The Strakka Racing team endured a tough weekend at Motorland Aragon, with both drivers missing out on points on Saturday, but Will Stevens reversed his fortunes with a strong drive to grab a podium finish on the Sunday after a race-long duel with the Red Bull backed drivers Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz Jr. Unfortunately Matias Lainé was further down the field and finished well outside the points on both Saturday and Sunday in Spain.
“It’s been an up and down weekend – I’m disappointed not to have been second today but third is still a very good result”, says Stevens. “We were very good in testing, but [on Saturday] we didn’t hit the sweet spot in qualifying and race one was a struggle.
“Qualifying in P15 just isn’t acceptable when we know we can win races – but we’ll work through this problem as a team and come out the other side better for it.
“We went out with a lower downforce setting than most people. It made us quicker on the main straight but at the cost of not being particularly rapid through the middle sector. I was losing too much ground there to get close enough at the start of the straight to overtake Fantin. It’s a lesson learnt.”
Sunday’s performance was better for the young Caterham Racing Academy driver, with a top four start being converted into a second podium finish of the season to go with the win he had in the opening race at Monza.
“We all worked really well overnight, put our heads together and the set-up was a lot better,” said a happier Stevens. “We changed the engine on Saturday and the car was a lot more competitive as a result. On Sunday morning we qualified in P4, which wasn’t bad. We knew from there we could race right up at the front, because that’s exactly what happened at Monza. This weekend I got another good start and was up to P3 off the line, then we managed to grab P2 through the pit stops.
“We were always going to pit quite late because at Motorland that’s generally beneficial. When you come out of the pits you’re not necessarily much quicker straight away. As a strategy it worked because we gained another place.”
After the pit stops, Stevens was embroiled in a three-way fight for second place with Arden Motorsport driver Gasly and DAMS driver Sainz. He did tremendously well to hold them both off until the final lap, but when Stevens’ DRS usage ran out, he was helpless to Gasly passing him, but he did well to hold off Sainz on the run to the line.
“The problem was Sainz. After the pit stops he was behind me. I went for a high downforce setup for Sunday, Carlos went for medium downforce. He lost out in the middle sector but was very fast on the straights which meant I had to use my DRS to defend. Our DRS rules aren’t like they would be in F1: everyone was allowed a fixed number of seconds of DRS during the race. I used mine to hold Carlos back, knowing that, with less downforce than me, his tyres would suffer more degradation.
“The situation then changed as Carlos started to struggle and that let Gasly through. He had gone the other way with setup and had even more downforce than me. He was very quick in the second sector as a result, and was right in the tow coming onto the straight. I’d used all of my DRS at that point, he still had plenty left and drove straight past. It was disappointing to give it up but overall it’s another podium and a good haul of points.”
Team-mate Matias Lainé struggled in both races, starting twelfth in race one before finishing nineteenth while in race two he qualified nineteenth and finished fourteenth. He left Aragon still on the one solitary point he picked up at Monza. He came into the Saturday qualifying session with confidence after being strong in the collective test on the Friday, but it was not to be the young Finn’s weekend.
He suffered a broken front nose on the opening lap of the race on Saturday and was forced to pit to replace it. He re-joined over half a minute down from the field but showed some speed by setting the third fastest lap of the race.
“Testing was a good start to the weekend, we were immediately quick in the first session with the sixth fastest time and all looked very promising”, says Lainé. “Qualifying for race one was our best so far and if I’d put the sectors together I would only have been two tenths off. The race was just unlucky.
“Sunday was a lot windier, so the changes we made overnight didn’t quite work. There wasn’t much we could do, but we had a really good strategy and a fantastic pit-stop.”