On Friday, the sun shone on the city dear to Henri IV. The Toulouse-based squad was almost on home turf and was on the pace straight away thanks to Alexander Smolyar who set the quickest time on his debut on a city circuit.
The next day was marked by heavy showers, which didn’t prevent Smolyar from continuing in the same vein setting the third-best time in Q1, while his team-mates all broke into the top 10. Visibility got even worse in the race. The Russian from the SMP Racing programme was heading for a top-3 finish until he made a mistake on the final lap. Neil Verhagen and Thomas Neubauer both drove solid races and saw the chequered flag in sixth and seventh places. Frank Bird finished just shy of the top 10 after a spin.
On Sunday, qualifying took place on a drying track. On the team’s advice Verhagen and Bird gambled on going out on slicks. The American from the Red Bull Junior team took advantage of this strategy to clinch third place on the grid and finished fifth in front of Bird and Neubauer. Smolyar fell foul of standing water behind the safety car and put on a marvellous show as he fought his way back to the front. His comeback finished prematurely when he got locked in battle with Neubauer.
“This weekend, our drivers gathered a lot of experience on a city circuit,” said Olivier Maernhout, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “Neil came very close to clinching a podium finish. In Q2, we asked him to shod slicks, an opportunity he seized with a totally open mind. Even though he was caught out in the race the conditions were very difficult and his overall performance should reboost his confidence for the rest of the season.
“Alexander was very impressive for a novice on city circuits. He pushed a bit too hard on his last lap in Q1 and made a mistake, which should not detract from his incredible turn of speed for a rookie. In addition, conditions were extremely tricky and the visibility was so bad that his team-mates told us they had to lift off to see the red lights of the other cars and get their bearings again! On Sunday, Alexander confirmed his talent even though he lost control behind the safety car. This forced him to push hard and he made a great comeback, but he has to pay attention and not confuse speed and rashness as we saw in his duel with Thomas.
“Thomas put on a solid hardworking performance all weekend and showed good pace. Like Alexander he paid the price for staying on wet weather tyres in Q2 and had to start in the middle of the field, although he drove two consistent races despite the conditions. He kept his car on the track, avoided errors and accumulated a large amount of experience that will stand him in good stead in Monaco.
“Frank continued to improve in Pau and learned from his rare errors on Saturday to bounce back. Like Neil, he gambled on slicks when Q2 restarted. He had a good session, but preferred to lift off after kissing the guardrail on his last lap. In fact, only the rim was damaged and he could have broken into the top five. He then drove a consistent race rewarded by sixth place. The visibility was so bad that he couldn’t have done any better. We hope that he’ll continue along the same lines this weekend on home turf.
“Even though the results didn’t quite live up to our expectations, we know that our drivers have the potential to do well on city circuits and in the rain,” summed up Maernhout. “Our main objective was to help them to gather experience without being under pressure before Monaco. Given the conditions in Pau they should be fully prepared if it rains in the Principality! So we’re feeling confident just as we’re about to set off for Silverstone.”
Almost straight after the Silverstone meeting at the end of the week, Tech 1 Racing will continue its campaign with Monaco (24-27 May) and then the Formula Renault NEC at Monza (30 June-1 July).
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