Olli Caldwell faced what is described the ‘most difficult challenge in single seater racing’ last weekend as he took part in the 66th running of the World-famous Macau Grand Prix. Also known as the FIA F3 World Cup, the best from the globe ascend on the streets of Macau to tackle the 6.1km layout. It includes some of the most difficult corners in Motorsport and the tightest, in the shape of ‘Melco’. It was Olli’s debut in an FIA F3 event, his first with Trident, and it’s fair to say the team left more than impressed with the young Brits performance.
Now titled the FIA F3 World Cup, the event lives up to its name with the best drivers in junior formula racing going head to head in a winner takes all event. It has welcomed the F3 category since 1983 and has been won by legends of the sport including the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
After a successful test with Trident in Valencia just a couple of weeks previous, Olli was invited to be part of the driver line up for the event. Olli would race alongside FIA F2 driver, Alessio Lorandi and FIA F3 driver David Beckmann. Having officially been added to the FIA Formula 3 Championship calendar for the first time in 2019, as a non-championship round, it was no surprise that Olli was just one of a few drivers coming in with no experience of FIA F3 racing.
Although he’d had two days in mixed conditions in Valencia to get up to speed with the car, racing it around the streets of Macau was going to be a different challenge all together! It would also be Olli’s first time racing around a street circuit and if you thought Monaco or Pau looked difficult then you haven’t quite seen Macau. Huge straights help the cars reach astonishing speeds before a never ending second sector sees the drivers forced to use one hand when rotating the car through ‘Melco’ due to the steering wheel needing to be turned a complete 180 degrees!
After 80 minutes of practice, Olli was confident going to a crucial part of the weekend in the shape of qualifying. To get a good result around any street circuit means you need to be in a good position on the grid. Starting in the mid-pack or towards the back leaves you vulnerable to getting caught up other people’s incidents and makes progress difficult to achieve.
Unfortunately, the weekend did not get off to a great start with Olli suffering a power failure in the first session which prevented him from putting a decent time on the board. It meant the second session was essentially going to be his one and only chance to get himself a strong grid slot. It’s a lot of pressure to be carrying and the red flag interruptions did not help, but despite all the above Olli went out and set a 2:06.641 which would put him 17th on the grid!
The time left Olli just 1.6 seconds off pole position and half a second away from the top ten! A remarkable achievement for his debut at the event, his debut around a street circuit and his debut in the car! Olli had out qualified drivers with a season of F3 experience and was even challenging some F2 drivers who had come along for a play.
The qualification race would set the grid for the Grand Prix and for Olli it was a chance to potentially edge himself closer to the top ten. A flat out first two corners kept the field close together with everyone jostling for position going into the heavy braking zone at ‘Lisboa’. It is unsurprisingly a corner that takes several prisoners on the opening lap and Olli would unfortunately become one of those. Contact in a battle for 6th saw a driver parked into the barriers and that formed a car park behind with Olli forced to stay stationary before the mess ahead had been cleaned up.
It left Olli at the very back of the field and after a hard-fought race he would manage to climb back up to 23rd and was locked in a battle for 13th place! It was an unfortunate result as a clean start would have certainly seen Olli fighting for a top ten finish with the pace he had.
However, the Grand Prix was what they had all come for and Olli showed his determination at the start of the racing as he gained four places in the opening few corners. With plenty of time remaining Olli had put himself in a good position, but unfortunately a small mistake on the opening lap saw him touch the barrier which broke the suspension and ended his race.
An unfortunate end, but an amazing experience for Olli who impressed with the pace he showed over the weekend. There’s no doubt the Macau Grand Prix will see Olli again, who will be back to turn his pace into a result to remember.