Olli Caldwell was back in action this weekend for the second event in the Formula 2 double-header, where he put together a clean and consistent performance on a challenging circuit.
After a few days training in Bahrain, the F2 paddock moved to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia for another thrilling round of racing. The 6.174km street circuit located on the Corniche coastal resort overlooking the Red Sea, boasts tight walled straights and fast paced corners as one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. Having made his Formula 2 debut here just a few months ago, Olli was ready to get out on track and make the most of every opportunity that came his way.
Rapid start for the Rookie
Putting down the opening laps on Friday afternoon, Olli was quick to showcase his pace with some strong laps times straight out of the gate. Building experience on a street track is vital as the walls offer no room for error, having had minimal opportunity street racing in previous series, Olli set his sharp focus on ensuring he kept his laps clean. Unfortunately, this point was proven as the session was cut short due to other drivers falling foul to tiny mistakes that caused them to collide heavily with the wall. Finishing the session in 6th place was a promising start for the Alpine Academy driver.
Qualifying under the floodlights, Olli took to the circuit with a firm focus on putting together a clean lap and extracting the most out of his Campos machine. Threading his car through the twisty track, he showed good pace in the early laps. Unluckily a number of red flag periods just came at the wrong time for the 19-year-old as his opportunities to improve were cut short. With one last dash, the track was littered with other drivers trying to improve in the dying moments of the session. Unfortunately with minimal room and as is much the nature of a street track, Olli had his lap blocked by slow moving car, whilst similarly he was caught at the wrong time by another car. With a few penalties handed out for drivers deemed to impede laps, unfortunately Olli’s 17th grid spot for Saturday’s Sprint Race was demoted to 19th.
A Race of Survival
Ready to come back fighting on Saturday afternoon, the Campos driver trusted in his team and his ability to opt for the alternate strategy when it came to tyres in the Sprint Race. Bolting on a set of the softer option tyre in the hope of a safety car period playing into their hands, which would gift them the opportunity to pit in a race that typically doesn’t require a pit stop.
With his aim for the weekend to put together a run of consistent finishes, Olli put his head down and fired off the grid and immediately made up a place. Battling hard with the ART Racing Team drivers - Vesti and Pourchaire in the opening lap, however with a better run into the corner, Pourchaire was able to make the place back. An early Safety Car appearance for Cordeel behind who collided with the wall, allowed Olli time to focus on finding a way back through. As the grid eventually barrelled away on the restart, chaos happened almost immediately as Doohan collected Sargeant in a ferocious collision that saw them go spinning across the track in front of Olli’s car. Carefully weaving his way out of any trouble and avoiding any damage, the pack bunched together behind the safety car once more for much of the remainder of the race. Crossing the line in 16th place, he was later promoted to 14th taking his highest place finish of the season.
“That was pretty chaotic! We took the decision to make the gamble with the option tyre in the Sprint Race as we hoped we could get a bit of luck with the timing of any safety cars. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us, but the pace certainly felt good and we were matching the ART cars which was positive.”
Taking a gamble
Hoping for Sunday’s Feature Race to be a less chaotic affair, the pack lined up on the grid with Olli opting for the harder tyre making a strategy gamble in contrast to the front runners. Getting a great run off the line, the British driver went wheel-to-wheel with Vesti and Sargeant, wisely finding the line of least resistance that allowed him to keep his nose clean in the opening lap. Settling into the race, it was all about maintaining his tyres and taking them as far into the race as possible, holding out hope that a safety car would gift him a free pit stop. As the leaders began to peel into the pits, Olli to hold out until the last moment, managing his tyres and carving his way through the streets for 24 laps. With just 4 laps left of the surprisingly uneventful race it was clear the strategy gamble unfortunately wasn’t going to pay off and he took to the pit lane for fresh tyres. Taking 16th place at the flag sealed another clean and consistent performance for the Formula 2 rookie.
Building in confidence with every race, Olli looks ahead to the next round:
“We tried to make the strategy gamble on going longer on the hard tyre, but with the lack of safety cars it just didn’t work out for us. Overall there are positives from this weekend, we have plenty to build on in testing in Barcelona, ready to fight back in Imola."
With a short break in the F2 season, Olli Caldwell will be back battling when racing resumes at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, in just under a month’s time on 22nd–24th April.