Barnicoat impresses in Imola opener

Ben Barnicoat benefited from multiple incidents at the front of the field to progress to a ninth place finish in the opening FIA Formula 3 European Championship race at Imola in Italy.

Racing Steps Foundation-backed driver Barnicoat started from 16th position following a tough qualifying session in which he struggled with the balance of his Mercedes-powered Dallara machine.

The opening affair was held in far hotter ambient conditions and Barnicoat took advantage of the overnight set-up tweaks by progressing two places on the opening lap.

By the fourth tour, Barnicoat had then passed the Van Amersfoort Racing car of Pedro Piquet and Mikkel Jensen’s Mucke Motorsport car to move into 12th place.

After a brief safety car interlude to remove the stricken Piquet from the gravel, Barnicoat ran into good fortune when firstly Piquet’s team-mate Callum Ilott ran wide through the gravel demoting him down to 17th spot.

With Barnicoat 0.9 seconds behind Motorpark’s Chinese racer Guan Yu Zhou, a second safety car was required when sixth placed David Beckmann (Mucke) and Sergio Sette Camara (Motopark) tussled.

Beckmann ended his race in the gravel trap, with Sette Camara losing a handful of places before later retiring in the pit lane. Their misfortune promoted Barnicoat into ninth place.

Having defended from the attentions of Jensen behind, Barnicoat had little time to mount an attack to the rear of Prema’s Ralf Aron who had dropped behind Yu Zhou, but was able to cut Aron’s advantage by half a second in the closing couple of tours to 0.4s by the flag.

Motopark’s Niko Kari scored race victory ahead of championship and early race leader Lance Stroll. Kari’s Motopark team-mate Joel Eriksson took third.

“After yesterday’s first qualifying, we went for the identical set-up to [team-mate] George [Russell],” Barnicoat said. “I was able to get past Mikkel Jensen on the opening lap and then [team-mate] Nikita [Mazepin] and Piquet.

“When everyone else had a battle ahead, I used my head to pick up the pieces. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

“We’ll make a few more tweaks for second qualifying and hopefully move forwards in race two.  I need to work hard and make sure we get what we should be getting. I certainly don’t think all the issues are solved, I think we’ve learnt about the car and myself.”