Olli Caldwell was back on track for Round 3 of the FIA Formula 2 Championship this weekend. Following a mid-season test in Barcelona, Olli was ready to put practice into action when he took to the infamous Imola Circuit. In a weekend that saw him make up a number of places in each race.
Set in the picturesque Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the 4.909 km circuit in Imola is one of the newest editions to the Formula 2 calendar in 2022. With fast-flowing straights and tight corners, surrounded by gravel traps that offer minimal room for error. Having enjoyed a podium there in Italian F4, Olli was eager to get on track and combine his experience with knowledge gained in the opening rounds.
Spirits not dampened
Unfortunately weather threw a curveball on Friday morning, as practice was delayed due to incessant rainfall overnight which soaked the track and made it too dangerous. Once conditions improved slightly, the cars filed out onto a damp track on Friday afternoon for their first sighting laps. In what turned out to be an interrupted session with a number of red flags for stricken cars, Olli managed a strong 12th place in his first wet session in Formula 2. Providing great confidence going into qualifying.
Following further delays qualifying finally got underway, as the sun began to set across the Italian circuit. Bolting on the wet tyres, Olli was quick to get on track and make the most of his opportunities from early on. Working the fine line of grip v.s. reward, he was running consistently in the Top 6 as the first times began to come in. Unfortunately taking a slightly wide line Olli caught a wet patch which sent him into a spin, then skating across the gravel. Unable to recover the car stalled and became beached, which sadly called his session short.
“It’s disappointing as we made a big step forwards today. While the result wasn’t what I wanted the team gave me a great car and I learnt a lot driving the F2 car in the wet for the first time”
Managing the tyres
As brighter weather prevailed for the Sprint Race, the British driver took his grid position ready to battle forward from the back row. Fighting hard on the opening lap, he immediately made up places at the start. However forced to take avoiding action when Beckmann span in front of him, Olli briefly lost his position, but managed to make it back to P18 just before the safety car was called. Putting his head down for the restart, he immediately found his way by Hughes for 16th place. Then soon set after Sato ahead and began closing the gap before DRS was in play. Settling into the race, it became clear it was more about tyre management as the action within the pack calmed to a processional pace. Despite a slight moment where he went wide at Acque Minerali, Olli kept his nose clean and his tyres in check, to cross the line having made up 4 positions in the race.
Holding out for a Safety Car
With a mandatory pit stop in the Feature Race, Olli and the team opted to go for the alternate strategy on Sunday morning. Looking to go longer into the race on the harder Prime tyre, whilst others would pit early on.
As lights went out, chaos ensued as cars collided with the pit wall and each other, causing one to be stranded in the gravel. With the arrival of the Safety Car, any battles were neutralised and the pack got ready for the restart. Back at racing speed, Olli was in a good spot to be able to make up some places, before another Safety Car period offered a prime opportunity for most of the field to pit, which boosted Olli up to be running in P7. Confident in his car and racing ability, the Alpine Academy driver began pressuring Hughes for 6th, gaining on him with every lap. But at a track that’s tricky for overtaking it was difficult to find a place to pass.
Once the race reached half distance it was a game of luck, chance and holding your nerve, as the cars in front began to pit for their fresher tyres. Taking his chances, Olli stayed out waiting for another safety car period until he eventually dove for the pits with a few laps left to run. A move that proved to be unlucky with the timing, as he narrowly missed the safety car he’d been waiting for, which would’ve gifted him a few extra places.
“We did our best to hold out for a safety car and we were unlucky with the timing. It was unfortunate that we were nursing a slow puncture with 8 laps to go on the Prime tyre, then due to the safety car at the end we weren’t able to fight on the option tyres.”
Finishing 13th place, Olli still managed to score a strong finish and seal off a clean weekend of racing.
Following a few weeks break in the season, Olli Caldwell will be back on track for Round 4 at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the 20–22 May. Where he’ll be looking to continue his forward momentum.