Olli Caldwell took to the seat of a Formula 2 car for the first time this weekend, making his debut with the Campos Racing team.
In a weekend of firsts, the F2 paddock joined Formula 1 for it’s inaugural visit to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia. The 6.174km street circuit located on the Corniche coastal resort overlooking the Red Sea, provides tight walled straights with quick sweeping turns as one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. But with much unknown about the freshly built circuit, there was plenty to learn as the F2 grid became the first cars on track on Friday afternoon.
With his aim for the weekend to put together a run of consistent finishes and gain experience in the step up to Formula 2 machinery. Olli suited up and took to the seat for his first taste of the new track and as a sighting opportunity ahead of qualifying. Scoring a clean practice session and matching his pace to other rookies, finishing 15th out of 22 cars was a successful outing for the 19-year-old Brit. With the longer runs complete, attention turned to qualifying, where Olli set his focus on putting together some clean laps. Threading his car through the tight walls whilst getting to grips with the newer compound of tyre provided a tougher challenge for Olli, but the intrepid racer managed to hook together a series of clean laps to qualify 19th. Learning plenty of lessons that he could put into practice over the weekend’s racing.
“This track is mega, I really enjoyed free practice and doing some longer runs, ending up happy and on similar pace to the other rookies. Qualifying was interesting also my first time on the option tires. Unfortunately we couldn’t maximise the grip available due to a compromised warmup. So in the end I’m disappointed with where we ended up, but I’m happy with what we can take forward into the races”
Learning with every lap
On track on Saturday morning, the Formula 2 grid prepped themselves for a thrilling race, with Olli ready to tackle the challenges ahead. Firing off the line immediately the FIA Formula 3 graduate found himself right in the thick of the pack as they stormed into the opening lap. But pinched on either side he had nowhere to go and unfortunately clipped both Samaia and Sato. Despite being awarded a 10 second time penalty, after the stewards deemed he caused the collision, with no damage to his own car Olli put his head down and powered on to cross the line and take his first Formula 2 finish of his career.
Excited to get back on track for his first single-seater night race, the second Sprint Race proved to be a chaotic affair. Through Safety Car periods and many incidents, it was clear that the track was very unforgiving to the slightest of mistakes.
In a much faster and heavier car than he was used to, learning a new track and new machinery he definitely had his work cut out for him. But that didn’t deter the talented British racer as he battled his way through to score a strong 12th place, finishing ahead of many full-season drivers.
"It was a good feeling to cross the finish line and to take 12th place in only my second time on track. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s race, it’ll be my first time using a pit stop strategy which will be interesting”
Marathon becomes a sprint
Sunday’s feature race was a tumultuous affair, where following a long delay to the race start to make barrier repairs following a previous race earlier in the day, there was doubt on whether the race would take place. Eventually racing was finally confirmed to be going ahead and the cars lined up on the grid ready for action. But as lights went out, a heavy accident saw Enzo Fittipaldi collide with Théo Pourchaire’s stalled car on the grid, immediately bringing out the red flag. The drivers were both confirmed as conscious by the FIA and transferred to hospital.
Whilst thoughts were very much with those involved in the accident, full focus resumed ahead of a shortened 20 minute race. Olli made moves as racing commenced, climbing past Samaia in the opening laps and as the battle carried on he managed to keep his rival behind. However whilst pushing hard, the rear of his car lost grip, rendering him a passenger as he went sliding over the kerb, collecting the other car along the way. A simple incident which has happened to many of the best drivers throughout time, Olli dejectedly climbed out of the car and apologised to the team. But despite disappointment he was quick to recognise the lessons learned ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Olli Caldwell returns to the track in just a few short days when racing concludes at the Yas Marina Circuit on 10–12th December.