Seventeen-year-old Sebastian Balthasar joined Hilmer Motorsport for round three of the 2014 GP3 Series season, and now three race weekends in, is ready to put the knowledge he has learned in the races at Silverstone, Hockenheim and the Hungaroring to good use to move forward.
The German feels he’s made a good start to his GP3 Series career despite not having the results to show for it. He admits to struggles in qualifying, but feels his race pace is promising as he continues to learn the ways of GP3.
“I had great races especially in Hockenheim and Hungary, but Silverstone was very unlucky when someone crashed into me in qualifying,” said Balthasar to The Checkered Flag. “Unfortunately we have never got it all together in qualifying or we have been unlucky. But the pace is unbelievable good as you could see in Hockenheim where I had the fastest lap time in race two where I overtook ten cars; no one did more.
“The team and me, we just have to less mileage to be already there in qualifying. Same in Hungary, our pace was quite good as well but we had an unlucky qualifying again with traffic etc. In race one I overtook more cars (eight) than everyone else on the track where you nearly couldn’t overtake.”
Balthasar is grateful for the opportunity handed to him by Franz Hilmer to race for the team, and admits he was looking to move into the series earlier than he actually managed, and was delighted it could be with a team like Hilmer who in their short time in both GP3 and GP2 have shown great professionalism.
“I really want to say thank you to Franz Hilmer that he give me the opportunity to drive there and to show my talent,” insisted Balthasar. “I have been very interested to drive there since the beginning of the season, because I have already seen in GP2 how competitive and professional these team is, and it’s the Force India F1 junior team as well. And this is helpful for every one there. Especially for me it’s also a great opportunity to be as close to an F1 team as I am there.”
He admits that he will be using the 2014 as a season to gain experience with the aim at coming back stronger next year to challenge for a tilt at the title. He acknowledges that he came into the series this year seriously lacking in seat time, having missed the opening two rounds in Spain and Austria, plus the pre-season tests.
“The aim is to look for the championship in 2015,” stated Balthasar. “As a newcomer with this type of car and these tyres its a real challenge for everyone and to start there mid season is unbelievably hard if you haven’t done the 4 pre-season tests and half a season. I think the whole team and me are doing a really good job, and we just need to bring it together to get a result.”
The first race for the team at Silverstone did not exactly go to plan for the young German racer. He was the innocent victim of a crash with fellow debutant Mitchell Gilbert of Trident Racing in a very wet Silverstone qualifying session, when the Australian was launched over the top of the German’s car, ending both their sessions.
“It was a really bad start for me,” admitted Balthasar. “I mean it was the first time in these cars in free practice and it already went quite well but than this happened in qualifying. Of course it was his fault that he crashed into me on the straight on an out lap, but the conditions there at that moment had been very hard. There was heavy rain and all cars went out during the same time…”
Up until his GP3 Series debut, Balthasar’s main focus was in the inaugural season of the Formula Acceleration 1 series. He has been the youngest driver in the field all season, and currently sits fifth in the championship, only behind some vastly more experienced and well-known drivers. He has two more race weekends to go, and is aiming to take third in the FA1 championship, which is currently held by Slovakian Richard Gonda.
“I arrived in this series as the youngest driver ever at 17 years old so for me the season has gone quite well up until now,” said Balthasar. “I had a couple of P3 standings and in the Championship I am just 4 points off P3, I think. Of course I knew before the season it won’t be easy, I mean the drivers there are very strong as well and 45 min races with pit stops, its great.
“Where we just have 6 races in total, I don’t have a chance to win the championship anymore, which was originally my aim, but to finish P3 in the standings in my first season is a good preparation for next season.”
Balthasar was the 2013 ATS Formel 3 Trophy champion in Germany, and admits the differences between the F3, GP3 and FA1 cars is vast. He feels it is easier to adapt to a GP3 car from an F3 car than an FA1 car.
“The difference between an F3 and GP3 car is huge and all is new; the tyres, Engine power etc,” said Balthasar. “But it was even harder to come from the FA1 car, which has a lot less downforce. You have to drive both these cars completely differently. So in summery I think it is a lot easier to come from F3 than FA1 to GP3.”