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"Extremely grateful" Bortoleto speaks of his growth as a McLaren junior after F2 Austria feature win

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

Gabriel Bortoleto, the reigning Formula 3 champion, finally tasted victory at the Red Bull Ring, grabbing his — and Invicta Racing's first win of the season. The win elevated the Brazilian to third in the standings, and he was incredibly grateful towards the Woking-based outfit aiding his season so far.

Victory at the Red Bull Ring can be seen as an important milestone for the Invicta racer, who has shown flashes of pace at several rounds this season, finding himself just short of the top step of the podium, or coming off worse upon contact with his fellow drivers.

He would inherit pole after teammate Kush Maini was disqualified from qualifying at Bahrain, before dropping to third and receiving a penalty for making contact with Isack Hadjar at turn one, eventually finishing just ahead of a recovering Maini, in sixth.

Bortoleto's first trip to Jeddah was one to forget, as he stalled off the line during the feature race, before pulling in to retire.

His joust down under wouldn't be as fruitful either, the Brazilian finding himself in the midst of a massive start-line collision in the sprint, along with the two Campos cars of Hadjar and Pepe Marti. A hydraulics failure would put him out of the feature race early on, leaving the Invicta racer well down the standings.

Upon entering Europe, Bortoleto's season has turned a corner. A special pole position with the Senna tribute helmet at Imola sparked plenty of celebration and emotion, but as was the case with pole-sitters in the season, he wouldn't take victory, instead finishing second to Hadjar.

He would finish second once again in the Monaco sprint, the narrow streets preventing him from moving past AIX Racing's Taylor Barnard for victory. Bortoleto would back up his sprint result with another points score in the feature, solidifying his form in the European leg.

Barcelona would be a slightly difficult round in context for the McLaren junior, as he slid down to fifth late in the race, overtaken by the likes of Jak Crawford and Juan Manuel Correa, as well as championship leader Paul Aron on track, before being classified fifth in the sprint results.

A last-lap collision with his teammate Maini at turn one would result in Bortoleto slapped with a five-second penalty, dropping him down to tenth in the classification.

Bortoleto was confident of a good showing at the Red Bull Ring, having qualified third for the feature race, behind MP Motorsport's Dennis Hauger and AIX Racing's Joshua Durksen, and when asked about previous form playing on his mind, he responded confidently, "What happens in Barcelona stays in Barcelona."

Heading into Sunday's feature race, one of his main contenders would be taken out of the equation right away, as Hauger stalled as the grid set off on the formation lap. This elevated Bortoleto to second, with a clear run ahead, as the MP Motorsport car wouldn't be blocking his view of turn one.

He would dispatch Durksen ahead with relative ease, getting past at turn 4 on lap four of 40. It was a long race ahead, but Bortoleto would be in the box seat to take his and the team's first victory of the season.

A pit stop on lap nine onto the harder, medium compound of tyres left him with a 31-lap run to the flag. He would find himself over seven seconds behind Pepe Marti, who had taken advantage of a virtual safety car earlier to make his mandatory pit stop.

With a charging Hadjar behind, the Invicta racer knew he would have to push hard to take the net race lead, and used up his fresh tyres to chase down the Campos ahead, dispatching the Spaniard ahead at half distance, on lap 20.

As Hadjar and Marti debated over the airwaves about position, the Brazilian eked out a valuable three-second gap, enough to ensure he wouldn't be caught by Hauger's teammate Franco Colapinto on the fresh super soft boots at the end of the race.

He would take victory by over four seconds to the good, a feat made even sweeter when he received the trophy from one of his own — triple world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He wouldn't be the only one watching the youngster win, as McLaren's Lando Norris, and team principal Andrea Stella would be keeping a keen eye on the 19-year old too.

Speaking of his time as a McLaren junior, Bortoleto expressed plenty of gratitude towards the team, saying it was his first time at a driver academy, and he wouldn't be able to figure out how he would have fared anywhere else:

"I've never been part of a junior academy before, so I don't know how McLaren is comparing to the others," Bortoleto said.

"(The thing that) I can say that McLaren have been helping me so much. We have zero pressure between the junior team and myself. It's my first season in F2, and I've showed them I have the pace and the speed to win races now."

Being part of a driver academy has its own perks, along with access to the team's facilities, apart from finding oneself surrounded by fellow juniors and senior personnel from the Formula One paddock working closely with the driver and guiding them along the way.

Bortoleto mentions the team's involvement have helped him become a more rounded individual, charting his personal and professional growth:

"I think they are quite happy with what I'm doing. I've said this before and I'll say it again, if we are here winning, it's because of all the work we have been doing in the simulator at MTC (McLaren Technology Centre).

"The steps I've done in personal and professional life as well, learning how to lead a team as a professional, because last year was (a little bit) different for me.

"My team from last year to this year was very different, so I had to change my approach as well, how to behave inside the team, so this is how McLaren are helping me, and I am so grateful for them."

The Brazilian also expressed his happiness on Norris watching on, praising the Briton with a bright smile:

I'm happy Lando (Norris) was watching as well, very good driver as well, and hope he enjoyed (the race)." he responded.

Having moved up to third in the standings, Bortoleto will be looking to build on his strong run ever since the Formula 2 caravan entered Europe.

There's no doubt he will be looking to join the roster of Brazilian drivers to have raced in Formula One, and emulate his idols, apart from living the dream of racing at home in front of his adoring and loyal fans.

Formula 2 returns this weekend at Silverstone, running alongside Formula One and Formula 3 once again. Do make sure to tune in to the weekend's action, as it's set to be another amazing weekend of racing in Formula One's supporting series.


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