The 2023 season didn’t get off to the best of starts at MP Motorsport but the Dutch team more than rebounded by the time the final chequered flag was thrown at Monza.
Taking three race victories in the final four rounds, the turnaround from just four points finishes in the opening three events tells you the story of their season. Team Principal Sander Dorsman says the team didn’t hit the ground running but showed great perseverance to turn their fortunes around.
Third in the Teams’ Championship for MP is the squad’s best finish in FIA Formula 3 so far, scoring podiums with all three of their drivers for the first time also. Franco Colapinto, Mari Boya and Jonny Edgar each faced difficulties throughout the season, but were on the front foot by the end, a hugely satisfying result says Dorsman, having struggled in the opening phase of 2023.
“You always expect more. I think, the first half of the season was a bit of mixed fortunes for us, and I think we did expect a bit more. In the second half we caught up nicely so in the end it was all good. We finished P3 in the Teams’ Championship, which is good for us.
“Right to the last moment, Franco was in a nice fight for P2 the Drivers’ Championship, which was super close. But I think the second half of the season was quite good for us, it was the first half that could have been a bit better.”
Colapinto opened the season with a podium in the Sakhir Sprint Race with Edgar following home in ninth to get MP off the mark. Sunday’s Feature was a disappointing race though. The team went scoreless the following round on Australian shores after the trio were disqualified for a technical infringement in the Melbourne Sprint.
Having started off with two poor race weekends by their high standards, Dorsman says it definitely had an impact on the team’s performances and took a while to shake off and return to familiar form.
“It’s a difficult one. I mean, Bahrain was a tricky one for us. I think in Melbourne we had very good speed, but we had some mixed fortunes on other things that happened to us there. It hurt a bit. It’s annoying when you lose points like that, so that was quite unfortunate.
“It's always super, super close, so if you just miss a bit then immediately you face a tough weekend. Where I think at the beginning of the year, we were a bit on the wrong side of the line to get close to everyone, in the second half we were on the good side. Now we need to keep that momentum that we had in the second half of the year so we can start the first half of the next year in the same way.”
Just like the team, the drivers also took a little bit of time to hit their stride, with Colapinto, Boya and Edgar making gains in the Drivers’ Championship in the second half of the campaign.
With two returning drivers and a rookie, the blend of experience and speed was impressive but for the latter pair, the results didn’t come as expected. Mistakes in the first half were eventually replaced by consistency, and the final rounds were much more representative of the team’s and drivers’ capabilities according to Dorsman.
“If, for example, I look at Jonny, I look at the beginning of the year: it was a tough start for him. But from mid-season, I think he picked it up nicely and his Qualifying improved. Then he started to become a regular points finisher and then of course, his last race was his best one.
“It’s always best to have a scenario like this, not having a great start to then finish on a high, rather than the opposite way around. Mari had a typical rookie season, showed great potential throughout but made some rookie mistakes.
“In Qualifying, if you don’t perform good enough and end up 20th or something, it will be a tough weekend. It’s difficult to recover from that. But the second half was much better, and he cashed in a bit more on the potential that he’d already showed at the beginning of the year.
“We’ve known Franco for many years now. He’s been with us before, back in Formula Regional, so when he came back to the team, we knew what to expect. He’s always good at bringing the car home and being consistently up there. So that wasn’t a huge surprise for us.”
Third in the Teams’ Standings represents MP Motorsport’s best finish in FIA F3, but the goal is always set higher and higher. The next task ahead of the Dutch squad is to bridge the gap to Trident and Champions PREMA Racing, a far from straightforward job.
The 114-point deficit at the end of 2023 is a sizeable one admits Dorsman, but he believes MP are more than capable of reaching the summit, having achieved plenty of racing success wherever they are competing.
“In the end, there was quite a big gap between the first two and us. We have to be realistic about that. I think to close that gap, it’s important that you have three drivers that are consistent and scoring points, that’s key. You cannot afford if you want to fight for the Teams’ Championship to have a driver that struggles a bit.
“You have to make sure you’re always up there with all of your cars, that’s the key to make the step forward for next season. At this level, nothing is really simple. Sometimes you do well at one track one year, and then the next year suddenly you’re not doing so well at that same circuit. There’s a lot of other variables that can affect the performance year on year.”
With post-season testing already in the books, work is well underway to make that happen. Preparation is always crucial, and the MP Team Principal says that 2023 testing was more valuable than ever before, with six test days at three different venues being hugely useful.
“The testing format we had this year was really good, to have three two-day tests at three different circuits – especially for the rookie drivers, that’s important and a good thing for them to have more track time.
“Everyone’s always on their own schedules and on their own run plans. For more experienced drivers, there will always be a difference compared to rookie drivers so it’s difficult to understand where you’re at. In the end, the main thing is to use the track time as well as possible and get the rookie drivers up to speed as quickly as possible. These six test days were very useful in that regard.”