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Top three qualifiers speak on an “intense” F3 Monaco qualifying

Written by Sean McKean

To take pole around the streets of Monte Carlo is the dream of many young motorsports fans. Today, we saw those at-one-point young fans, as junior drivers tackle the Principality’s streets for pole position in FIA Formula 3. 

Gabriele Minì was that driver to take pole today, having set his time in Group A. Following close behind, however, was ART’s Christian Mansell, who surpassed his best qualifying spot in F3 by a wide margin. In third slotted last year’s Macau Grand Prix winner Luke Browning.

Minì on top

In a press conference attended by Divebomb, Minì gave his thoughts on the pole lap.

“Yeah, it was quite a good lap,” the Italian driver said. “I knew we weren’t there for the last push, so I knew we needed some big improvement from the previous lap, try to take more risks. You get closer [to the walls] everywhere, and we managed to put it together.”

For Minì, this is his third pole in the championship, but it also marks his second consecutive pole in Monaco. Unsurprisingly, though, Minì thinks the stat is merely a bonus of the weekend, with work still needing to be done on Saturday and Sunday.

“It doesn’t really change.

“It’s another championship, another season, the team, everything is different. You kind of start out the gate with zero and not really have time to test anything in FP, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but our goal is to be quickest and is still the goal.”

Last year, aside from the weather-affected portions of them, the races had complexion in the form of tyre graining. With that being such a factor, it certainly shapes the 2020 Italian F4 champion’s perspective of the upcoming races.

“It’s always key – it’s literally Monaco – but even more here,” he said. “In the end [of the race], with the going of the laps, you start overheating the rear tyres, and the car’s much harder. While of course in the rain, it’s more than overheating.”

“But once again, Monaco, this is what it looked like last year. It’s really hard to overtake and to follow because there are so many low speeds, so unless you have double the pace of the guy in front, you have to save the car, which is really hard to stay close. It’s a factor, but it won’t play into us overtaking or not.”

With the complicated part coming in the middle and end of the races, his strategy for the start makes up for it in simplicity.

“For me, I just try to get a good start, like last year, just a normal start, try to keep my position, and in the beginning of the race get fastest lap. Big points in the bag if you stay there from the start, so you just bring it home ....”

Minì sits third in the standings, behind Leonardo Fornaroli and Luke Browning.

Elation for Mansell

On the other side of the row is Christian Mansell, the ART driver who’s now achieved his first feature race front-row start. To have such a performance – especially coming off a tough stretch of races – is big for him.

“It’s been very up and down for me,” Mansell told Divebomb and other selected media. 

“I had such a positive Bahrain, but an average Australia and then a really, really poor Imola. Then obviously to come back and put it on the front row in Monaco, I was definitely stepping high in the car. The emotions were definitely extremely up there. There’s been a few times in my life where I smiled so much, and I think that was probably up there as one of them.”

Unlike Minì and Browning, the Australian driver qualified in Group B, a session that faced two red flags. In comparison to the other two drivers, Mansell had a much harder time getting a good lap on the board at the beginning, with James Hedley crashing in the first minute of the session.

“We basically finished our tyre warmup when the red flag came out, so that’s not particularly ideal to start the session. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s how Monaco goes most of the time. You’re not 100% lucky.”

As the session progressed, the Prema pair of Arvid Lindblad and Dino Beganovic challenged Mansell for the top spot. Before any of them could improve, however, the red flag came out yet again. Even with this, though, Mansell feels he still had more in the tank.

“On the actual final red flag, I could definitely feel myself improving, but then again I was also quite happy to see the red flag as well because it secured my position, but overall I was quite happy. 

“From inside the car, it was very very intense; I don’t think my heart rate has been that high in a racecar in quite a while.”

For the races tomorrow and Sunday, Mansell will take a similar approach to the driver on the opposing grid slot.

“At the end of the day, Monaco is all about the start on Sunday, so just trying to get a good launch, make sure I’m not too far away from these two [Minì and Browning] at the start, just try to hold position and have a safe race,” he said. “Because, at the end of the day, you’re not really doing this race at 100%, you’re sort of conserving, not trying to brush the walls. 

“For me, I’m just trying to get on the podium, secure some points, and sort of be smart, not too reckless since this track doesn’t reward recklessness like other tracks.”

Browning going all-out

Aside from finishing second in Group A, Browning had an eventful end to the session, as he was one of two drivers that hit the wall past the Swimming Pool section.

“When I said I put it all on the line, I think I did. 

“I think every push lap up to that point we were P1, so yeah, the car felt phenomenal, I felt very confident in the car. We were pushing. I think the one thing I wanted to come from Monaco is that I didn’t leave anything on the table, I didn’t,” Browning said.

“Unfortunately it was just a little too much kerb, I think this would’ve been the lap, but you know what, P3. Great points and consistently being there in the feature and scoring some points in the sprint will be a successful weekend.”

As mentioned earlier, Browning himself is a Macau Grand Prix winner – a race that is just as tricky as Monaco to ace. Will this affect how the Brit approaches overtaking?

On these roads maybe [I can gain] a position, any more than that is probably not going to happen unless someone is severely slow in front, which being in Formula 3, the standard is very high so the chance of that is probably quite slim.

“Regardless it is an exciting race, Monaco. And even if you can't overtake, it's fun to drive. And I think it'll be fun to watch. The main thing driving-wise is optimising in Qualifying. Now that part is out of the way it is all about keeping your head during the races. We'll see how everyone gets off the start. I think that's going to be the main thing and then we will just keep it between the walls.”


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