Alpine Academy driver Olli Caldwell was back in action this weekend, as he engaged in battle with his rivals at Paul Ricard. Representing the French team’s academy of talented young drivers, Olli kept his nose clean and pulled off some strong overtakes in front of roaring French crowds.
The 5.842km long Circuit Paul Ricard is a twisty and striking track based in Le Castellet in the south of France. With many different track configurations, carving through the unique blue-striped and red-striped run off areas that are purposely abrasive to slow down cars, it is the second longest circuit on the 2022 calendar.
Taking to the track on Friday morning, Olli was keen to build on his point-scoring pace from Austria. He looked to be well in the mix as the cars set down their opening runs, but with the track reaching scorching temperatures it was clear that there was a small optimum window with tyre wear. Finishing the session in 12th gave a show of promise to the 20-year-old as he looked to capitalise in qualifying.
Although the baking hot sun had eased slightly in time for qualifying on Friday evening, the drivers looked to only have 1 or 2 laps available to them before the tyre wear would prove troublesome. Laying out his laps, unfortunately Olli narrowly found his way out of track limits and his best lap time was deleted. Peeling into the pits to change his tyres, the team waited it out to allow Olli the best of the track conditions to set his flying lap. Before a red flag further delayed the session.
Once back in action in the final part of the session, time was very tight for the British driver to find room to lay down his pace. Further thwarted by Nissany who was deemed by the stewards to impede him, Olli crossed the line seconds after the chequered flag and was denied a final lap.
Deflated but not out
Shutting his visor and running the revs high, the Campos driver was ready for the fight forward in Saturday’s Sprint Race. Despite cars stalling on the formation lap, the grid was rapidly cleared to allow the start. Despite starting on cold tires due to an engine issue hindering his tyre warm up laps, Olli was up 4 places to P16 off the line and immediately locked into a battle as the pack made their opening moves on the Le Castellet track.
Unfortunately despite his promising pace, it soon became apparent that he had a puncture and was forced to dive into the pits for an unscheduled stop. With the sprint race not requiring pit stops, it left him far off the pace of those ahead and his chances for a strong finish were dashed. Crossing the line in 18th, he turned focus to reversing his luck in the final race.
Ready to send it!
Not letting his disappointing weekend get him down, Olli was certainly fired up early on Sunday morning for the Feature Race. Looking to make good on the pace, he was ready to battle when racing got underway.
Despite suffering a poor start from a clutch issue, he soon got his elbows out and in a series of blistering overtakes he was running as high as P15 before the safety car was called on Lap 2. Mastering the restart he locked into Williams ahead to claim 14th place before turning his attention to chasing the tail of Novalak in 13th. Pressuring his rival, Novalak became the first to pit and Olli moved up to set after his teammate further up the road. However out of DRS range, he was forced to do the all the work himself to close the gap.
As the race reached the stage for pit stops, Olli held out to run his soft tyres a few laps longer. But with his teammate forced to retire he ran further into the race than planned before pitting from P9 on Lap 13. Battling against his clutch issue, his pit stop took longer than was ideal, which left him vulnerable as he remerged into a mass of faster cars. With Fittipaldi, Hauger and Vips all on tyres already at race temperature, Olli unfortunately dropped back to P16 as his own tyres began to heat up.
Battling his way through the race, whilst managing his tyres against the blisteringly hot track temperature. Olli kept himself out of trouble and crossed the line in 13th. Sealing off a tricky weekend with a tenacious result.
“Overall we had a great pace all weekend, but a difficult qualifying meant we were on the backfoot from the off. It’s a shame we had a puncture in the race yesterday as I think we could’ve been right up there. But I had some fun overtaking in the feature race and I’m sure we’ll be able to be in the mix at Budapest.”
With the summer break on the horizon, Olli looks to come back fighting when racing resumes in just a few days time at the Hungaroring on 29-31st July.