Paul Ricard has been a friendly track to Olli in the past and this time around was no different with Olli standing on the top step once again. Similar to last year Olli took his first win of the season, the only difference this time around being that it was the season opener and his first ever race in an F3 car. It was a great achievement given how tough the step up is between F4 and F3.
After a positive set of winter tests Olli came into the start of the season one to watch. Back with the Prema Powerteam Olli was part of a strong driver line up, but elsewhere lay drivers who had come across from F3 and Formula Renault Championships in Igor Fraga, Sophia Florsch, Raul Guzman, Frederik Vesti and David Schumacher.
The first qualifying session saw Olli just miss out on pole position by two tenths of a second! It should have been a brilliant result, but for Olli he was left disappointed due to the fact he had missed out on a chance to set a final flying lap by just three seconds after some confusion with his engineer.
Determined to make up for things in the second session Olli went out on what was now a much quicker track and put in a superb lap to go pole position right at the end of the session. However, there would be more slight frustrations with Olli delayed on his second fastest lap by a slower car which would leave him down in fourth place for race three.
As the cars lined up on the grid for the first race of the season Olli would start on the outside of the of the front row eager to take advantage. A fantastic start saw him immediately challenging his teammate Enzo Fittipaldi into turn one, but stuck on the outside he sensibly backed out and tucked into second.
As the cars started the long run down to the turn eight chicane for the first time Olli forced Fittipaldi to go heavily defensive and as the pair hit the brakes Fittipaldi ran straight on. Rather than taking the escape route Fittipaldi made a dangerous and strange decision to make a sharp left and re-join the track at the apex of turn nine directly into the path of new race leader Olli, who had to take avoiding action with the pair running wide.
The incident saw an innocent Olli come off much worse, now sat in fifth place from what should have been the race lead. Stuck behind a defending Schumacher, Olli started his climb back up the order on lap five after forcing the German into a mistake at the final corner. However, the hard work in getting past Schumacher had created a large gap with the top three down the road leaving Olli no choice but to settle for fourth place but saved tyres for race three in the process. A disappointing result considering the circumstances, but with Olli on pole for race two there was a chance to fight back in the best way possible.
The second race saw Olli make a blistering start off the line putting him in a great position for the long run down to T8 where he would not even need to defend from Fraga. There would be a slight challenge from the Brazilian into turn ten, but as the field completed lap one Olli had a gap to Fraga and Fittipaldi who were part of an escaping trio. However, the challenges would return with Fraga briefly side by side with Olli at turns ten and eleven, but Olli stayed cool under pressure holding the lead on both occasions.
As the race began to reach the halfway stage Olli’s impressive consistency started to come too hard to contend with as he made a break for it leaving Fraga and Fittipaldi to fight for second. Olli would later be joined by his Prema teammates but he kept them at a safe distance leading home a podium lock out for the team with Olli taking a brilliant lights to flag victory! It was Olli’s first win in the championship in just his second race as well as his first win in F3 on what is his debut race weekend in the car.
In his post-race interview Olli put his consistency throughout the race down to his tyre management and reflected on how it should have been the result of race one which was reflected by many around the team.
Race three saw Olli starting fourth place and stuck on the outside going into turn one he had to back out dropping to fifth place. Things got worse at the end of the opening lap with Olli taking the wrong gear through the final corner which would see him delayed and subsequently passed down the start finish straight by Guzman.
The first half of the race was fairly quiet but as tyre management became a factor Olli continued to pile the pressure on Guzman who was putting up a stern defence. Despite the battling the pair would eventually catch Fraga in the dying stages who’s tyres were now clearly shot. The penultimate lap saw the fight between Guzman and Fraga end in tears after contact at turn nine leaving Olli to pick up the pieces and come through and take another fourth place.
Although there was the disappointment of race one and a difficult qualifying which didn’t setup Olli well for race three, getting his first win so early on in the season was something many wouldn’t have predicted. It’s fair to say a second race win was probably robbed from Olli, but that’s racing and Olli dealt with it in the best way possible with his race two recovery proving how strong he is both on and off track!
Olli Caldwell: "We had an enjoyable first race weekend. We were very quick in all practice sessions and qualifying, getting pole for race two. Unfortunately, the races didn’t go our way, problems in race one and three but getting a win in race two was fantastic. I'm now looking forward to round two at Vallelunga."
Round two of the championship is just two weeks away and will see Olli return to the track where he took a triple victory in Italian F4 last year, Vallelunga!
*Note – Race two result is currently under appeal due to a technical irregularity by manufacturer.