To describe last year’s Hungaroring F3 round as ‘disappointing’ for MP Motorsport’s Caio Collet would be putting it lightly. Qualifying 25th out of 30 cars after struggling to find the right window for his tyres, Collet made some progress during the races, but it wasn’t enough to take any points or recreate his podium-scoring form from his first couple of weekends in F3.
By Michael McClure
Collet, like his teammates, left Budapest scoreless. But off the back of his worst weekend of 2021, he had better results in the second half of the season, with five top-five finishes in a row at Spa and Zandvoort. It was the return to consistency that the Alpine Academy driver needed after a difficult July, and the beginning of a turnaround in form that would culminate in his first FIA F3 Championship victory at the Hungaroring in 2022.
He was joined on the Sprint Race rostrum by teammate Kush Maini, who took his maiden podium in the race, before his other teammate Alexander Smolyar took victory in the Feature Race the next day from pole.
“I think we knew last year it didn’t go well, but I think the main question is that we know why it didn’t go well,” Collet told F1 Feeder Series in the press conference after the Sprint Race. “This year we managed well, mainly getting the tyres to work.”
We learned from the mistakes we did last yearCaio Collet
“Last year, we completely overshot the window, and this year, I think we did pretty well with Alex on pole and also today in the wet with two cars on the podium, so we learned from the mistakes we did last year. Obviously, it’s been a tough season a little bit for me, but I’m glad that the team is up there.”
Many felt that second-year Collet, who finished ninth in the standings in 2021, needed to mount a title challenge in 2022 to show himself capable of a move into F2, much less a seat at Alpine in the coming years. Most of those above him last year had already made the step up, making him an automatic front-runner this season, but things hadn’t gone as planned.
In Bahrain he qualified 13th, missing out on reverse grid pole by less than a tenth. That put him at a disadvantage in both races, and while Brazil’s Collet climbed up to seventh in the Sprint, he retired in the Feature after contact with Zane Maloney.
Collet’s best chance yet at victory would have come in the Sprint Race at Imola, but he lost the lead to Franco Colapinto on the final lap and crashed out while battling Isack Hadjar at the very next corner. Barcelona’s Sprint Race yielded his first podium of the year and Silverstone’s Feature a fourth place, but it took until Spielberg for him to be leading again. He looked set to take the Sprint Race there, but Prema’s Jak Crawford swept around his outside after a safety car restart, leaving him to settle for second.
It all came together at the Hungaroring on Saturday for Collet, who ended a win drought that extended back to November 2020, when he was still competing in Formula Renault.
“I was quite happy, obviously. I think the longer the wait, the better it is, and I waited quite a bit of time for the win. We had a few really close moments in Red Bull Ring, Imola, so I think when it’s not [going] right, it’s tough for me, for the team, when things don’t work. And then when you finally get it, I think you appreciate it a little bit more, so I was quite happy on the radio, but now I think after the win effect, I am a little bit more calm and relaxed.”
Calm, Collet may be after his win, but on his way there, and in his wet-weather driving, Collet is aggressive – audacious, even. Recall his double overtake in the wet at Spa-Francorchamps last year, when he overtook ART’s Frederik Vesti and Trident’s David Schumacher by using the asphalt run-off at Raidillon. Having gained a powerful run on the pair ahead, he darted to the outside, dipped a wheel into the grass and returned to the circuit in front of both, avoiding the barrier by centimetres.
The safe approach would have been to brake to avoid a high-speed crash, but Collet kept his foot on the gas. The overtake earned him a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits as well as a reputation for attempting what seemed impossible.
Some of those attempts had disastrous consequences, as when he outbraked himself and hit Jonny Edgar at a safety car restart in this year’s Spielberg Feature Race. But that boldness was also a sign of the Caio Collet we’d come to see later – a driver with ruthless pace and uncompromising bravery in the wet.
I enjoy driving in the wet. It’s a little bit more instinctCaio Collet
“Whenever I see the opportunity, I go for it,” Collet said when F1 Feeder Series asked him about his approach to overtaking. “I enjoy driving in the wet. It’s a little bit more instinct, so you don’t really need to think about [overtakes]. You just go for it, and it’s what I did today. Obviously it was a tricky race, but I’m glad it worked.”
A hard-fought victory
The charge from fourth to first in Saturday’s Sprint Race at the Hungaroring started with an opening-lap pass around the outside of reverse-grid pole-sitter Oliver Goethe in Turn 2. He pounced on Crawford at the safety car restart on Lap 4 and went around him on the outside of Turn 1, but a move on the leading Colapinto didn’t quite come off that time.
He nearly lost out to Hadjar at the next restart on Lap 8 but recovered and passed Colapinto two laps later with an opportunistic move after the Van Amersfoort driver ran wide at Turn 2. Collet led Colapinto by 1.3 seconds at the end of Lap 10 – a gap that stretched to 2.7 seconds the next lap and 4.1 seconds the one after that. Purple sector after purple sector fell his way. The youngster from Brazil seemed unstoppable.
Collet ended the 18-lap race with a lead of 8.789 seconds, pulling out an advantage of about a second per lap once he was in first. It was an astonishing difference at a circuit where the top 20 cars qualified within a second of pole, but Collet denied that he and his engineers had made any set-up decisions to help the car’s pace in clean air.
“When we went to the grid, we had a baseline set-up that we were going to race anyway. It started to rain while we were on the grid, so we didn’t have time to change anything. It was just basically getting the right line and [keeping] the tyre in the working range. I think this was the main priority in the race, and I think we managed it really well.”
After finishing ninth on Sunday, Collet sits eighth in the standings on 52 points. That’s half the tally of Hadjar and Victor Martins, who are level on 104 points heading into the summer break. Despite having momentum from his victory, the MP Motorsport driver considered a title surge unlikely.
“Unless I have a lot of luck from now until the end of this year, I don’t think so. Obviously a top five is still possible, but for the title, no.”
Collet can’t be blamed for ignoring the championship this year when he’d been battling pressure, much of it self-imposed, to score that maiden victory. But when he crossed the line on that Saturday morning in Mogyoród and celebrated on the team radio, you could hear it easing just a bit as he repeated one word: ‘finally’.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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