The ART Grand Prix team’s weekend at the Red Bull Ring was full of promise but ultimately shrouded in disappointment. Alex Fontana qualified excellently on the front row but left Austria pointless after a first lap crash, while Marvin Kirchhofer secured fifth in race one before being forced to retire in race two with a technical issue. Dino Zamparelli struggled with set-up before securing the final point in race two.
Fontana qualified an excellent second on the grid, and was only 0.023s behind the pole time of Carlin’s Alex Lynn. However the first GP3 Series race did not go to plan and he was deemed responsible for the crash that eliminated not only himself but also the Marussia Manor Racing car of Briton Dean Stoneman and the Arden International machine of Romanian Robert Visoiu. The Swiss driver was handed a grid-drop penalty for Sundays race, but because he was starting so far back anyway, the stewards made Fontana start the race from the pit lane, and the Swiss driver could only finish seventeenth.
“I had a lot of fun in qualifying,” said Fontana. “The car was really good and it was nice to be able to push four laps in a row without destroying the tyres. As usual, the start of the first race is the key to a good weekend. Arriving at the first corner, I was hit by Kujala and I hit Stoneman as a consequence. In the end, the Marshals blamed me.
“Starting from the pitlane in the second race, I had nothing to lose and I pushed hard. But the tyres warmed up too much and I had massive oversteer in the last laps. Also, my pace was not great and it was really hard in the right-handers. I still have to open my scorecard but at least we showed the pace is here.”
Kirchhofer qualifed seventh for race one and took fifth place, finishing on the tail of Status Grand Prix’s Richie Stanaway. Unfortunately he was unable to start race two on Sunday when he experienced a technical issue on the grid and forced him to retire before he even got to race.
“Qualifying was not so good for me because the traffic was intense in the last two laps and I could not improve my lap time,” said Kirchhofer. “It was a pity because there was much more to come from the car. The Feature race was OK. Starting P7 and finishing P5 is not so bad and I don’t think I could have asked for more. But we got good points and that was good for the championships.
“A podium was the target on Sunday. But I heard a strange noise on the formation lap and when I tried to select 1st gear, the gearbox died. That’s definitely a missed opportunity and it hurts, but we know we have the potential to do much better than this weekend’s raw result.”
Zamparelli struggled in qualifying, and would start only twelfth. His race one was also a struggle, and he was relegated to fifteenth by the flag. Race two on Sunday was far better, with a completely different set-up he managed to secure a point for eighth.
“It’s certainly not the weekend we expected,” said Zamparelli. “I struggled a lot with the balance of the car and it came as a shock, because free practice was rather encouraging. For some reason, the car was not great in qualifying and starting from P12 was not ideal. But I felt comfortable to move up the pecking order. Maybe we went too far with the set-up but the car was not fantastic in race trim.
“The second race was nicer and I gained several positions to get a point. I can’t wait to race in Silverstone in a fortnight. I know the track, ART Grand Prix knows the track and I know the car will be fast over there.”
Team Principal Frederic Vasseur felt that all three drivers made good contributions in Austria but likewise all three were unlucky at some point during the weekend that cost them good results.
“There is great cause for satisfaction from the Austrian weekend, with the level of Alex’s performance in qualifying, the speed of Marvin’s race pace and the fighting spirit of Dino in difficult conditions,” said Vasseur. “Alas, all three were victims of hazards that prevented them from reaping the fruits of their work and that are obviously a disappointment. We will find our reliability and consistency at the forefront from the upcoming races at Silverstone.”