perfection isn’t over until the Championship is won but the team has no problems with rolling up the sleeves and getting stuck in ahead of the 2024 campaign, one that Frits van Amersfoort hopes is more in line with expectations.